Islamic Branding: Make Way for “THE NEW HISPANICS”


By Miles Young

Originally published at WPP

A market of 1.6 billion people that has scarcely been
tapped, Muslim consumers offer enormous potential to
Western marketers – but only if their values are fully
understood, says Miles Young

Islamic branding: the next big thing?

THERE is a sense of the arrival of a new “big thing”
in the world of marketing – and it is coloured green;
not the familiar grass green of the environment, but
the deeper green of Islam.

For the first time, it is a topic which is receiving
serious public attention; and the future of Islamic
branding was in the spotlight at the last World
Islamic Economic Forum in Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, in the West, recent research (by JWT)
amongst Muslim consumers has highlighted their
importance as an attractive market segment. Already in
the US, they are being described as the “new
Hispanics”. While recognition of this new “target” for
primarily Western marketers is timely, simply leaving
it there is probably not enough. There is a bigger
angle; what is the role of Islam in the growing
multi-literalism of the global economy itself?

The pure arithmetic, of course, is persuasive at one
level, and all the more so outside of the UK and the
US. There are 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, rising
fast. Of these, only 20 per cent belong to the Arab
world, the majority being located in south and east
Asia. The rub, however, is that the Islamic world
still only accounts for 5 per cent of the world’s GDP.
The issues of the Islamic world tend, therefore, to be
those of the developing world. Brands which compete in
the global market place are the necessary weapons for
avoiding long term economic marginalization. It is as
simple as that.

Strong values
This looming one quarter of the world’s population
shares in Islam a set of values which are immensely
strong – and woefully misunderstood in the West. Islam
equates identity; and defines behaviour in a way which
makes how you do things as important as the things you
do. The “ummah” is premised on a view of what is
lawful (halal) and unlawful (haram), so the gap
between belief and behaviour is remarkably narrow.

A strong sense of community and welfare underpins all
activity, informing business ethics. Islam has little
space for imagery and heavy reliance on verbal
communication. In varying degrees, Sharia compliance
recognizes these requirements, and to some degree,
perhaps unsurprisingly, “Sharia compliant” has become
a synonym for “Islamic brand.”

But Islamic branding is actually more complex than
this, and exists at three levels. At the most
exclusive level, overtly Islamic brands place their
appeal strictly on Sharia principles. These are
especially concentrated in the finance and food
sectors. Beyond that, there are brands created by
Islamic-rooted organizations informed by Islamic
belief but which are pluralist in their appeal
(airlines or telcos would be an example). And, further
still, there are brands which emanate from Islamic
countries but which are not specifically religious in
character; many Turkish brands fall into this
category. Confusingly, the distinction is not often
made: but what all three should have is a common
purpose, which is to re-balance the importerexporter
relationships between the Islamic and non-Islamic
world.

Beyond Sharia compliance
To do so effectively means harnessing the language and
concepts of branding in each of these categories. So
it is just becoming clear, for instance, that Sharia
compliance in itself is not differentiating. Brand
choice requires emotional cues as well. And, at every
level, the competition is against “foreign” brands -
which means beating their emotional preference:
because compliance, ultimately, is a generic benefit.

My feeling after the Kuala Lumpur discussions is that
Islamic branding is at something of a cross-roads: if
it recognizes that there is a difference to be bridged
between Islamic products and Islamic brands, then it
should be the “next big thing”; and something which
helps, incidentally, bridge the cultural and economic
chasm which separates the “globalized” and the Islamic
worlds.

Targeting non-Muslims
In doing so, Islamic branding can still be unique, and
can offer the world a different angle on value
maximization.

The concept of halal in foods, for instance, seems to
capture a craving for purity which goes well beyond a
religious franchise. Up to 60 per cent of the consumer
base for Islamic financial products in Malaysia can be
non-Muslim. The Islamic importance of community
welfare gives new life to the concept of Corporate
Social Responsibility and relates it much more tightly
to the brand in the West.

And the opportunity to create a new Islamic design
ethic which could be analogous to a design tradition
which values intrinsic worth – such as Scandinavian
design – also presents itself.

In the West, “Islamic” is so readily and so unfairly
equated with the obscurantist. Anyone who touches an
advertising business in those countries where moderate
Islam is the prevailing voice will know that they are
highly creative, highly charged workplaces, certainly
more than capable of ultimately redressing the one way
flow of global ideas.

Ogilvy Asia-Pacific.

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