by Bilal Zaiter
A brand or a spiritual experience...
By Bilal Zaiter: communication consultant and managing director of Roumooz for cultural industries and art management
From greeting cards, to drama on television, and from corporate advertising campaigns, to certain services specifically offered in this month, "Ramadan" is becoming a brand. Accept it or not, this is the fact.
A brand with a strong loyalty, and equity. A brand that enjoys a billion and two hundred million potential customers. A brand that whatever your brand is, if get associated to it then definitely will enjoy more exposure, awareness and an impact on the bottom line sales.
Who made ita brand? This is a simple question.
Consumerism culture did. The hard question is how believers allowed it to become a brand. This answer requires a deeper exploration into these believers values and beliefs system in the past 14 centuries. However, the very neat answer is "by being lazy".
Syria hosts Ramadan as many countries with a majority of so called "Muslims" population. It celebrates the event in a colorful way. Different colors of dishes, different restaurants programs, different drama on TV, different contests, and even different ways of calls for prays.
But what is Ramadan and what is supposed to be ?
The Ideal vs. the Reality :
Ideally, "Ramadan" is supposed to be the month of "Radical positive change", it is meant to help the "Believer Muslims" realize how change is adoptable in life. Over one night, people adopting "Ramadan" need to change their eating habits, their wake up and sleeping time, their words – they can not fight with anyone if you are fasting- their love practices –they can only practice love after sun set until sunrise -.
Ideally, it is supposed to be Lust controlling space, a model example of how easy people can change their lives – only if they want to –
Ideally, it is supposed to mean a physical rewarding experience, where weight control, poisons releasing out, They also experience additional prays after the dinner so that they end up feeling light and not lazy. They should not seem lazy, angry, or weak.
If they have health problems, then they can quit Ramadan. And pay to feed needy poor people.
To ideally complete Ramadan, "Believer Muslims" need to pay their "Zaka". Money that purify them as their religion tells. This money should go to in-need people before the celebration "Eid" morning so that these poor people can buy some food, sweets and clothes to celebrate like their neighbors.
The point . Ideally. Ramdan is a positive change.
But within years, and due to lazy mentalities, back warded mentalities, money-oriented and consumerism culture we live, "Ramadan" is not what it is meant to be anymore.
"Believer Muslims" take two meals in Ramadan. One before sunrise and another after sunset. Calculated simply, this mean a decrease in food consumption by one-third.
Reality has another story to tell.
Increase in weight, more food consumption
Contrary to any sound human logic might find out. Statistics show that a 40% increase in food consumption happen in "Ramadan".
Although "Ramadan" is the month of fasting, where those who fast are supposed to make an advantage and get in shape, weights increase after "Ramadan".
Once again this is because we are approaching Ramadan technically, with our inherited behavior rather than our own developed one.
It is enough to know that additional "1000" calories a daily can increate our weight by "1 Kg" a week , which means "4 Kgs" a month.
When demand exceeds offer, we will definitely notice an increase in prices. Statistics show that demand for food increase %40 during "Ramadan".
Reality bites, many sellers run to their homes when the sun sets. They are (Muslims). Such manipulations in prices strongly contradicts a very critical another pillar in command in "Believer Muslims" code of ethics, the "fair trade".
Such sellers reflect to market demand by increasing prices. Accordingly, such anti-trust trade practice get countered governmentally by many attempts to enforce law. This is one of the very critical examples that reflect the religion/state dilemma. We can not accept religion as a community ruler. It has to do with people's beliefs, but what if these people are not adhered to ethics, or values systems.
People rush to their homes before dinner time. In a city like Damascus, it become a dream to find any transportation medium to pick you home if you are too lat. Even with you private time, you need to be aware. People drive in a very reckless and careless way. Thinking "I want to be home" this "I" amplifies when we are starving and thirsty. Because it is the social practices followed blindly, and peer influence that are leading our actions during fasting time, not the spiritual orientation .
It is so much normal to see people fighting, screaming, shouting, and even insults at while driving down the city. The crowds add to the unbearable conditions of hunger and thirst.
It is so much normal to see the previous days practices by Taxi-drivers repeated during "Ramadan". Although the counter tells that we should pay amount "X" the taxi driver always not satisfied if he didn’t receive amount "X+". and I am not talking about tips. By all means tips are a voluntarily appreciated and well respected action, but if a passenger does not want to pay an added value for the service she/he has just received then it is up to her and him. What happens is that we see the same practices during "Ramadan" by thirsty driver, meaning by "Muslims"
The evening – The TV
Right after taking their dinner, " Muslims" sit to TV or leave to another small meals outside. With a proper consideration to hard economical situation to majority, along with a lack in entertainment facilities, TV become an affordable entertainment.
