Stop telling, start doing: How to cut through the Ramadan ad clutter

With Ramadan commencing today, it is without a doubt that brands will begin rolling out related campaigns to target their Muslim consumers. With consumers being innundated with festive campaigns, companies, as usual, are required to cut through the clutter and create campaigns that will stand out amongst competitors and leave a deep impression on consumers.

Industry professionals that A+M spoke to said some of the themes that companies usually explore during Ramadan are family and reunion, kindness and empathy, zakat (charity), mudik (homecoming), seeking forgiveness, sacrifice, breaking fast and celebrations.

Similar to other major festive celebrations, with several campaigns typically focusing on emotional or festive fictitious stories that are humorous, Grey Singapore's chief creative officer, Tim Cheng, said such campaigns can easily get lost in "a sea of sameness".

However, rather than breaking away from the core spirit of Ramadan - caring, sharing and making the world a better place - Cheng believes in focusing on strengthening the brands' connections with consumers under those themes through a way that can still feel fresh and relevant year after year. For example, the agency works with its clients to unearth real relationship stories based on authentic and truthful insights that are "less obvious, but strongly empathetic".

Meanwhile, Casey Loh, creative chief of The Clan, said standing out is one thing, being relevant is more important. He advises clients to look at the cultural nuances of the season and build on a strong insight that will drive the story. That way, companies will be able to find a fresh new angle to an age-old story, and help the campaign stand out as well as touch the audiences emotionally, Loh said. He added:

I would recommend being bold in the story but being sensitive in the telling.

Agreeing with Loh is Anish Daryani, CEO of M&C Saatchi Indonesia, who said that challenging cliches associated with Ramadan is a "great way" to help brands cut through the clutter. Keeping with the norm is the easy way out, while breaking away is where the challenge lies. He added:

Finding tensions in society and insights on sweeping changes in culture are good fuels for creating conversations that are differentiated and relatable.

These insights surface when companies break away from the cliches, Daryani said.

While some companies believe that allocating more ad dollars to their festive marketing this Ramadan might help them gain audience engagement, CEO of Flock Indonesia Ivan Hady Wibowo said creativity is still the main ingredient to help campaigns stand out during this period. Comparing Ramadan to Christmas and the Super Bowl, Wibowo said a memorable campaign that is simple yet touching is also effective in helping companies stand out.

"People will remember a campaign if it is crafted to speak about what they believe in, or if they can simply understand and relate to the story," he added.

That being said, while Wibowo cited the need to be creative as a way to remain seen by consumers, Amit Sutha, MD, Universal McCann and Ensemble Worldwide described the industry as the "least creative" during the festive season. This is because nearly every company produces long-format work that pays an emotional tribute to family or friends. As such, there is a need for a change in mentality and have companies create campaigns that are real, that make a difference and allow consumers to interact with.

"Stop telling stories, start doing," Sutha said, quoting his colleague.

(Read also: Ramadan tips: Daily habits of Malaysian and Indonesian Muslims)