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EXCLUSIVE RAMADAN INSIGHTS PART 2: Are you investing where users are spending?



EXCLUSIVE RAMADAN INSIGHTS PART 2: Are you investing where users are spending?

The holy month of Ramadan is an introspective and spiritual time of the year, when people fast, pray, change their daily routines, catch up with their favorite TV drama series and spend more time with their near and dear ones.

It’s also that time of year when television and digital screens are bombarded with commercials. To help marketers outshine their competitors, and stand out amid Ramadan ad clutter, Sapience, in partnership with Mediaquest, conducted an analytical study titled “Marketing in Ramadan”.

The first part of the report, released last week, looked at trends in the FMCG sector.

This week’s report looks at how media consumption and purchase behaviors change throughout the month of Ramadan and how advertisers can make the most of these changes to reach their audience.

To download this part or the full whitepaper, please click here, and a representative will be in touch with you. 

Media habits 

Shorter working/school days and an interrupted night schedule leaves those fasting with ample time to spend on media channels – be it TV or online.

Although this year, many advertisers have reported a shift of budgets to online, TV consumption during the month is huge with a 6 percent increase in daily TV watching during Ramadan.

In fact,

[Tweet “23%  of total ad spend on TV is dedicated to the month of Ramadan, according to Ipsos 2017 data.”]

But, what determines the choice of shows?

Consumers in Saudi Arabia, residing in Dammam, between 36-39 years old with an income of 20,000 to 30,000 Saudi riyal per month, choose their TV programs based on genre, if it’s suitable for family viewing and if it is aired at a suitable time.

In contrast, younger females do have a different thinking when it comes to selecting Ramadan shows. Arab expats who reside in Riyadh, and are between 15 to 24 years of age, tend to make their choice based on whether the show has been continued from last Ramadan.

Where are people watching?

Although TV viewership increases during Ramadan compared to other months, YOY Ramadan viewership of TV has remained consistent. What has increased is YouTube viewership.

[Tweet “TV remains flat while YouTube viewership increases three-fold during Ramadan in the last 3 years.”]

Still, TV continues to remain big for advertisers, even if more cluttered, with ad breaks increasing up to 50% and the cost of TV ads increasing by 2.5 times during Ramadan, according to Ipsos 2017 research.

When are people watching, searching and shopping?

Data from various sources shows that post-midnight is when users are most active. Facebook, for instance, sees the most activity at 3am in the MENA region while other sources report that online searches surge by 30 percent between 9pm and 12am and by 17 percent between 12am and 4am.

Similarly, Snapchatters are also more active in Ramadan with visits to the app increasing by 20 percent in KSA and 30 percent in Saudi from 2016 to 2017 during the month, and engagement also increasing with KSA users viewing over 20 percent more Snaps with Filters and Lenses during Ramadan.

To download this part or the full whitepaper, please click here, and a representative will be in touch with you.

What does this mean for advertisers? And are they investing where their consumers are spending their time?

There is an overall shift happening from TV to digital but it’s a mixed bag. Some advertisers are going 100% digital while others are somewhere between adopting a TV-heavy to more balanced approach.

All those in favor of digital…

Those favoring digital are doing so because it’s cheaper, allows for better targeting and is more measurable. For instance, Landmark Group’s Centrepoint shifted a 100 percent of its TV budget to digital during Ramadan. “The investment shift was done due to superior targeting, two-way conversation opportunity and measurable response,” explains Shyam Sunder, senior head of marketing at Centrepoint.

Furthermore, in terms of effective storytelling formats, Satish Mayya, CEO of BPG Maxus feels that video across channels like YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram, and native ads in relevant contextual websites, are the best formats. He adds:

[Tweet “With digital video consumption increasing by over 50%, it makes sense to focus on online.”]

Even Snapchat, which joined the social media bandwagon relatively late, has seen significant growth. ”The number of campaigns running during Ramadan this year has almost tripled compared in 2017, while we’ve seen over five times growth in revenue,” says Hussein Freijeh, general manager, Snap MENA.

