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Circa 2020: When Ramadan Comes Early And ‘Mudik’ Gets Delayed

Are we ready to embrace Ramadan advertising season in Indonesia purposefully and digitally as we enter a period of physical distancing silence?

This article features Arindam Bhattacharyya - Chief Strategy Officer (Media and Performance) of Dentsu Aegis Network Indonesia - illustrating the Indonesian advertising season during Ramadan while facing the pandemic situation.

Winter Prevailed the Summer

As days pass by and the situation in Indonesia gets serious - with the rising number of COVID-19 cases - most of my fellow members in the advertising and marketing fraternity are rejigging their calendars and recalibrating their spends. In fact, some of us are engaging with our teams to brainstorm the risk analysis, in the most accurate terms, to minimize the impact.

Everyone is prepared to greet the grim outlook that’s already started to challenge us. As the pandemic gets worse, the crisis gets harder. Ad revenue troughs are going to hit us hard during the coming Quarter (similar to how Chinese New Year ad revenues got impacted in China). Many key industries are freezing their marketing efforts and their bespoke Ramadan initiatives. Apart from the big dent evident in the Travel & Tourism industry, medium to high indulgent and non-essential categories like Sports Goods, Automobiles, Retail, Fashion clothing, apparels & accessories, Paints, Hospitality & Restaurant, Electronics, even Mobile phones, Food & Food Joints, and other Entertainment hotspots have taken a backseat. All these cumulatively contributed a significant chunk during the Ramadan period in Indonesia.

Rarely, could one have estimated that a harsh winter would bite us in the peak summer quarter of 2020, just when the Holy month of Ramadan sets in with promises of festivity in full swing (the key consumption and period for many advertisers in Indonesia.)

This Ramadan, Indonesians Got Challenged to Their Three Core Societal Pillars Which have shaken up this “Faith to Festive Continuum”. Marketers Worried About Brand Protection, Consumers are exploring new and novel ways to celebrate Ramadan and Eid within an isolated society structure

Social distancing, National emergency, and a Partial lockdown have given birth to Social Mourning for the greater good. It’s a brave call to break the human chain of “Gathering” based activities in such festive times and start dwelling on the ‘individual” in society for the time being.

Covid x Ramadan 1

The marketing community needs to think of the digital alternatives we can do to substitute the en-masse meet and greets. If virtual concerts and virtual viewing parties can become a rage why not brands try and test ‘BukaPuasa Livestreaming or virtual Mudik with parcel gifting the loved ones within the same zone delivery? That’s why its time to get creative in a true sense to increase and suit consumers’ sentiment and receptivity.


Ramadan Starts Early in COVID-19 Quarter:

Considering the scale of the crisis, media & communication together with human sentiments are already preparing to run a survival race. When I say Ramadan starts early it is an irony indicating the media time-spent, watch, view, listening, and reading time soared up disproportionately and it almost matched the numbers we usually get on Television during Ramadan's special programs. Brands cannot take undue advantage out of this, however, at the same time, it gives brands and marketers the creative space to evolve, elevate, and demonstrate brand responsibility. 

Communications hovering too much on “brand attributes’ might be looked like a provocative chest-thumping egoist brand and possibly be distancing the connection and relevance from the consumers. Consumers would only like to see a purposeful intent from the brand towards them. More authentic, low key and resonating the war-cry would be highly receptive


Impact #1: Brands should elevate from mainstream Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to Creating Shared Value (CSV)

For the marketers and communication industry experts, it has become even more imperative for brands to reinstitute the messages that need to be given to the society at large.  “Winning in Relevance” and make “Ramadan Purposeful” are the two key tasks that brands need to take care of. An effective social-purpose strategy creates value by strengthening a brand’s key attributes or building new adjacencies. Which means:

- Brands must comply with the Voice of country and policies of Government: avoid putting any communication “on-air” or some call to action which doesn’t support “social-distancing”

Brands must avoid pushing brand communication suddenly towards “health & hygiene” if it isn’t relevant, consumers would see those brands as opportunistic

Brands must communicate that it's showing extra “support and care” and help to stand by the employees and staff who are in the lower tier of hierarchical order.


