by Jonathan A. J. Wilson
Extracts from: Wilson, J.A.J and Liu, J. (2010), “Shaping the Halal into a brand?”, Journal of Islamic Marketing, (to appear in July, issue No.2, 2010).
In business, the doctrine of what is halal has culminated in the creation of ingredient brands and in some cases forms of co-branding. Where the term Halal is recognised as a brand element, its evaluation often has functional and materialist interpretations. These deviate from more contemporary marketing and branding constructs – which instead look to focus on aspirational, tacit and intangible components (Keller 1993, 1998; Freling and Forbes 2005; Hayes, et al 2006).
With halal, organisations either appear to see it as a brand component of sorts; or recognise that within it lies the potential to become a brand – both of which can help increase market share. In contrast, for Muslims, Halal is not merely a brand element. Instead, it is part of a belief system and moral code of conduct, integral in daily living. Current literature indicates literalist and uniform definitions of what is halal; largely housed within product marketing. However, the authors assert that Halal, as a concept, contains within it attributes which render it both a phenomenon and a noumenon. What is deemed halal is ultimately governed by the heavens and subsequently therefore can never remain in its entirety within materialist branding frameworks. Following this, management practices and processes concerned with the halal, should also take into account the implicit views of all stakeholders – and this is where its true potential lies. In addition, whilst there are numerous denominations within the Islamic faith, agreeing upon one paradigm in principle; in practice they struggle to both agree and implement such universals. In light of these factors, conclusions that bring forward one halal brand as something that will fit all, are somewhat naïve and perhaps due to a lack of depth in understanding,
The importance of Ethical Supply Chains in Halal Branding
The suggestion here is that supply chain optimisation will encounter difficulties, when addressing fully management issues surrounding brand value, if halal components are introduced. This is in contrast to Maklan and Knox’s (1997) general principle of brand management – which identifies supply chains as being significant. Reasons are that better quality products, delivered more quickly, for lower costs, and with a stronger brand presence, do not constitute what is considered halal – according to definitions derived from Islam. Illustrating this, the following two hadith and a chapter in the Qur’an form the cornerstone of Islamic judgements:
“All actions are judged by intention”
(First phrase extract from a hadith related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as a reported saying of The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)
“Whoever commits an act, or introduces a matter into our religion (Islam), which is not part of it, will have it rejected”
(Hadith related by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, as a reported saying of The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him)
“I (Allah) swear by time, that I have created, that all of mankind is at loss; except for those that (do all of the following): believe (in Islam), do good deeds, guide people to truth and have patience”
(Qur’an, chapter 103)
(Translation by the authors, from the texts, in Arabic)
It appears to be the case that the drivers for halal lie in someone being a Muslim, followed by correct thinking and intentions. Only once these have been achieved, can a review of the supply chain process occur, with its subsequent optimisation.
Therefore, building on the suggestions by Maklan and Knox (1997) and del Rio, et al (2001), the authors assert that ethics also play a pivotal role. Evidence for this is taken from the following:
“Allah’s Messenger (Prophet Muhammad) cursed ten people in connection with (alcoholic) wine: the wine-presser, the one who has it pressed, the one who drinks it, the one who conveys it, the one to whom it is conveyed, the one who serves it, the one who sells it, the one who benefits from the price paid for it, the one who buys it, and the one for whom it is bought.”
(Hadith related by Al-Tirmidhi).
Whilst the drinking of alcohol for recreational purposes, is prohibited in Islam; this hadith also demonstrates that the involvement in, encouragement and consumption of this commodity is also forbidden. Therefore an argument is made to encourage the decommoditisation of halal concepts; in favour of treating them as processes – where the behaviour and intentions of those involved also fall under scrutiny. This would push practices towards approaches such as: Fair Trade, corporate altruism, sustainability and green marketing. In doing so however, further consideration would have to be made as to which products and services would credibly still remain within this reworked halal framework. Products which profess such levels of ethical practice tend to position themselves as carrying a premium. In contrast, many current halal offerings adopt strategies which price them below their non-halal equivalents, if not cheaper. This is to encourage their consumption – either for religious or commercial reasons (and in some cases both).
Halal branding as a means of reducing Muslim consumer dissonance
Within Muslim countries and especially those which have Arabic as their mother tongue, many products have previously taken their halal status as a given. However, more offerings now seek to brand themselves as halal; even within Arab speaking and Muslim nations. This is especially in cases where products are viewed as being foreign, or potentially contentious. For example it may be more crucial to brand Han originating Chinese food (largely hailing from a non-Muslim majority) as halal; in comparison to popular dishes native to Chinese Muslim tribes and Muslim countries. Due to the concept of avoidance of doubt, halal branding is in some way differentiated from other ingredient brands, such as ‘Fair Trade’ or ‘sugar free’ and is more comparable to: ‘sugar free’(for diabetics), ‘suitable for vegetarians’, or ‘nut free’ – where consumers have indelible laws of guidance. Therefore halal often represents something of a “hygiene factor” (Hertzberg et al 1959), and thus presents itself as a potential deal breaker, if absent.