Initiative UAE’s digital director Saadeddine Nahas explains that the shift to online is driven by the “high investment levels required for adequate TV presence, audiences’ fragmented media consumption, as well as the increase in opportunities and relevant content online.” When it comes to the agency’s clients, “We are heavy on digital during Ramadan, which is due to a combination of performance campaigns driving Ramadan-specific offers, as well as pre-Eid activities for holiday shoppers,” he adds.

Publicis Media admits that there are significant changes taking place. For example, the number of brands that used to hold a percentage of annual spends for Ramadan has decreased or these budget holds have been removed completely, the spokesperson explains. These changes can be attributed to the economy, but also to the changes in the consumer journey changes, which include e-commerce and mobile affinity for video and content. “Overall, we are seeing a stronger resolve for clients to transparently test new media and results in the Ramadan season including social, mobile, commerce and TV effectiveness,” adds the spokesperson.

Another trend in content consumption is ‘snackable’ content, such as short-form, snappy and sometimes utility-driven content such as recipes and beauty tips, which justifies Unilever’s presence on local publishers such as Yalla Feed, OLN, Nawaem, and platforms such as YouTube and Daily Motion, explains Asad Rahman, media director, Unilever MENA.

In Saudi, however, “TV still leads the way this Ramadan in terms of spending,” says UM KSA’s business director Rayan Bou Karroum. He admits that it is not as strong as previous years but “[TV] will still have a solid impact due to the content projected on the leading stations including SBC,” he adds.

All those in favor of TV…

On the other hand, there’s Nassima El-Mounfalouti, account director for BMW, Zenith, who says, “TV stays our first media with MBC Drama; Ramadan is well known for the success of TV series and drama.”

At a group level, Publicis Media adds that the industry has moved toward more digital and mobile activations across Ramadan, but “TV remains to be the largest percentage of actual spend.”

For brands that want to reach out to masses in the wider Gulf region, TV – rather than digital – is the preferred option, adds Mayya.

With more time on their hands, audiences use their free time to catch up on their TV shows – especially dramas. Elie Bachaalani, executive director of investments, UAE and Lower Gulf, Omnicom Media Group, says that the shift in media consumption is marked by Pan-Arab TV, which sees an extended peak time. He says, “Spends are skewed towards leading general entertainment channels, mainly MBC 1, offering local and regionally produced content from popular series, to game shows and health-oriented programs.”

Interestingly, the audience’s mobile-friendly behavior – especially after iftar – results to an increase in local out of home campaigns and in-mall advertising, he adds.

Even for brands that have a platform-agnostic approach, TV reigns king. For instance, Rahman, says that when deciding which platform or channel to use one must first “identify and go after winning pieces of content before you raise your hand to say X will go on TV, or Y on digital.” But, “having said that, Unilever like most other advertisers is focusing largely on the popular, family-oriented programs/dramas on TV,” he adds.

Somewhere in the middle…

When talking about TV content, it is worth noting that content originally created for TV plays an important role on online platforms. “These pieces of TV content are also increasingly being viewed time-shifted i.e. not just when on broadcast at a certain time, but consumers may want to watch them on platforms like Shahid and YouTube at a time that’s convenient to them, which is especially true for Ramadan when primetime is pretty much all night,” adds Rahman.

To download this part or the full whitepaper, please click here, and a representative will be in touch with you.

Bachaalani, too, adds, “In recent years, we have seen a decrease in TV spends in favor of VOD and web series, as it provides an extended reach for TV.”

User behavior isn’t the only reason investments are moving away from TV. Mayya, who expects TV investment to get affected this year, says it could be due to factors such as a decline in Turkish shows; Netflix’s launch of a local series One Thousand and One Nights; and the World Cup, which has four regional countries participating resulting in regional brands having to spread their investments across different events.

The shift to digital is not always an all-out strategy. In some case, it is complementary to TV. For instance, “We are [also] active on online video complementing TV as one video strategy,” says Nahas.

There’s another important factor affecting the dynamics of Ramadan investment in Saudi. “Ramadan 2018 will be especially unique due to platform consumption transformation, the commencement of World Cup and the Saudi national team playing in three consecutive matches starting 14th of June,” points out UM KSA’s Karroum.

