Borders in Southeast Asia are beginning to open up ahead of the Holy month of Ramadan. Malaysia, for example, is fully reopening its borders on 1 April and operating hours, as well as restrictions, will also be eased significantly. Meanwhile, Indonesia, which has already reopened its borders, announced on 21 March that it is lifting all quarantine rules for international travellers, Bloomberg reported . This came after a two-week trial of quarantine free travel to Bintan, Batam, and Bali. Although these two countries are gradually transitioning into an endemic phase, citizens in each of these countries have varying opinions when it comes to spending.

Indonesians, for example, are willing to spend this Ramadan. According to InMobi, there is a significant rise to 28% amongst individuals who plan to spend between IDR2 million and IDR3 million for Ramadan. On the other hand, 53% of Malaysians are still pretty cautious with their spending and only plan to spend less than RM600 on Ramadan this year.

Meanwhile, brands seem to be a little more confident when it comes to ad spend. According to recent statistics by Nielsen Indonesia which surveyed 11 major cities across the country, there was an increase in ad spend the week before Ramadan, especially from companies in the cosmetics or detergent industries, as well as paint.

Categories that recorded an increase in ad spend on TV and digital included beverages such as syrup, mouthwash, ulcer medicine, and processed food.

Nielsen Indonesia's executive director, Hellen Katherina, explained that last year's Ramadan showed that consumers made many adjustments, including the type of media they consume. "Brand owners need to carry out a comprehensive media campaign strategy, both on TV and on the Internet, considering that these two media have mutually supportive functions to gain consumer trust and prepare for normal conditions again,” she added.

Similarly, Muslim Ad Network, an online advertising platform founded in 2009 to target Muslim consumers, half of the 14 businesses and organisations surveyed said they will increase spend on ads in Ramadan 2022 compared to Ramadan 2021. While another 50% will try out new ad platforms. The majority of them (93%) also mentioned Facebook Ads as a channel they use to advertise to Muslim consumers.

While Muslim Ad Network's survey might be a global one, the market is indeed seeing a recovery in terms of ad spend in Southeast Asia. Ogilvy Malaysia's chief executive, Nizwani Shahar, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that while there is a recovery in ad spend, the industry still has a long way to go to get back to 2019 levels. According to her, many brands are looking to drive efficiencies and recover from the past two years.

"In doing this, working media versus media is a constant conversation that is ongoing which will ultimately affect ad spend. Most of our clients know and believe that building a brand will require constant media investments to ensure they remain salient and omnipresent," she added. At the same time, while the amount of work has increased, the budgets given to agencies do not necessarily commiserate with the work required, she said.

Many advertisers are still recouping from the past two years and marketing is the first line item to be optimised.

According to her, there are clients in the industry who assume going digital means production budgets are lesser as compared to TV or OOH. "Advertisers need to be cognizant that an idea can only do as much as its production value," Nizwani added.

Similarly, Saurabh Chandrashekhar, managing dirctor of MediaCom Malaysia, said more brands are now planning for Ramadan, and the industry can expect to see more first-time advertisers leveraging this festive period. " This is in line with the overall trend of adex making a return to normality," he said. He added that it is encouraging to see the confidence in ADEX driven by the continuous rise of digital platforms, growth of social platforms such as TikTok, and eCommerce. Chandrashekhar believes that the OOH space will drive this growth given how fast it is evolving through the use of data-driven DOOH aided by measurement which has always been lacking in the OOH space. 

On the OOH front, markets such as Malaysia and the Philippines seem to be doing better in 2022 compared to 2021. According to Moving Walls, the company saw an increase in campaign execution by 30% in Malaysia and a 40% to 50% increase in the Philippines. It also witnessed an increase in programmatic campaigns, mainly due to its contextual capabilities such as weather triggers and location targeting.

Meanwhile, data from Nielsen Indonesia showed an increase in consumption (24%) and time (35%) on digital media across 11 major cities in Indonesia last year compared to 2019. Consumers were also looking for new sources of digital entertainment during Ramadan, from watching videos and online shopping, to listening to music and playing games.

Likewise, Magna also predicted last year that overall, digital ad spend in Malaysia will continue to significantly outperform linear budgets and by 2026, digital formats will represent 72% of total ad budgets. Similarly in Indonesia, Magna predicted that digital ad revenues are also expected to surpass that of linear formats, eventually forming 61% of the market's ad budget. This prediction is somewhat in line with industry sentiment, as Anish Daryani, founder and president director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia, said the country is gradually recovering in terms of ad spend. According to him, the Consumer Confidence Index is at an all-time high, even higher than the pre-COVID era.