Impact # 2: More Praying, More Tune-In, More Log-In

New Norms of Media Shifts Happening: Blurring the lines amongst prime-time, non-prime time, weekdays vs weekdays, kids slot vs family slot

Usually, six weeks prior to Eid-Ul-Fitri, the new content series of Ramadan starts in the respective time slots in Free to Air television channels, new video streaming contents also start to happen. Fasting and praying time shifts in different parts of the day starting from four weeks prior to Eid. Aligning to that change, television consumption, usage of social media, radio, and e-commerce changes. More screen time and Apps usage time increase significantly.

Interestingly, due to COVID-19 consciousness and lockdown, February and March witnessed a massive surge in viewership, accelerated browsing occurrence, and huge content consumption. Streaming and tech adoption becoming the New normal. Viewership and usage scores are at par with the figures one usually gets during Ramadan prime time. 15% higher TV consumption and News site consumption, 30-36% increase in browsing time on FB and Instagram, and a 20% rise in eCommerce consumption. Within a month when we head into the Ramadan the figure might likely increase.

Extended hours of Triple screen time in a captive environment: Think online, Think Mobile, Think streaming and think gamification of life utilities which formed a part of your usual habit

A surge in Male viewership for Free to Air Television programs

More audio tune-in

- More refreshing content through infotainment, news, etc, and through Pay TV and OTT

Flattening curve of Prime and Non-Prime: Sahoor, Ifthar and Post Tarawih peaks will be similar

More in-building elevators screen receptivity as compared to high impact roadside or transit point billboards


Health and Wellness based communication need to play a better part because of fasting, the immune system will be in serious threat. Branding campaigns need to be sustained. Performance and Call-to-Action sales-driven campaign to be de-prioritized unless the supply is through e-commerce.


Impact #3: New Essentials are the New Luxury 

Since the entire world order becomes “stay-in” home and taking care of the home matters, consumers would make the best out of in-Home dwelling time. Self-protection and taking care of elder citizens and children become of paramount importance. Home sanitizer, cleaner, disinfectants, personal care, kitchen, toiletries, personal wash, aromatherapy candles, perfumed oils, in-Home décor, room freshener, detergents, indoor toys, cooking items, health supplements, vitamins, etc. The increase in buying praying clothes and carpets might be noticeable. Anyways cleansing related materials have always been high demand even in usual Ramadan but now its demand preceded much before the usual time

Ramadan 2020: Leaps Into Digital Acceleration

This Ramadan in Indonesia shall witness the acceleration of digital economy and life utility services in times of restrictions. Consumers are forced to jump into the digital bandwagon. It will be a good acid test to estimate, how far Indonesia has the potential to go full-blown digital in their infrastructure. Rise of virtual connections, increased usage of e-wallet, e-classrooms, and tutorials, increased reading of e-paper, online groceries and essentials, consumption of more DIY contents related to cooking, fitness, dance moves, gardening, interior décor, more tune into the OTTs, more video streaming, podcasts, and audio-streaming, reading online portals & all would add up to a huge amount of data. Uninterrupted power, electricity services, and supply of data would help us to pass through the difficult Ramadan period and able to do all the services virtually and remotely connection. Already signature malls in Jakarta have moved to the digital world by creating create an online shop version of most of their stores. With production being widely affected, new Video shoots and Outdoor ad shoots getting barred, agencies are finding innovative ways of creating powerful videos with stocks, images, and indoor shooting. Channels are also cautious about the series, variety show content library, and even something they slated for the upcoming Ramadan. New shoots of Series, variety shows are put on halt. Channels will mostly move to air re-run contents, the renewed library of movie content, and infotainment. It will be an interesting phase to witness a lot of “Social Distancing” driven shows or “Home Edition” versions going on air as a replacement of Studio version. The programming and content fraternity in broadcasting trying to think and ideate new ways to keep the audience engaged and entertained.


What Marketers Can Start to Think?

