Instead of viewing Ramadan as a giant shopping window, Media.Monks’ Stephanie Tyan lists the ways that brands can show up more authentically to enhance believers’ experience during the holy month.

In Southeast Asia, 40.8% are Muslims, with one in three considering themselves more devout than their parents at their age. Numbers like that make connecting with the younger Muslim generation during Ramadan a priority for any brand. But you know that already as brands spend as much as one-third of their annual marketing budget during the holiday, according to data from TikTok.

Here’s the catch. TikTok coined “the paradox of belonging”, where brands want to belong during Ramadan but often end up adding to the noise and failing to resonate. I’ll spare you the cliched “cut through the clutter this Ramadan” advice. Instead, I invite you to think of people beyond their wallets and connect with them on a level deeper than their pockets.

Ramadan is much more than just a giant shopping window. Here are four ways brands can show up more authentically throughout the holiday.

1. Balancing act

In Asia, 63% of Gen Z value their mental and emotional health more today than before the pandemic.

Ramadan is understandably compared to a “month-long spiritual bootcamp”. From a 4am start to late, and extended prayers, the daily schedule of Muslims changes drastically as they balance religious obligations with social and professional commitments. And with the return of in-person gatherings, the pressure to do well is on. But as much as Muslims power on, Ramadan is a mental and emotional rollercoaster.

Here's how to support consumers during this fulfilling but potentially stressful time: be aware. Provide them with support, structure or a simple break from their exhausting schedule. The “Journey of Mindfulness” campaign by Al-futay Toyota in Dubai addressed road safety issues caused by fatigue and the rush through traffic to make it home in time for iftar.

2. Mindful consumerism

For 51% of Gen Z in Asia, shaping a better future was a key motivation for spending more on sustainable products. In fact, consumerism during Ramadan has often raised concerns, especially with waste related to iftar. In Malaysia, for example, about 4,005 tonnes of food are thrown away each day during Ramadan. Yet:

  • 68% of Muslims plan to spend more this Ramadan
  • 24% will spend the same as last year

Here’s how to negotiate that uptick in spend with consumers’ desire to waste less: help reduce waste to enable guilt-free celebrations. With roughly 25% of food waste generated during iftar in the Middle East, Emirates Red Crescent and Pizza2Go introduced the “3/4 pizza box”. The campaign removed the 25% that contributes to food waste and donated 25% of the spend to Emirates Red Crescent to support those in need, which brings me to my next point.

3. Amplifying good

Gen Z believe in their individual power to make a difference but are also demanding that businesses and governments do their part to help build a better future. This plays directly into the spirit of Ramadan, which is about more than abstaining from food, water and physical needs. Charity and giving back to the community, or Sadaqah, is central to the Holy Month.

In Asia, 93% of all Muslims planned to donate money to charity during Ramadan last year. But with inflation forcing people to be more intentional about their spending, Gen Z hope to make the most impact with the little they have. They’ll use social media to raise awareness and encourage others to contribute, and online fundraising or mobile payment to facilitate donations.

What could you do? Maximise individual efforts. Raise awareness, match or channel donations to make an impact where it matters most. Lazada Malaysia partnered with Islamic Relief Malaysia to raise RM2.3 million through LazadaForGood, its online giving platform, and deliver Rezeki Ramadan food packs to 40,000 beneficiaries. Maxis embraced the spirit of “Membeli demi memberi(shop to give) and built a campaign and shopping platform to support struggling local microentrepreneurs, resulting in RM1.8 million sales growth in two weeks and up to 10x more average daily orders.

4. Bonding time

Celebration is a big pillar of Ramadan but the preparation is just as important.

“Despite it being a tiring one, I do enjoy the entire process as it allows me to spend time with my parents while doing these things and we felt a sense of achievement once all of it is done,” Yusyafiqah Yusoff, a 27-year-old Muslim in Singapore told AsiaOne last year.

Amplify this feeling by encouraging shared moments, reinforcing family bonds and becoming part of rituals both old and new. In Malaysia, Netflix encouraged people to pause Netflix and instead enjoy reconnecting with people in real life.   

Bonus: Build impact beyond campaigns

Beyond campaigns, you could also think about product innovation. Halal beauty is on the rise with brands introducing wudhu-friendly products, like “peelable” nail polish by Solek in Malaysia, adapted for ablutions before daily prayers. Through empathy and consumer-centricity, hopefully we will see more and more products catered for Muslims.

All in all, brands should not compete for consumers' attention during Ramadan. Think about the role you want to play to enhance the Ramadan experience instead. Only then can meaningful conversations happen – conversations that will last more than a single month.