Marketing: Selling planet Islamic

Marian Salzman is one of the world’s foremost trend-spotters, a woman who can see something coming before others have even raised their heads above the parapet. And the next big thing in marketing, she reckons, is the Muslim pound.

They are the equivalent to Latinos in America — a huge ethnic group with its own special needs and interests. According to Mintel, a market research company, the estimated spending power of Muslims in the UK is £20.5bn. There are more than 5,000 Muslim millionaires in the UK, with combined assets worth more than £3.6bn.

“It’s a unique market with a unique set of needs, for example in the banking area,” says Salzman, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of consultancy JWT. “Under sharia law, different kinds of mortgages need to be written in order for someone who is Muslim to acquire a home. There is banking law which impacts financial transactions. There is Islamic law which impacts investment portfolios. And there’s halal law which impacts consumption of food, beauty and healthcare products.”

There has been a huge surge in marketing to Muslims this year, according to Salzman. “I think it is a recognition of the size of the market,” she says. “Another thing I believe has been driving it is all the coverage of whether Turkey will be part of the EU, which has also raised the visibility of the question about the sheer percentage of the European population that is Muslim.”

Salzman believes that recent terrorist attacks have changed the face of Muslim marketing. “One of the outputs of 9/11 and 7/7 has been that a number of Muslim consumers have become more conservative and re-embraced aspects of their religiosity because they feel decidedly less British/French/American than they did before those acts,” Salzman says. “They returned to more traditional law. Instead of being comfortable being a British citizen who consumes like anybody else in Leeds or Birmingham or London, they consume first and foremost like a Muslim citizen.”

According to a JWT survey, British Muslims are significantly more positive towards brands and branding that the general population. The report suggests that brands that take the trouble to establish solid connections with Muslims can expect greater loyalty than they can from other British consumers. Fifty-eight per cent of the Muslim respondents said they feel that brands make life “more interesting”, compared to 20 per cent of the general sample. And while only a quarter of the general sample said they make a point of knowing which brands are popular, 63 per cent of Muslims said they do so — and this climbs to 71 per cent amongst those aged 18 to 29.

“Mainstream British consumers have become sniffy about brands. They buy them with a sense of irony, and in recent years we’ve seen many take pleasure in deconstructing brands and advertising with a touch of cynicism,” says Salzman. “Our survey found that Muslims take a much more fresh and enthusiastic attitude. They appreciate brands, and they’re more likely to stick with those they trust.”

But while Muslims are more positive about brands, they are also more more sensitive towards the moral attributes of brands and the way they marketed. Fifty-nine per cent agreed that there was too much suggestiveness or immodesty in most advertising, compared to 28 per cent of the general sample.

Their buying behaviour is also heavily influenced by expert endorsement and opinion. In the survey, almost two-thirds agreed with the statement “I feel reassured if a product has been endorsed by an expert” — almost twice as many as the general sample. Muslims also have a higher level of trust in expert opinions and reviews than non-Muslims: 75 per cent compared to 56 per cent.

Eventually, mainstream advertising will begin specifically targeting Muslims, Salzman believes. She thinks the general population will find it uncomfortable viewing. “I think it’s going to be increasingly frightening. I draw parallels to when the African-American consumer was welcomed into mainstream advertising in the US in the Seventies. We as Americans were still afraid of what we saw because it was different. You didn’t know someone like the person you saw portrayed. I think there are still those same barriers with the Muslim population in the UK. We think maybe we know someone like this, but we don’t really know. And we’re scared. For marketers the scariest thing has to be news reports globally. In the latest round of terrorism two medical doctors are involved, so the media claims. It makes us very, very frightened because we now really don’t know how to put people into boxes.

Anti-Semitism was very much helped by the Levi’s Jewish rye bread ads in the US, which made Jewish people just less frightening and Jewish product less frightening. It made it like something everybody would like to eat. I do feel that the big challenge for mainstream marketers is to make what is Muslim appear in a positive way.

“But you are working against very, very high obstacles with what’s going on in the news. Consumerism is going to have to be one of the ways we begin to heal our social rift.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday July 10, 2007.
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