In January, for example, the consumer survey conducted by Bank Indonesia indicated growing consumer optimism in economic conditions, with the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) climbing to a level of 119.6 from 118.3 in December 2021. Although this number dipped to 113.1 in February, Bank Indonesia said it was still at an optimistic level of over 100 points. Daryani added that consumer spending is expected to be higher than 2021, with 56% planning to spend IDR2 million and above, citing figures from Based on these statistics, marketers should have the confidence to increase their ad spend and brands.

Like his Malaysian counterparts, Daryani is also seeing significant ad spend this Ramadan. "Most brands have been sitting on the fence, and have had a noose on their spends. But with the worst of the Omicron wave behind us, things are expected to change," he added.

Themes to avoid this Ramadan

Having faced lockdowns and social distancing restrictions the past two years, consumers this year are definitely looking forward to parties and the bazaars. InMobi's study found that

Indonesians hope to visit Ramadan shopping and food bazaars (51%) and attend iftar parties (33%). Meanwhile, 65% of Malaysian respondents look forward to visiting Ramadan food and shopping bazaars most this Ramadan.

Judging from the eagerness to head out this festive season, it would make sense for brands to focus their marketing campaigns around the excitement surrounding physical celebrations. Aloysia Dian Anggraeni, media CEO of dentsu Indonesia, said brands should avoid themes that touch on virtual celebrations. The reason being that this has been repeated the last two years and this year, consumers yearn for offline activities and togetherness.

Compared to Ramadan in 2020 and 2021, Anggraeni predicts more celebrations and gatherings, especially with the relaxation of health procedures and restrictions. As such, there is a higher chance of consumers experiencing buka puasa bersama and migrants returning to their hometowns. 

Similarly, brands should avoid talking about the pains of being away from family or the inability to do Mudik (travel home for Lebaran). M&C Saatchi Indonesia's Daryani explained that the market mood is optimistic and consumers are likely to reject any conversations that do not conform to their upbeat sentiments. 

Although sentiments have picked up, the world still isn't exactly out of the woods yet and MediaCom Malaysia's Chandrashekhar said brands cannot drop their guards. This is something crucial for brands to be mindful of. "Similar to the last two years, responsible communication is critical and hence, it is imperative to avoid any communications that go against what is now generally accepted behaviour," he said. This includes social distancing, special attention to personal hygiene, and masking. 

Meanwhile, a risk that brands might take during Ramadan is the need to be more Muslim-esque overnight, Ogilvy Malaysia's Nizwani said, when in fact, we need to separate culture and religion. "Rather, lean to the universal codes that make the holy month as inclusive as possible - the act of giving, being charitable, thoughtfulness and moderation. And in keeping with the move to the endemic phase, let's also push for more encouraging, uplifting efforts that befits the pulse of our nation," she added. In fact, Nizwani foresees more national outreach and acts of giving at a ground level this year. 

So how can brands stand out?

One challenge for brands during any festive season is standing out from the sea of ads online and Ramadan is no different either. One way, of course, is to seek out new or popular channels that consumers use. A recent IPSOS research, for example, said TikTok usage in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey increased from 67% pre-Ramadan to 71% during Ramadan, and the entertainment category on TikTok also grew by 1.7 times during this period. Users are also turning to TikTok to look for ideas related to iftar, home decor and fashion tips (89%).

Another way to stand out is to create disruptive ideas that are meaningful yet distinctively in their brand voice, Nizwani said. "Many tend to ride a trend wave or try to follow an iconic brand's behaviour. The risk here is being lost in the sea of sameness. While the principles and practice of Ramadan is constant, every Muslim's goals are slightly different. So, let's also harness the power of data to drive a more meaningful engagement that is personalised and sharp," she added.

Similarly, it is also important to focus on cracking human insight to become culturally relevant, MediaCom Malaysia's Chandrashekhar said, before going deep in leveraging the capabilities of a platform to establish platform relevance.

At the same time, brands that help consumers "take charge" will win this Ramadan. M&C Saatchi Indonesia's Daryani explained that brands need to ride on this wave of optimism and look at involving people to express themselves and their engagement with various Ramadan occasions that help create user-generated content. 

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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