If Islamic marketing is the next big thing, Ali A. Rizvi questions what it really means.
One would think that in Pakistan, a country with a population of over 180 million, of which 97% of the people are Muslim, the idea of using Islamic principles in advertising would be a given. This debate would probably be more appropriate to Muslims residing in the West and for big international brands operating in those countries for incremental sales.
Two years ago, Ogilvy & Mather seized the opportunity to tap into the world’s Muslim population of over 1.6 billion people (approximately 23% of the world’s population) by launching Ogilvy Noor, an agency with multi-disciplinary global Islamic branding practices that aims to help brands better engage with Muslim consumers by fully understanding their values. However, if one takes a closer look at the local market and the local communication practices, it is obvious that just because we are a Muslim country doesn’t mean that the Islamic way of marketing is being implemented.
So what is Islamic marketing? The first word that comes to mind is halal. The implication of this word is usually restricted to food, although it has also found its way into the banking system since the last decade. Digging further, the next thing you might think of when it comes to Islamic marketing is not using women in the communication and then using people without showing their faces.
Most of the advertising done in Pakistan is inspired by the West and is in a way reflective of the social norms prevalent in Western countries. There is nothing wrong with the concept but it also reflects the lack of knowledge people have about the Islamic way of marketing.
So what is Islamic marketing? According to the Global Journal of Management and Business Research, Volume 11 Issue 11 Version 1.0 November 2011, it is: “The process of identification and implementation of value maximisation strategies for the welfare of the stakeholders in particular, and society in general governed by the guidelines given in the Quran and Sunnah.”
Islam is not just a religion, it’s a way of life and the crux of the definition is that at the heart of Islamic marketing lies the principle of value-maximisation based on equity and justice (constituting just dealing and fair play) for the wider welfare of society. If seen with the eyes of modern day global marketing practices, most companies strive to achieve this in their business dealings anyway.
Locally, Islamic banks are the ones to properly roll out the concept of Islamic marketing and their guiding principle is this basic definition. The difference between Islamic and conventional banks lies in the fact that the former operate on an equity-participation system in which a predetermined rate of return is not guaranteed, whereas the latter’s operations are based on both equity and debt systems that are mainly driven by interest (riba). This is the essential difference, resulting from the implementation of the Islamic shari’ah principles. Islamic banking has attracted a huge chunk of previously unbanked customers while enhancing the banking sector’s market share and eating into the share of conventional banks.
Meezan Bank was the first to launch in this market followed by international banks such as Dubai Islamic Bank, with the most recent to join this growing list being Burj Bank. Following the success pattern of the Islamic banks, conventional multinational banks have also introduced an ‘Islamic window’ of operations.
However, by and large, Islamic banks have failed to educate the public about this alternate form of banking and have left it to the discretion of the customer to work out the concept of Islamic banking. There was some movement toward the second half of last year after Burj Bank was launched and competing banks did some advertising to increase awareness of Islamic banking practices, leading to deposits; clearly there are customers willing to buy into faith-based products and services but one needs to reach out to them.
Islamic banks have to better understand the needs, preferences and behaviour of their target audience. These banks need to roll out innovative products and offer differentiated services which set them apart from conventional banks. Halal and haram won’t cut it since appealing to one’s fears is not permitted as per the advertising ethics of Islam.
This brings me to another area of misconception the industry has about Islamic marketing. Like conventional advertising, Islamic marketing has clearly defined advertising ethics, which serve as a guideline and are not very different from conventional advertising practices. The ethics are, avoid false and misleading advertising; reject manipulation or misleading sales tactics; avoid sales promotions that use deception or manipulation. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) expressly condemned all manipulative promotional behaviour stating that, “One who cheats us is not one of us.” (al-Nawawi 2:770). 34 Abul Hassan, et al.
“In Islamic ethics, promotional techniques must not use sexual appeal, emotional appeal, fear appeal, false testimony and pseudo-research or contribute to the dullness of the mind or encourage extravagance. Within the Islamic framework, these methods are unethical since they are used purely to exploit the basic instinct of consumers worldwide with a view to gain profits and greater market share. Furthermore, Islamic ethics strictly prohibit stereotyping of women in advertising, and excessive use of fantasy. The use of suggestive language and behaviour, and the use of women as objects to lure and attract customers are also not allowed.” (Source: JKAU: Islamic Econ., Vol. 21 No. 1, pp: 27-46 (2008 A.D./1429 A.H.))
I can’t think of a better example than Shan Foods when it comes to refraining from stereotyping women in advertising. Ever since they launched the brand, Shan have not shown a woman in their commercials or any communication medium despite the fact that the brand’s primary target audience is women. Yet Shan is the market leader in its category. Recently, Sunsilk, one of the world’s biggest hair care brands launched a shampoo devised specially for women who cover their hair. One can call it ‘Islamisation’ or respect for women depending on how you look at it.
There are other examples of designer brands such as Junaid Jamshed and Shahid Afridi who have attempted to follow Islamic marketing principles by using human figures without showing the face, or covering it, which to me is hypocritical because Junaid Jamshed as a model can have his face plastered all over the place but as a business owner he doesn’t believe in showing his model’s face. This conflict of words and actions by so-called religious ambassadors pollutes and creates fear in the minds of people when it comes to a basic understanding of Islamic marketing.
Although a lot more research and understanding is required when it comes to Islamic marketing, there is a sense that the next ‘big thing’ has arrived and it’s based on the values of Islam, which are immensely strong and highly misunderstood. Islam defines behaviour in a way which allows people to go about their daily tasks and businesses in an ethical manner. There is more to Islamic marketing than shari’ah compliance and halal/haram.
Ali A. Rizvi is COO, Interflow Communications.