What are brands doing?

FMCG brands, in particular, are spending on TV and paying premium prices due to the mass viewership of the medium, while automotive brands tend to spend on out-of-home to promote their Ramadan offers, says Bachaalani

Hyundai, for example, has a balanced approach to digital and TV. Its pre-Ramadan and during Ramadan ads will be showcased both on TV and online, whereas the post-Ramadan/Eid campaign will be only digital. As part of this approach, the brand has chosen various media channels based on their popularity during Ramadan, including MBC, Rotana, Shahid, YouTube, and Weyaak, says a spokesperson from the automaker.

And then there’s Huawei. Although its Ramadan activities are fairly spread out across digital, video, retail, experiential and PR, the central theme is #SayShukran this Ramadan / #قول_شكراً في رمضان.  Evident from the hashtag, the campaign puts digital at the core. The brand even created a Facebook Messenger bot for the holy month to create deeper engagement with the target audience. “Given our call to action involves people sharing intimate and heartfelt stories about their loved ones, we wanted to ensure we treat this engagement in a more meaningful and respectful manner, which the bot allows for. It also gives us the opportunity to create tailored content, resulting in a better experience for participants in the campaign,” explains a spokesperson.

Listerine is also one of the prominent advertisers during Ramadan mainly due to its ‘Miswak’ mouthwash. Some people only use miswak during Ramadan, making this an apt time to promote the product. The brand has taken an interesting approach wherein it’s using digital to target consumers at the right moment. Given that watch time for content around food and recipes increases by 25 percent during Ramadan, Listerine wants to target users right when they’re watching this content to remind them to well, wash afterwards. And so, Listerine – or rather its agency, J3 – is working closely with “moment marketing company” TVTY to sync and target second screeners with the brand videos whenever relevant food commercials appear on TV, explains Shreya Parker, associate media director at J3 MENA. The strategy includes targeting food and recipe keywords across YouTube and programmatic, in addition to suhoor-related banner messaging and of course, social media.

Purchase behavior

The week before Eid-al Fitr sees the highest rise in online retail sales and website visitors, according to Criteo. Weekly retail sales showed a maximum uplift of over 42% and visitors of over 35% across the Middle East during Ramadan.

The shopping mania begins well before Ramadan as people stock up on items – especially those that have a longer shelf life and are available at discounted prices. For example, pastries, dough and pasta is the category that’s purchased in advance much more than others with 91 percent purchasing it more than two weeks before. Carbonated soft drinks, on the other hand, are mostly purchased during the month as they’re not used in the preparation of other iftar or suhoor items.

This is why Nestlé’s local factories start planning a year ahead, peaking production to ensure that stocks reach to the shops early enough to help people make decisions ahead of time. “Ramadan has a different impact depending on the business; it can go up to 40 percent of the annual sales of some brands,” says Rainer Mueller, communications director at Nestlé Middle East, which means preparing ahead of time is of utmost importance.

[Tweet “Approximately 18% of Centrepoint’s  annual media spend is dedicated to Ramadan.”]

“It’s the most significant month of our calendar,” says Sunder with almost 20 percent of annual revenue being generated during Ramadan and its Home & Beauty offering peaking through the month.

Even Sapience’s data shows that the home is an important place for audiences during Ramadan as 53 percent prefer having friends and family over compared to non-Ramadan days resulting in a 54 percent decrease in outdoor dining during the month.

In fact, brands’ expenditure during Ramadan is almost twice of what it is in every other month, says Initiative’s Nahas.


All in all, Ramadan is a crucial period for brands and their audiences in the region. This year, however, is unique in that users’ media habits and purchase behaviors aren’t affected only by Ramadan specific factors.

The economic downturn, media spends being spanned out due to four regional countries participating in the World Cup, and the launch of new programs – on TV and online – are resulting in changes in user behavior, which in turn will affect how brands communicate with them. And in this environment, it is more important than ever before to understand how, when and where consumers are spending both, their time and money.

To download this part or the full whitepaper, please click here, and a representative will be in touch with you.


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