When rebrands go wrong

(And how to avoid the pitfalls)

Young, connected and Muslim

Muslim consumers are a growing, influential and extremely loyal group, making them a desirable market for mainstream brands. But reaching them requires more than launching Sharia-compliant products. Making inroads to this sector takes deep understanding of the values of this community and building the brand from there.


  • For more expert opinions on marketing to Muslims from leading Muslim business people click here
  • To read HSBC Amanah’s head of global marketing Mohammed Ismaeel’s viewpoint click here
  • To explore the halal brand, Chicken Cottage’s case study click here
  • For Muslim consumer facts click here

They’re young, ambitious and worth at least $2 trillion globally. A new Muslim consumer called “the futurist” is set to change the face of business.

The futurists are crucial to marketers because they are so influential, have considerable spending power and are more “connected” than their older more traditional counterparts. They are also willing to speak loudly and proudly about their identity. They simply cannot be ignored by brands any more, according to Ogilvy Noor, a new Islamic branding practice.

Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of integrated marketing agency Muxlim, says the Muslim consumer is predicted to account for 30% of the world’s population by 2025. As such, ensuring these consumers are spending could help nations repair some of the damage of the recent recession.

“The financial crisis has accelerated the need for finding new markets,” says El-Fatatry.

But brands can’t simply chase the Islamic pound without genuinely understanding what Muslim consumers want, he says, adding: “You have to go after people in their own language and think about that consumer’s needs.”

Nestlé is an example of a global brand that has already identified the potential of the Islamic consumer. It generates a SFr 5.3bn (£3.2bn) turnover in halal products – acceptable according to Islamic law – globally. It sees Europe as a target market to expand its halal range further.

But Nestlé appears to be a rare example of a global brand getting it right for this market. Ogilvy & Mather says it launched its specialist branding practice focusing on Muslim consumers because so many international brands need guidance in how to attract this market.

Many businesses now realise the potential in this area. Ogilvy & Mather Global director of cultural strategy Nazia Hussain says: “Muslim communities tend to score highly on Hofstede’s collectivism score, which means they are societies in which word-of-mouth and in-group recommendation and recognition are of enormous importance.

We tell marketers not to use overtly religious messages. Most Muslim consumers are very mainstream. If you target the religious minority, then you will be targeting a niche within a niche

Mohamed El-Fatatry, Muxlim

“These consumers can be among the most loyal in the world. When they discover something that’s right for them, they feel it’s their duty to pass on the word – for young connected Muslims today, this is done at the click of a mouse.”

Khalid Sharif, founder of halal food company Ummah Foods and The Muslim Paper, agrees. He believes that British marketers should pay special heed, because if you target the community correctly in Britain, it could propel your brand to a global status. “The UK community is so well connected to the rest of the Muslim world,” he notes.

But the Muslim consumer is a complex one. Many choose to eat halal food and follow the principles of Sharia law, which is laid out in the Koran and governs how people should live, covering topics from diet to economics.

Many financial services companies have adapted their offerings to suit Sharia law. Mainstream banks now regularly provide specialist products for Islamic customers.

HSBC Amanah is a division of the international bank HSBC and its head of global marketing, Mohammed Ismaeel, says he sees young Muslims as a very attractive target market for the institution.

Muslim consumers are much less convinced by an Islamic banking ’window’ from a global bank that is known to operate on non-Islamic lines everywhere else

Nazia Hussain, Ogilvy & Mather

Ismaeel says HSBC Amanah attempts to use aspirational advertising in an attempt to be reflective of its target audience. “The Muslim population is a younger, more progressive segment of the population. Clearly, our goal as a bank is to help this segment achieve their aspirations.” (See viewpoint, below.)

Ogilvy’s Hussain warns, however, that Muslim customers are becoming critical of banks with separate divisions that are Sharia law-compliant. Citibank, Standard Chartered, HSBC and RBS all underperformed in the agency’s Global Branding Index – a list of brands that have been rated for their Shariah compliance by Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries.

Hussain argues that the futurists are demanding more from businesses, noting that Muslim consumers are now questioning how ethical an entire banking brand is, not just its Islamic arm. This reflects the demands made by a wide range of consumers of mainstream brands who want to know that a company is being run ethically and sustainably.

“Muslim consumers today are much savvier and ask more questions than before. They are much less convinced by an Islamic banking ‘window’ from a global bank that is known to operate on non-Islamic lines everywhere else in the world,” she says.

