Advance planning never hurts. Ramadan is less than six months away, but for many advertisers, it is always one of the busiest periods in the year. Last year, we showcased how people watch more YouTube, perform more searches and access the Internet on their mobile devices more frequently during Ramadan, according to Google data. But did you know that this increased Ramadan activity is then sustained for the rest of the year? For brands and advertisers, that means that presence during the Ramadan ad season is key to getting more engaged consumers, more subscribers, and higher watch times for the rest of the year.

Planning a marketing campaign far in advance is not enough. It’s about a holistic approach that includes researching your consumers and using insights as a basis for a campaign, coming up with a great idea based on that data that works well online and across several media, executing the idea with grace, and then assessing its performance to plan for the following year.

To help you prepare for this crucial season, we have developed a four part Ramadan series that delves into the four stages of planning a great Ramadan ad campaign. Throughout the series, we will showcase new and past case-studies from some of the most successful advertisers in the market as they have geared up for success in the season. The four stages we will cover in the Ramadan series are:

1. Data Mining and Insight Generation

Insight generation is the basis of all successful campaigns. We explore YouTube trends and Google search queries before, during and after Ramadan, including how you can use readily available Google tools to uncover insights about your consumers and channel partners.

2. Creative Development (FEBRUARY newsletter)

How do you develop effective and creative campaign ideas for a digital world? In the February edition we will cover how to develop media and creative planning around a great idea that works well for digital advertising.

3. Designing a Campaign (MARCH newsletter)

How can you effectively plan media during Ramadan to create impact and differentiation? The March edition will cover all aspects of execution of a great idea in digital.

4. Measurement (APRIL newsletter)

The final installment of our Ramadan series will cover the tools and techniques you can leverage to measure success; a closer look at brand lift surveys, engagement and view through rates.

Let’s get started!

PART 1: DATA MINING AND INSIGHT GENERATION

Studying user activity over several years generates some fantastic insights into consumer behavior before, during and after Ramadan. These insights are key to a successful digital campaign. Here, we share with you insights based on Google searches and YouTube trends, followed by a section on tools to use so you can generate insights of your own.

What Are We Searching For?

Ramadan is marked by festivities and spiritualism. With family gatherings, office iftars and suhoors with old friends, there is an inherently social aspect to the holy month. Shorter office hours and the upcoming long break for Eid are the perfect window to plan travel. And some companies even reward employees for a year of hard work, sparking interest in investments such as jewelry and automobiles.

These are intuitive insights, but do we have data to back them up? We sure do… including some unexpected trends.

Before Ramadan

Searches for recipes spike 50% higher than the annual average, especially at the start of the month. Watchtime on YouTube for cooking videos starts to increase steadily a month before the start of Ramadan, and peaks at almost 30% higher than average in the first week of Ramadan. Let’s say you’re a food supplier or retailer. Data can help you narrate the most engaging stories - and prepare for some unexpected interests.

A regular Ramadan campaign would typically cover terms such as ‘iftar’, knafeh and meat. But did you know that people searching for iftar recipes also searched for brownies in Saudi Arabia last Ramadan, according to Google data? Or that cakes were just as popular as kanafeh? Maggi Diaries is an example of great content that a brand capitalised on based on an uptick in category-specific interest. Through the story of four women traveling across the Middle East looking for new discoveries to inspire everyday cooking, the campaign utilised long-form video content and storytelling to connect with their audience, allowing them to download recipes and access video content through a unique custom gadget on the Maggi Arabia YouTube channel. It resulted in over 12 million views, a ten fold increase in subscription rates to the YouTube channel, and 39% view through rates on the videos.

Restaurants searches related to traditional iftar and suhoor meals also increase drastically. In previous years, we’ve seen strong spikes even on an hourly basis. The busiest search times are between 6 PM and 8 PM - just around iftar time to break fast. The heightened activity continues well after midnight, until around 2 AM as suhoor concludes.

We also see a rise in searches related to faith and religion, even in terms of music and film, during the holy season. Queries for religious music, for example, increased by 20-30% in the first few and last few days of Ramadan.

It makes sense that iftar and religious music may be more popular during Ramadan, but there were also some unexpected trends: animated movies go up significantly in the same time period. If entertaining the kids is top of mind for parents in this period, can you use the six months ahead of you to do something truly different? Customised content, curated playlists and brand engagement are all opportunities that understanding this data creates for you.

During Ramadan

MENA continues to voraciously watch video on YouTube and spend even more time during Ramadan watching longer videos and engaging more with the content. Ramadan is a period of changing user behaviors on YouTube, with notably significant increases in engagement (likes, comments, shares) along with consumption of longer form content and higher video completion rates. In fact, average view duration during Ramadan increases by 11%, users subscribe at 13% increased rates, and commenting rates jump by a staggering 57% during Ramadan compared to the rest of the year in 2016.