Starting to draw the Ramadan & COVID-19 Need Gap Map. It is very important, and this gives a springboard for the marketers to act with tact. It would be good to start to illustrate Ramadan x COVID-19 needs gap and developing new areas of need and then organize the marketing around the needs. This will help to re-adapt already produced communication, assets, and re-engineer the communication system to heighten the relevance.

Covid x Ramadan 2


Seven Habits for brands to have effective communication for responsible acts during the COVID-19 Ramadan:

1.     Celebrate this Difference:  Brands can play a general role and doesn’t need to have all communication relating to crisis, maybe start telling a different way to celebrate Ramadan

2.     Listen to Re-Connect: The telco brands need to be tune in with what people saying about their products and their connectivity issues if any. They should stay in touch with public opinion. Tier 2 and downwards need to have high connectivity and smooth data to ensure one connects to their parents in their hometown (Pulang Kampung) when they couldn’t make it physically during Mudik

3.     Brands need to be “Always reachable” to customers through social media, lines, and websites so different conversation can keep them engaging

4.     Diffuse Disparity: Brands should reassure and diffuse the Panic through their own offer or generally in their tonality

5.     Personalize Real and authentic personal messaging vs public announcements. Remember every Ramadan journey is an individual story, one’s journey and one’s self-story of their survival

6.     Brands can invent new Traditions for Ramadan – Breaking fast with Virtual hangouts, Gifting through Mudik, Pray with Livestreaming and sound set-up, etc.

7.     Bring in Humor in the Season of depression. Give consumers a reason to entertain, hope and laugh

BIG DON’T: Though some products may be highly relevant but avoid being an “opportunistic” brand who would be cashing on the crisis. This is a golden chance to create a powerful mission and purpose-driven brand conversation with the audience, to inspire them, and to elevate the brand pedestal.


How a Brand Needs to Prepare Itself for Post COVID-19 and Post Ramadan Quarter

Assuming we rebound on-time and while we take some draconian steps for suiting the new Normal but let’s consider a few watch-outs.

A) Don’t go soft - Protect the Budgets:  Brands that reduce their spending during times of recession often come out the other end weaker. Every business will have its own unique features, but history tells us on average marketing budgets should be protected, not raided for recovery. Brands that took aggressive cuts on advertising took 5 years to recover. So, phase out your budget during Ramadan to your next quarter as well

B) Don’t go dark – Protect the Mind Measures: Brands that go dark during recessions suffer a decline in brand metrics within the range of 15 – 28 percentage points (Source: KantarMillwardBrown, Butterfield, Data2Decisions). Digital migration of brand communication will be cost-effective and impactful as against TV, Outdoor because of flexible adaptability in quick turnaround time.

C) Protect the Brand: Strong brands recovered 9x faster than weaker brands following the financial crash of 2008. Fuel your brand and protect it. It’s going to help you come back (Source: Kantar Brand Z)

D) Celebrate a New Emotional milestone: Every winter and summer is different, so will be this Ramadan – lookout for the next wave when everything will be over, there will be a need to home-return, kids will get to meet their friends back to school, reigniting the connects and emphasize social connections which had been due to prolonged social distancing. So, have the resources to offer and excite your customers to lift their spirits.

In this pandemic, while Collectivism is at threat, but collective responsibility shall help to celebrate Ramadan responsibly with additional restraints. While a consumer needs to be responsible to society the brand should continuously engage with them responsibly and with right tact and tone encouraging this new way to celebrate Ramadan and Mudik”. One thing we need to remember there is no successful best practice or Playbook which can solve, forecast, model, attribute the right picture, or even right estimation. This is the first time for all. This is unique, novel and defies all calculations and logic, so risk assessment and learning curve need to be spontaneously evolved as we deal with the forthcoming weeks as they pass by and we step into Ramadan.

Let’s be agile and let’s be corrective, adapt, and execute at a very fast pace so that we can attain our learning curve much faster. Also, on an optimistic note, Innovation springs up when we are pushed to a wall. We may never know maybe this COVID-19 crisis bloom some “first-ever” technology or cultural marketing innovation the world has never seen. Till then Stay Safe, Stay Put, Stay Logged and Stay Tuned.