USA: Education Can Fight Halal Backlash

Ogilvy Noor: Education Can Fight Halal Backlash

By Arun Sudhaman

NEW YORK: Brands must ‘be brave’ about confronting a vitriolic backlash against halal-compliant brands, including a popular Facebook page calling for a boycott of KFC.

That is the message of Nazia Hussain, who heads Ogilvy & Mather’s new Islamic branding unit, Ogilvy Noor.

Hussain’s comments follow news stories which have attacked halal procedures for promoting animal cruelty. There are more than 2,000 members, meanwhile, on a Facebook page that calls for consumers to ‘boycott KFC restaurants for going Halal.’

The backlash has centred on the halal practice of slaughtering animals without stunning them first, even though many Muslim groups do allow stunning to take place.

“The potential for backlash is something that companies need to be brave about,” said Hussain. “By taking the stance that education is the best way to overcome fear, they must take it upon themselves to educate all consumers about the benefits of halal in a quest to be an inclusive provider of goods and services to an increasingly diverse global consumer population.”

Ogilvy Noor was launched globally earlier this year in a bid to help brands target the ‘new Muslim consumer’. It rolled out in the US last week.

“The size of the global halal market is estimated to be in excess of $2.1 trillion and growing at a rate of $500 billion a year,” explained Hussain. “It would be ludicrous for companies to look at this market and choose to ignore it – it would be like looking at China in the early nineties and saying ‘it doesn’t matter’.”

Hussain added that, where Islamic branding is concerned, “fear is generally born of ignorance”, which is best met with a “deeper understanding of what halal actually means.”

“It is a moral and philosophical point of view, and encompasses the production and consumption of all things with a view towards ethical behaviour, respect for the community, the environment and animals,” she added. “Scholars argue that the halal slaughter of animals is no less painful to animals than non-halal methods – in fact, many argue that it is quicker and therefore less cruel.”

One of the key findings in Ogilvy Noor’s comprehensive research report into Islamic branding is that Shariah and halal values can align with Western notions of CSR. “The key thing to remember is that halal is in fact very closely aligned to all that is organic and free-range – all these share a focus on the natural and the unadulterated,” said Hussain.

Hussain pointed to Whole Foods as an example of a brand with a “deep and informed understanding of what halal really means.”

Whole Foods includes the Saffron Range halal range in its stores, which Hussain believes publicly acknowledges the “natural synergy between the ethics behind halal and those behind all eco-friendly, natural and organic products.”

The Ogilvy Noor research study also ranks brands according to their appeal to Muslim consumers, with Nestle and Lipton topping the list. Hussain dismissed the notion that these brands would back away from their halal investments, pointing to the rapidly growing spending power of Muslim consumers.

“Companies that deny their Shariah-friendly practices are doing nobody a favour, and are in fact neglecting their duty to provide relevant products to consumers groups that demand them,” she said. “We firmly believe that in the long term, it is companies that invest in understanding Muslim consumer needs, and in tailoring provision to them while being unafraid to publicly support that decision, that will stand to gain.”

Nazia Hussain, will be joining the panel at the World Halal Forum Europe, 10-11 November 2010 being held at Earl’s Court Convention Centre. The session she is in is titled ‘The Media & The Message – Reaching Halal Consumers”. See HalalFocus Special offer to attend this conference on the Home Page.