Interestingly, user behaviors around curating videos and channels for later or repeat viewing (likes, subscriptions, and playlist views) spike significantly during Ramadan and the trend continues or maintains for the next 3-6 months afterwards. Viewing habits and activities that start during Ramadan become sustained user behavior for the next 3-4 months - basically, through the end of the year. Here’s a closer look at the figures:

  • Video views that are part of a playlist increase 37% during Ramadan (vs pre-Ramadan) and continues to increase an additional 50% after Ramadan (vs during Ramadan)
  • Likes, ‘used frequently’ for later playback, or creating adhoc playlists increase 15% during Ramadan (vs pre-Ramadan) which maintains after Ramadan with a marginal 4% increase
  • Videos added to playlists increase 33% during Ramadan and continue to increase 67% after Ramadan

Which Topics are Top of Mind?

Watch time trends shift significantly in favor of specific categories. As expected, ‘food and cooking’ rises in popularity with watch time increasing 35% during Ramadan compared to the rest of the year. In fact, the top three food videos during Ramadan 2016 were around desserts and baking. Refer to our Lurpak case study for an in depth look at how the food brand capitalized on this trend by developing ads based on cooking tutorials last year. Equipped with a deep understanding of recipe search dynamics and video content consumption trends in the region, Lurpak worked with top cooking YouTube influencers on a series of Ramadan video recipes last year. Among many impressive results, they saw a 135% increase in brand uplift among male viewers.

Meanwhile, watch time for content related to ‘TV drama series’ rises a staggering 151% in Ramadan compared to any other period in the year. And viewers are actively interacting with the content, with likes increasing 447%, sharing rising by 228%, comments increasing 431% and subscribers gained spiking by a whopping 490%.

We also see heightened interest in automobiles during Ramadan. Fun fact: While searches for sedans were pretty steady through the year, Ramadan saw a particular spike in interest for luxury cars (↑9%) and SUVs (↑5%).

The busy social calendar drives a flurry of interest in fashion and beauty. Midway through Ramadan, we see an acceleration in searches for hair care (18% increase), makeup (8% rise) and fragrances (22% increase), finally peaking around Eid. Top search terms in previous years included ‘hairstyles’ and ‘oud’. Find inspiration from L’Oreal Middle East on how the makeup brand Maybelline NY studied Google search and YouTube queries on beauty and fashion, leading them to build an impressive content strategy: a hit YouTube show, Makyaj Wa Banat, in September 2016. The show garnered more than 4 million views on the web series playlist and a watch time equivalent of 5 million minutes. Also, 70% of these views came from non-advertising sources, which means that users come to learn about the web episodes from suggested videos, search and featured videos on YouTube. Through the show, subscribers to Maybelline NY’s YouTube channel increased 4 folds after it went live in September and brand search grew 10 fold.

On YouTube, watch time for this category increases by more than 10% during Ramadan. But the really interesting insight is the level of engagement and interaction. Average comments and likes increase by approximately 50% during Ramadan and then continue to increase through the rest of the year, according to Google data. These engagement levels are sustained after Ramadan, which goes to show that Ramadan is a period of discovery. If a brand builds user engagement during this period, its users are likely to stick with it even after.

After Ramadan

As the month winds down and Eid break beckons, air travel and hotel searches surge by about 20% and 25%, respectively. Eid sees the busiest search activity in the year, second only to New Years, and the competition is intense. Did you know? The UAE searched for 1200+ hotel and air travel brands in the one week around Eid in 2016.

Mining Data and Generating Insights

There are plenty of online tools at your disposal to gather data - your own business data, your online presence data, consumer trends, and benchmarks. Developing a clear data gathering and analysis strategy is paramount to any digital business, mixing your own CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems data with your website data, and user’s behavior online.

You can tap into this world with a host of free tools from Google:

  • The Consumer Barometer helps you understand how people use the Internet across the world. Data in the Consumer Barometer is pulled from a core questionnaire which is focused on the adult online population, and a Connected Consumer Study, which seeks to enumerate the total adult population and is used to weight the results.
  • Google Trends is a tool based on searches performed by users in a specific country within a specific timeline. Using this tool you can zoom in on your specific market and see how users searches are evolving over time for a specific product/service or any area of interest to you. Comparing queries evolution is a very helpful feature for example you can plot “Sun Glasses” and compare it to “Sun Block” and you see how both terms rise in popularity with a high correlation. You can apply this logic to any of your products, and plot on top of the timeline and significant events, for example Ramadan and the pre/post periods, i.e “Iftar Buffet” spikes up very distinctly in Ramadan, rising sharply and then plummeting towards the end of the month.
  • Google Analytics is a tool based on your website traffic. It reports and tracks all site traffic and includes a vast amount of insights into how users behave on your site, how they land on your site, and what do they do while there. Those are all crucial insights for an business, insights like knowing that for example 50% of users landing on your email registration form leave that page within 5 seconds, this will trigger a redesign of that specific section of your site in order to have better results.
  • Google Search Console is a tool that allows you to discover how Google Search—and the world—sees your site: Which queries caused your site to appear in search results? Did some queries result in more traffic to your site than others? Are your product prices, company contact info, or events highlighted in rich search results? Which sites are linking to your website? Is your mobile site performing well for visitors searching on mobile?

Stay tuned for next month’s installment in the Ramadan Series on Creative Development of a campaign. Happy planning!