It is a norm for brands to celebrate festive seasons, be it Christmas or Chinese New Year. However, an alcohol brand wishing you Hari Raya emails is not that common.
Recently, German beer brand Konig Ludwig International sent out an email blast, which was forwarded to Marketing by one of its readers based in Singapore, wishing consumers a joyous and prosperous Eid Mubarak. Confused about the initiative, Marketing reached out to Konig Ludwig International to understand the purpose behind the eDM a little better. Marketing, however, did not hear back from the company at the time of publishing.
The issue of alcohol and the Muslim faith is a sensitive one, especially for brands in Muslim majority countries such as Malaysia. In Kelantan and Terengganu which are under the control of the Malaysian Islamic Party, for example, an alcohol ban is enforced for Muslims. Meanwhile, Oktoberfest-related festivals were also previously banned in Malaysia in 2017, especially in the states of Johor, Terengganu and Kuala Lumpur, according to The Straits Times.
In a statement to Marketing, Lars Voedisch. managing director, principal consultant of PRecious Communications said brands have to be sensible towards their key audiences and the environments they operate in. Ramadan is observed by over one billion people worldwide out of which there are approximately 242 million in Southeast Asia. It is a time of fasting and repentance, so putting alcoholic beverage promotions in the direct context of Eid Mubarak is "a huge no-go" and really shows that some brands are tone-deaf, he said.
"For beer and other non-halal brands, they need to ensure to make their communications neutral - such as talking about festive seasons in general or link it to non-religious topics like sports or more generic reasons to celebrate. In comparison, you would not expect advertising for a new beef burger as Deepavali special either," Voedisch explained. He added that in Muslim majority countries, beer brands in particular should stay away.
While alcohol brands might want to reach out to some groups, Voedisch said they should not forget to be respectful to others. He said:
When in doubt, stay clear - or risk massive backlashes or even bans.
Meanwhile, Pamela Tor Das, LEWIS Singapore's MD said while it is not uncommon for brands or organisations to wish the local community well, the platform, content and message used to communicate these greetings are critical. In the case of alcohol brands and Hari Raya, an occasion celebrated by the Muslim community, Tor Das said this greeting via an EDM to its customer database is not appropriate as it sends the wrong message of who is consuming their products, and for customers who do not mark the occasion, the greeting is not relevant as well.
Looking at the content itself, Tor Das explained that the use of logos may come across as too promotional. "Think about whether there are initiatives that the brand can highlight which is not tied to the product and if unsure, it would be best to err on the side of caution and not be part of this conversation," she said. Tor Das added one common challenge that has emerged in recent years is the use of appropriate vernacular in Singapore - "Selamat Hari Raya" rather than "Eid Mubarak" as well as "Deepavali" rather than "Diwali". "Often brands receive global or regional content, and miss localising it for our market. Going back to the spirit of inclusiveness, it would be important to have a deeper understanding of the local culture and context," she said.
Founder of Mutant Communications Joseph Barratt said Ramadan is an important holiday for Muslims worldwide and as such sharing a community-minded message that is both inclusive and respectful is absolutely fine. But the key is in how brands do so. Barratt explained that leveraging an important Muslim holidays into a marketing campaign to sell more alcohol is "tasteless and likely to backfire".
According to him, smaller alcohol brands in the previous years have tried similar executions thinking they are being funny or ironic, but it shows a lack of depth and understanding.
If you put some genuine thought into efforts and align with the values of the festival, consumers will likely see you as a citizen of the world - not an opportunistic brand.
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