Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Religion sells. And it can sell anything

Updated Jul 25, 2017 03:29pm
From selling clothing to cooking oils and car services, using ‘religion-based branding’ has worked wonders.

I now dread Ramzan. Not the fasting. That is the easy part. The very essence of the holy month – the fasting, the quiet charity, the introspection – has all but receded to the sidelines. Replaced by garrulous and crass talk shows, empty piety that is thrust at everyone’s face and a lack of consideration for fellow citizens. That is what I dread. It is everything that Ramzan is not meant to be.

It is understandable that there would be some commercial aspect to a month that culminates in festivity. If the commercialism were restricted to Eid it would be perfectly acceptable. After all come Christmas time, the Western world does the same. At times clichéd, at times brilliant, the advertising is varied in terms of story and tonality. That is not the case here. Plodding and preachy and plain superficial, much of it could be interchangeable.


Religion has been slowly and steadily become a part of our onscreen lives, growing beyond the parameters of Ramzan. Ironically, more so in advertising than in entertainment.


Perhaps this reflects our approach to religion. Plodding and preachy with a self-righteous air of exclusivity. We are not spontaneous, joyous or inclusive in our worship and our spirituality, rather we adhere to faith in a manner most superficial. Religion has been slowly and steadily become a part of our onscreen lives, growing beyond the parameters of Ramzan. It is omnipresent. Ironically, more so in advertising than in entertainment.

You have a brief for a consumer promotion? Easy. Send them on Umrah. You want to show a mother’s love? Put her on the prayer mat. Halal is a word traded freely. Show a worrying father? Place a tasbeeh in his hand. There are soap brands proudly sold using the halal label – despite the rather incredulous assumption that there would be a soap manufactured with pig-based ingredients in Pakistan.

A pop star built a retail empire on his new found Islamic credentials. Citing him as an inspiration, a popular news anchor launched a natural beauty care line featuring a hijabi model and a brand built on ‘purity’. Another news anchor did an ‘exposé’ of all the ‘haraam’ products sold to pious Muslims in Pakistan. The ratings rose. The issue was raised in the National Assembly by a minor government official from a completely unrelated ministry and later covered by a respected newspaper. Said products are still widely available. Either there was nothing questionable about the products or the objective had nothing to do with service and everything to do with sensationalism.

Read: Three branding lessons to learn from Junaid Jamshed.

Islamic banking is here to stay but has not succeeded in encouraging more people to bank. The number of brands forbidding the use of the human element in advertising is growing. Clothing, shoes, paints, food. Although the food brand that started this trend has now embraced human elements wholeheartedly, rumour has it that a fatwa from an influential local seminary was sought and given on the condition that only non-Muslim talent could be used. How that fatwa was applied to the testimonials on digital, it is not known. Perhaps an argument in favour of journalism and reportage was used.


A pop star built a retail empire on his new found Islamic credentials. Citing him as an inspiration, a popular news anchor launched a natural beauty care line featuring a hijabi model and a brand built on ‘purity’.


It is understandable why they would change. Food is sensorial and while that can be communicated by a beautifully shot product-focused commercial, it is also ultimately about taste and enjoyment. Without that there will always be a gap in the brand benefit communicated. And the competition was not providing any breathing space.

The question is where does this all stop? The brands which advertise without the human form are all placed in ad breaks during television dramas or news programming where humans in all their shapes and forms are clearly visible. Sometimes sandwiched in between commercials with a song and a dance. Of course there cannot be a move to remove people from television – there would be no entertainment, no news or sports for that matter. Newspapers and magazines would only feature words and illustrations.

While the intent to translate ones’ own value system to the brands we sell is understandable, the manner in which it is being done is not terribly well thought out – and ends up with religion being exploited.

Postscript: The latest in pseudo-religious communication is a service launched by Careem. A ‘halal’ way of courtship via the presence of a rishta aunty. It could have very easily been a rishta service without the halal label. But if religion sells, then why not use it to sell a taxi ride.

The writer works for an advertising agency in Pakistan.