Understanding Islamic values at a non-superficial level is vital for any brand that is thinking of targeting Muslim consumers. Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School, which is running a forum on Islamic branding and marketing in July, says this is where Nestlé is succeeding. He thinks the brand shows it “understands Islamic values and is not just pushing its own values onto Muslim markets”.


The futurists: By 2025, 30% of the world’s population will be Muslim, making this a valuable market

He continues: “If you look at some of the values that stem from the Koran, you’ll find a list of very emotionally appealing values, such as pure, honourable, honest, consistent, kind, true, trusted, responsible, wise, respectful and intelligent.”

It’s about reflecting these positive attributes throughout the business model and also through marketing, branding and communication, Temporal adds.

Mainstream products being inclusive of Muslim consumers in their marketing is another good way to gain support from Islamic consumers without having to change very much about a brand, says Muxlim’s El Fatatry. Rather than launching an Islamic iPhone, for example, Apple could just highlight an iPhone featuring an Islamic application in its campaigns.

The challenge, he argues, is not to revert to stereotyping and rely on religious messaging. “We tell marketers not to use overtly religious messages to market your products. Most Muslim consumers are very mainstream and if you target the religious minority, then you will be targeting a niche within a niche.”

Electronics chain BestBuy launched a “Happy Eid” campaign in the US last year, but he says this drew mixed reactions from its customer base. “Sales went up that month, but it also received criticism from other customers who said it doesn’t run ‘Happy Chanukah’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ campaigns,” explains El Fatatry.

While some mainstream brands have been adjusting their offers and marketing to reflect the needs of the Muslim community, Islamic brands, conversely, have ambitions to become mainstream.

Chicken Cottage is a takeaway franchise founded in the UK that uses halal ingredients, and is expanding overseas. Its philosophy from the opening of its first restaurant in Wembley, North London, was to create an “inclusive brand” that appeals to both Muslim and non-Muslim customers (see case study, below).

El Fatatry argues that Islamic and mainstream brands need to go in both directions. “Mainstream is going halal but I also feel that halal needs to go mainstream,” he says.

Halal food brands need to learn from Islamic banks, says El Fatatry. “These banks are taking halal mainstream by highlighting that Islamic banking is no different from mainstream banking, apart from having new ethical values.”

Other brands can also emphasise the attributes of Muslim-focused goods that appeal to the mainstream. Some US brands already choose to do this by promoting halal as high quality and healthy to attract body-conscious consumers of every background.

Even when brands are sure they understand Muslim consumers, targeting them in the right environment proves a challenge for many.

Ummah Foods’ Sharif says he founded his publication The Muslim Paper after feeling frustrated that he had nowhere to promote his halal chocolate bar range, which launched in 2004.

“I was an upset customer who couldn’t find an effective way to advertise my chocolate bars to the community, so I set up my own paper. The existing publications are a little serious and based on race rather than faith,” he says.

On El Fatatry’s Muxlim social network – an offshoot of the agency – popular topics include Muslim players in the NBA and the Muslim Miss USA Rima Fakih. Young Muslims are very familiar with social networking, says El Fatatry, and using a lifestyle approach on platforms like this appeals to mainstream brands keen to attract this audience.

Sharif says there is also room for brands to approach Muslims in the right environment by “considering investing in the Muslim community rather than simply talking at them.”

He himself takes this ethos into his own business operations. Young Muslims with aspirations to become full-time journalists can write for The Muslim Paper; while the Ummah chocolate brand gets involved in the local community, for example through youth projects.

Sharif believes that strong Islamic brands shouldn’t need to compromise on their integral values to get noticed. “One of the aims of the chocolate brand and the newspaper is to show the world you can have strong Muslim products that are going to become global brands. You don’t need to sell out and make it mainstream.”

The potential of the Muslim consumer market means it can no longer be ignored by marketers. But whether brands are pushing an Islamic offering themselves or hoping to make a product appeal to someone with Muslim values, it is clear this group needs careful consideration and research.

Ogilvy’s Hussain says learning to attract Muslims will not be an easy process for many businesses. She warns: “Brands will find themselves being asked many searching questions, sometimes even uncomfortable ones.” But with an audience worth trillions of pounds at stake, it seems well worth companies searching for the answers.

Viewpoint: Rebranding to differentiate a brand

Mohammed Ismaeel, head of global marketing, HSBC Amanah

The Muslim population is a younger, more progressive segment of the UK population. Clearly our goal as a bank is to help this segment achieve its aspirations.

Amanah is the vehicle used by HSBC to make the bank relevant to young Muslims. It is the ultimate expression of what we mean by the brand philosophy of “the world’s local bank”.

