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#Ramadan: how communication changes in the Holy Month

Modern Arab consumers increasingly expect advertising campaigns to have a social-media component.

When the new moon that marks the beginning of Ramadan is sighted across the Middle East, a thorough transformation of lifestyle and business practice takes place.

Traditionally a time for introspection and charity, the holy month also sees a radical change in the way people across the region communicate.

As the combined attractions of Zamal Lawal, Abou Al Malayeen, Hareem Al Sultan and Ya Malikan Qalbi glue audiences to their screens this month, what can governments and brands learn about the parallel surge in social media usage?

Throughout the Arab world, consumption of media, particularly of television, skyrockets during Ramadan, providing governments and brands with a captive audience once the fast is broken.

Statistics compiled by MBC indicated that an episode of the Ramadan soap Noor reached an audience of 85 million people one evening last August.

From an estimated total of 300 million Arabic speakers worldwide, this is a staggering figure.

Spending on TV advertising increases by 62 per cent in this period, and amounts to one-fifth of the total spent annually.

With the TV screen dominating media consumption, advertisers need to make sure they are getting value for their dirham, dinar or riyal. In this, the overlap between social media and TV could hold the key.

A 2012 study by the Online Project, a digital media agency based in Dubai, Riyadh and Amman, found that while television watching grows sharply during Ramadan, the volume of tweets increased significantly, too.

In Kuwait alone, Twitter usage increased by 495 per cent compared to other periods. This simultaneous surge in TV viewing and social media communication during the holy month is a trend that has often been overlooked.

The challenge for brands, governments and other organisations looking to get a message out at this time is to find a way to tap into this trend. Lessons from popular shows such as Arab Idol and Star Academy offer a useful model. For these shows, social media increasingly functions as the "second screen", allowing audiences to interact with the content they are consuming. The entertainment value comes as much from voting on Twitter or following the comments other viewers make as from watching the show itself.

The best Ramadan communications campaigns have been delivered when organisations - be they private sector or public - embrace the pervasive effect of social media, and incorporate social media interaction with advertising and TV broadcasts.

Tapping into this trend has proved productive for governments in the Arab world. The Ruler of Dubai's televised announcement of new Ramadan charitable projects is backed up by engagement via Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook - and has become a big feature of the Ramadan season.

In the private sector, Etisalat launched its "Ramadan 2012" campaign in Egypt, focused on television adverts encouraging customers to leave rivals Vodafone and Mobinil. What made the campaign a success was the incorporation of Twitter to drive the message simultaneously.

Qatar Coral Real Estate leveraged social media with their "Ramadanagram" campaign. Via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, participants were asked to capture their best Ramadan moments and share them via Qatar Coral's Twitter page - which was then incorporated into TV advertising.

The modern consumer in the Arab world, it appears, expects communications from brands and governments to be multi-platform. Those who fail to grasp this will not get their messages across as well as they could. This is more the case during the holy month, when consumers are bombarded by TV adverts and when social media engagement spikes.

At a time of reflection, family and friends, it could be argued that the holy month has also become digital. For communicators, this means that we should all think carefully about how to make our messages cut across platforms and, vitally, engage with social media.

After all it's #Ramadan now.


Mark Flanagan is a partner at Portland Communications in London.

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