Why Using a Veiled Muslima for your Marketing Campaign Does Not Make you a Progressive Brand

Charitable marketing could be your strongest ally, but not always. You have to think twice when using a veiled women, because Hijabis are not a special species.

Halal Industry

Halal is booming on a global level now more than ever. The halal food industry now makes up about 19% of the global food market, and continues to grow at an estimated annual rate of 20% with innovation and consumer-focused brands leading the way (Food & Beverage Report, 2018). The halal lifestyle is not limited to food; it includes health care, travel, clothing and apparel and everything in between.

Muslim halal spend per category (Food & Beverage Report, 2018):

Food and Beverage $1.24 trillion,Clothing and Apparel at $254 billion,Media and Entertainment at $198 billion,Travel at $169 billion,Pharmaceuticals at $83 billion and Cosmetics at $57.4 billion.


I am a 24 year old Dutch-Moroccan Muslim born and raised in Holland. I like cold skimmed milk and “old” cheese on my brown bread for breakfast. Along with 37.913 other cyclists in Amsterdam, I cycle every day to work, and I like to listen to BNR on the radio. This is something a lot of companies tend to forget - Dutch Muslims are no different than all other Dutch people.

We are not a special species

The fact is: I and all the other followers of Islam, the second largest religion in the Netherlands, have always been part of the Dutch community. How you communicate your brand to the "Halal public" can impact your effectiveness and determine if a customer recognizes your message or chooses to ignore it.

According to Ogilvy Noor, the Muslim marketing arm of global agency Ogilvy & Mather, 80% of Muslims surveyed said they would prefer to buy brands that support Muslim identity. Unfortunately, most local and global brands have shied away from addressing Muslims in their communication, let alone taking them into account or examining them in depth.

For the brands that do address Muslims: Placing a veiled women on a TV ad or billboard for a marketing campaign does not guarantee an emotional connection with Muslims.In fact, if you communicate this in the wrong way, or misplace the content in combination with the veil; you will create a bigger disconnection.Even though you are probably trying to say: “Now we recognize you as inhabitants of this country and you have made it to our marketing department”

98% Muslims surveyed by Ogilvy Noor in 2016, indicated they felt ignored by brands because “don’t actively reach out to Muslim consumers” What’s more, 86% of respondents said they believe brands “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values.”

The questions brands have to ask themselves are; How do we bridge the gap in order to tap into the booming Halal consuming market? How can we include a group of people that are already part of society but feel misunderstood?

It starts with really understanding them.

First- Don’t just pretend you care as a brand, but really do!

A good example of a failed campaign is the new TV host for RTL Boulevard.

RTL Boulevard recently introduced Rubai Zai, a famous Dutch- Afghan influencer, as its new Lifestyle Host. Muslims and non-Muslims around the world who do not know the show, would probably cheer for this development.

When I read the official media press release, I frowned and I felt slightly mocked due to the misgivings about the imbalance and "one-sidedness" RTL Boulevard has shown. You might be surprised and assume I, as a Dutch Muslima, would encourage this progressive choice of RTL.

I feel that the introduction of Rubai Zai is misplaced because RTL Boulevard has positioned itself as a daily television show and is set up as the "television-equivalent" of a tabloid. Its content revolves around fluffy stuff such as celebrity gossip and fashion commentary delivered with a sarcastic and cynical tone.

I believe other local Muslims familiar with RTL Boulevard share my misgivings about the show’s choice of host. Those who know the show will know it is the complete opposite of the Muslim lifestyle, norms and values. This because Islam supports a non-gossiping, equal and meaningful lifestyle.

Brands such as RTL Boulevard may think that marketing works like a magic wand. It doesn’t. It’s important for brands to create strategies focused on really understanding their target audience. Just placing a veiled women before the camera does not guarantee higher audience rating and a more tolerant brand image which you might aim for.

A perfectly fitting Dutch saying here is “ de plank volledig misslaan — to find a mare’s nest”

Does She or Doesn’t She?

Ogilvy Noor, has indicated that almost 75% of its respondents want brands to “make Muslims feel like an integral part of the wider community, not a marginal group.”

I completely recognize myself in this statement. A good example of a successful Hijab campaign is the april 2018 cover of Cosmopolitan, their first Hijabi model cover.

Cosmopolitan really understands their target audience. It understands that Muslim women have the same insecurities, dreams, and interests in makeup, traveling, fashion and lifestyle as non-Muslims. Cosmopolitan sees that a Muslim women are like any other women, but just some of them are veiled.

By rotating their covers and content by models and influencers from all backgrounds over the world they are staying close to their core mission, which makes Muslims feel like an integral part of the wider community, not a marginal group. Which is exactly understanding the muslim part within the whole community.

The reason this cover is just right, is because it does not display a veiled women as different from any other woman.

Just do it!

Another great example of a successful campaign is the Nike Hijab Pro. Although sporting hijabs have been around for several years, Nike has become the first major brand to launch hijabs for women.

I myself train often and one of the main struggles for me is dealing with a, hot, slippery hijab which negatively affects my daily work out.

With light fabric and tiny breathing holes, the Hijab Pro is designed to make sport activities more comfortable for Muslim women. These women are as athletic and fanatic as all other women globally. However, they have a specific need. Nike came with a solution which addresses this need. Nike stayed very close to their mission statement “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

Which is exactly what they did.

Learn and understand

Some companies do not try to tap into the growing halal market because of their homogeneous products, no or little knowledge about the market or not seeing the market potential.

Some want to target Halal public but do not know where to start, how to communicate or how to communicate effectively. To top it all off, many Muslim consumers today lack trust in brands, so making Muslims feel like an integral part of the wider community is a challenge.

Your company’s culture matters more now than ever since the Halal population wants to be understood.

Find ways to showcase values and beliefs of the organization and employees within your campaign design.

Most important learn, and truly, truly understand.

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