It’s taking everything that is positive about HSBC and making it relevant at a local level for a Muslim consumer. When you look at the brand attributes of HSBC, we think it’s a brand that values different cultures and backgrounds.

In Malaysia, for example, a large portion of our customers are Chinese. So those particular consumers are attracted less to the products for their Sharia law aspects but more so for the financial structure of the products.


Young at heart: HSBC Amanah has built its financial offering around feedback from younger customers

 To explain, our products are structured differently to conventional ones because of the co-operative nature of Islamic banking. While the commercial bank offers interest, we offer profit sharing. We’re governed by what is acceptable by Sharia law.

As our business is dictated by Sharia law, so is our marketing, advertising and communications. From a dress perspective, for example, a more conservative route is taken. This can also be seen in our advertising and communications. We may find that advertising for HSBC’s Premier product is set on a beach or a lounge bar. But these are obviously not reflective of Amanah’s target audience, so we will adjust our communications to reflect our Muslim consumers.   

But you can’t treat Muslims as one group. The banking industry as a whole has been driving Sharia aggressively for the past few years. However, our customers were coming back to us in research saying: “We’re not one big homogenous group called Muslims”. They said: “We have aspirations and ambitions like anyone else.”

So we stepped back and looked at the younger generation, who clearly told us they won’t be taken for a ride just because they are Muslims. They want something from their financial products that makes sense to them.

That means we will never offer a Sharia product unless it’s like-for-like with a conventional banking product. When people are banking with Amanah, they are getting HSBC. It’s just that they are getting HSBC in the manner that is relevant to their Islamic needs.

Case study: Chicken Cottage: the mainstream Muslim brand

Halal fast-food brand Chicken Cottage aims to be inclusive of its customers, whether Muslim or not. The East-meets-West chain has been so successful in attracting a wide base of customers that it now exists in many areas that do not have a large Muslim population.

The first Chicken Cottage store opened in 1994 in Wembley, North London. There are now about 140 restaurants, with plans for 300 by 2015.

So why has this halal brand managed to break into the mainstream? According to Chicken Cottage franchise co-ordinator Sadaf Kazi, this is because the brand has always aimed for both Muslim and non-Muslim customers.

She says: “What we mean by an inclusive brand is that because of the halal perception, lots of consumers might think we’re catering to the Muslim community only. But, in fact, we are catering for everyone.”

Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School and project director on Islamic branding and marketing, says the takeaway chain is rare among its halal peers for its mainstream appeal across UK consumers.

He adds: “Islamic brands are mostly going to be niche players in Britain. Chicken Cottage is a halal food brand but it has made itself appear very local.”

The challenge with many Islamic food brands is that non-Muslim consumers believe that halal is simply not relevant to them. The concept of halal preparation is not well understood among a non-Muslim audience, so Chicken Cottage has chosen not to highlight it as part of its in-store marketing. Instead, the word “halal” is incorporated into the store’s logo.

That way, both Muslims and non-Muslims are attracted to the restaurants, argues Kazi. “A lot of our competitors promote halal everywhere, but we don’t do that. It’s incorporated into the logo and that is it, and we don’t see the need to double advertise it. Everyone who comes into Chicken Cottage already knows that we are halal.”

While other halal takeaway brands choose to promote this aspect of their business, Chicken Cottage focuses on the food. This investment in product development allows the chain to keep ahead of the competition, argues Kazi. New products are introduced on a regular basis.

This strategy has allowed the franchise business to move beyond the UK. It now has outlets scattered around the globe including Pakistan, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Slovakia.

Any chains that do open in non-Muslim areas have to compete with other food brands on price and product, argues Kazi. Because of this, the brand is not trapped by being seen as a niche player because it plays a role in the highly competitive takeaway sector.

The success of Chicken Cottage has not gone unnoticed. Mainstream global brands such as KFC and McDonald’s have themselves introduced a halal offering in highly populated Muslim areas.

This is an area ripe for expansion, thinks founder of integrated media agency Muxlim, Mohamed El-Fatatry, who says that food brands need to do more to appeal to a wide audience.

“We need to work in both directions. Mainstream is going halal but I also feel that halal needs to go mainstream.” It seems Chicken Cottage, the Islamic high street takeaway, is already ahead of the curve.