The Arabic drama production has witnessed within the past five years a booming. Although Syrian drama this year had deceased 50% of last year's production, but the numbers of TV series are still striking.
Initial announced numbers state that the number is approximately 100 TV series. The average number of TV series watched during Ramadan by Syrians is two. Meaning two hours. This is not a high rate, although the daily routine is to start watching TV from like 20:00 till midnight. And the question goes far behind the striking quantity. It is a qualitative question. What are we watching, the advertising industry, and the industry itself.
It is well understood that TV stations can not buy such TV productions if they can not cover the costs, and generate profit. How they usually make such purchases feasible, is through advertising insertions. Many brands prepare themselves to "Ramadan" they know they will enjoy the highest viewrship rate, and accordingly brand exposure. That's where branding comes again to the scene. Brands in Ramadan or better said Brand Ramadan.
The quality of drama by itself is to carefully be considered, yet this is not relevant space. However, one example worth citation. The series that was best rated by audience last year based on a research I did to assess Syrian drama.
"Bab Al Hara", a Syrian TV series that was broadcasted during Ramadan 2006, and then had another part "Bab AL Hara 2" again in 2007. Many people thought it was a worthless, undeveloped and humiliating series. The reason is mainly about the way it portrays women but was not that the case in that period, was not that our history. Then, what about the other promoted values?" I can not turn a blind eye to the full part of the glass. Such TV series approach masses. Definitely the middle & lower social-economical classes (SECs), and many of the A class too. It is will be so much hard to ignore the values such series are trying to seed. Courage, self-denial, and forgiveness. As many can realize, our society is losing virtual values. We are paying such values for nothing. A reminder about such values could be helpful. Although once again I insist that dangerous messages need to be monitored carefully not to promote false, negative, distorted and destroying values at the same time while sending out positive ones.
Although it is very good that "Ramadan" is becoming a good opportunity to see these good works on our screens but the crucial question is why not in other times but Ramadan.?
The evening - The Tent:
Whether being a nostalgia to desert life, or a complete ignorance about its meaning to refugees, the "TENT" has become a vital element of "Ramadan".
Another commercially feasible invention, another marketing gap that was realized by some hospitality people, and rendered into a smart product.
Today it is very rare to hear about coming "Ramadan" without getting exposed to tens of advertisements inviting us to enjoy our time in one of these tents.
A tent is a covered space where you can have one of your two meals in Ramadan, dinner or "souhoor". This means that a tent is a restaurant . however this invented term is meant to relate the brand Ramadan to its origins, the desert. Surprisingly enough, people enjoy this. They attend these tents with high rates occupancy. They pay a lot and they eat a lot and they sleep before the sun rise. They never follow the ideal routine. They follow the consumerism mandated routine. We worship the BRAND Ramadan rather.
I am not here to condemn "Ramadan" as much as I am not here to post a note about "Brand Ramadan", and its "consumers". I am here to raise a critical issue that has to do with technical/strategic mentalities.
It is the moment led mentality rather than the visionary mentality that is distorting the beauty of our cultural practices.
Sailing in life with a spiritual compass is rewarding. It helps us set our anchor point whenever there is a storm.
Any believing process starts by setting our values system. If we don’t have values, if we do not want to work on them, then we can not expect to elevate spiritually.
Ramadan the Brand in this sense becomes a space to experiment more types of food, more prices manipulation, and more TV drama marketing. Nothing more.
While Ramadan the spiritual practice, is supposed to be a great opportunity for the believers in it . An opportunity to experiment with radical changes in life, body and soul purification and harmony.
Ramadan is still a festive event. The country get muted at the dinner time then life get into the veins again. People stay out late in streets buying their things, specially in the second half of the month, getting prepared for Eid.
TVs are turned on and the majority of population are watching several TV series where they get the chance to discuss during their days.
What is still untouched about Ramadan being a brand or a spiritual experience is that it is the a cultural experience when people get closer. It unifies in a way or another, people eat and stop eating at the same time. People watch same TV series. People eat similar types of food, fatoush, soap, fatat, and the main courses. Not to mention the sweets. People forget about their diets.
Ramadan unifies. In this is sense it is still a vital cultural feature of Syrian's lives. They only had to keep its spiritual ideals vivid and awake.