Marketing to Muslims

Our experts offer their branding and communication advice on how to reach this often underserved audience

Mohammed Ismaeel, head of global marketing, HSBC Amanah:

“There is this term that our Shariah scholar, Sheikh Nizam Yaquby coined – ‘COBM’ – which means ‘cost of being a Muslim’. Muslims are telling us that they should not be penalised for being a Muslim. More importantly, they should have a choice on who they can bank with; and they want the same pricing, quality of service and treatment that they could get from conventional banks.”

Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder and CEO, Muxlim:

“We tell marketers not to use overtly religious messages to market their products. You don’t need to do that. Many mainstream brands don’t want to associate themselves with religion or a religious celebration.”

Nazia Hussain, director of cultural strategy, Ogilvy & Mather Global:

“There is no such thing as a Muslim brand because brands can’t have a religion but they can align themselves with the values of that religion. Don’t divide people along simplistic lines

of religious devoutness. Muslims today are deeply proud of their faith and see these distinctions of devoutness as superficial. Start with their values – core Islamic values – first. And then build brands around them to appeal to them. Not the other way around.”

Khalid Sharif, founder of The Muslim Paper and Ummah Foods:

“Rather than just talking at the Muslim community, businesses need to consider investing in the Muslim community.”

Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School, and

project director on Islamic branding and marketing:

“One of the opportunities for building Islamic brands in Britain is to cater for these niche target audiences. If [Muslim brands] do not do that, then the big brands like the Tescos of this world will do so.”


Muslim consumers: the facts

  • Most Muslims feel ignored by mainstream brands, according to research carried out by agency JWT.
  • Halal is worth $634bn (£432bn) which is 16% of the global food market, according to Nestlé.
  • There are 1.57 billion Muslims living in the world today, according to the US’ Pew Business Center.
  • There are about 1.8 million Muslims living in the UK.
  • Islamic products and services that conform to Islamic Law are worth $2 trillion (£1.3 trillion) annually.
  • 74% of Muslims aged between 16 and 24 define themselves by faith and not race, according to Home Office research carried out in 2004.
  • Nestlé has a SFr 5.3bn (£3.2bn) turnover in Halal products globally.
  • In Europe, Nestlé’s sales of Halal food reached SFr 55m (£33.3m) in 2008.
  • l Muslims are predicated to account for 30% of the world’s population by 2025.

Readers' comments (10)

  • We have recently launched BrandIslam (www.brandislam.co.uk) which will seek to recognise key mainstream players and their engagement with the Muslim marketplace and at the same time Muslim brands and their engagement with the wider communities respectively.

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  • Brilliant article!

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  • Its all well and good what the UK muslim community have acheived, however why aren't the achievements of other religions - Hindu's, Sikh's, Jewish emphasised and have products specifically marketed to them?!

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  • In reality all brands will go where the money is - it isn't so much about rebranding yourself as 'Muslim friendly' as it is about broadening the appeal of your brand to a larger audience. If all brands jump on the 'Muslim friendly' bandwagon, could this be detrimental to the people they audiences they already align with?

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  • If a Muslim wants a Mercedes he/she'll buy one , or whatever. They love money and wealth like anyone else and showing it , expensive brands appeal , regardless of ethnicity.

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  • Being Islamic in terms of marketing and advertising is not about having a “Halal” product or offering a particular service in the name of Islam. Muslim consumers want to see the entire company or the organisation is ethical, and genuinely do business to favour the public as a whole, regardless of race and religion, while generating reasonable profit for self business. Muslims disagree with greed, which is one of the greatest sins; I’m sure this is the case with all other religions too.

    Despite some beliefs, Muslims are inquisitive and evaluate one’s ethical claim critically to make sure they make the right decision. Muslims are analytical and logical, since they feel responsible if they recommend less genuine individual or organisation to their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters.

    Muslim consumers look at the history of a business’s claim to be “Islamic”, thus, some businesses are better off not getting into this market since they are unlikely to be accepted by the Muslim market due to their past unethical business practice; which makes the process of trust slightly difficult.

    Don’t waffle Muslims through your press releases and don’t try to take them for a ride when you brand your products and services; then you will be fine to establish trust among the growing Muslim communities.

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  • There is emergence of Halal b2b sites. One such popular site is Halal Exchange - www.halalexchange.com

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  • Look at the work done by specialist agency Mediareach Advertising in this sector for the past 20 years.

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  • first they label us terrorists now we are money machines to exploit, i dont want our muslim youth falling into the materialism and be exploited by greedy companies

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  • Yes indeed Muslim are one third od world population . By insisting on tailoring products for them will gain the respect a nd the recognition. I like halalhotel.com concept. And also the halalgate software that promises to filter the Internet to the Muslim values a halalinternet.com great initiative good work

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