Halal branding as an offensive and/or defensive corporate strategy
The halal market has seen a growing number of products outside of the food sector, overtly carrying Islamic classifications. Examples range from halal soap, halal perfume, halal chocolate and Islamic Hip-Hop. Traditionally seen as being non-contentious commodities, explanations for this phenomenon can be viewed in two ways: Optimistically, they serve as a positive reinforcement of the demand for such commodities and their economic market potential. However a polemical case can be argued for increased concerns driving such growth, within the Muslim community. Muslims may feel that not enough of their needs are being catered for; perhaps there remains a mistrust of larger organisations; or feelings of a lack of control over the Islamic standard. In support of this pessimism, there are cases where minute trace elements of alcohol or haram animal products have been found in commodities – despite carrying labelling indicating otherwise. This shows that whilst not considered significant within general manufacturing practices, they are still areas of concern for Muslims. Either way, their presence forms part of both offensive and defensive strategies – regardless of any optimism or pessimism. In a quest for Islamic purity, the purification of both wealth and actions lead to levels of spirituality. These sentiments provide admirable aspirations and great potential, for marketers and brands – whereby consumers sees themselves as being one with the product or service in question, by collectively and if possible collaboratively, achieving halal credentials.
The Global market potential of halal offerings
Mintel Oxygen (2002), values the UK Muslim population as having a combined spending power of £20.5 billion. The Grocer (2007), states that the halal food market in the UK alone is worth £700 million; with Tesco looking to bring £148 million of Malaysian halal products to the UK over the next five years. Abdullah (2008) cites predictions of Muslims becoming a significant religious group in America; hailing from over 80 different countries. Within this African Americans will make up the majority. However despite this conspicuous presence, Abdullah (2008) asserts that, “the orientalist stereotypes many Westerners consume about Islam, prevent them from understanding the complex ways these Muslims negotiate their religious, racial, and ethnic identities” (Abdullah, 2008, p.5).
Abdullah (2008) also states that Muslims define their respective identities through a process of boundary shifting which “does not only include a dichotomy between inclusion and exclusion, but refers to those situations where people negotiate multiple belongings or hybrid identities. This means individuals often navigate their personalities in ways that cause two, three or more identity markers to overlap. In other instances, they may revert to a single identity” (Abdullah, 2008, p.9).
Knight (2006) reported that banks offering such products as Islamic Finance (which by its very nature carries halal status), have attracted British non-Muslims. Malaysia also states that “up to 25% of Islamic accounts are opened by non-Muslims” (Knight 2006). It could be argued that this is surprising – considering that these financial products are non-interest bearing and whilst they may be considered a necessity to someone following the Muslim faith; begs the question why others would want to adopt them? This is especially because economic gains seem to take a back seat. Non-Muslim consumers in Knight’s (2006) article equated Islamic finance with ethical living. Haron, et al (1994), find in Malaysia,
“about 39 per cent of the Muslim respondents believe that religion is the only reason why people patronize the Islamic bank, and, surprisingly, the percentage is much lower for non-Muslims. More than half of both respondent groups have indicated the possibility of establishing a relationship with the Islamic bank if they have a complete understanding about the operations of an Islamic bank” (Haron et al 1994, p.38).
Future thoughts and areas for consideration
Fan (2000) identifies Confucianism as being the most influential school of thought, when looking to understand Chinese culture. By using Confucianism and the 40 key cultural values developed by the Chinese Culture Collection in 1987, Fan (2000) created 71 values which were grouped under 8 categories of: national traits, inter-personal relations, family (social) orientation, work attitude, business philosophy, personal traits, time orientation and relationship with nature. Upon analysis, it is felt by the authors that these values in fact also translate to the Muslim community remarkably well. The suggestion is that they contain within them an appreciation worthy of the materialistic, philosophical, spiritual and metaphysical – experienced by Muslims alike. As such, the investigation of comparable cross-cultural phenomena would provide useful insight and platforms.
Abdullah, Z. (2008), “Negotiating Identities: A History of Islamization in Black West Africa”, Journal of Islamic Law and Culture,10:1,5 — 18
del Rio, A. B., Vazquez, R. and Iglesias, V. (2001), “The effects of brand associations on consumer response”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 18, No. 5, pp. 410-425.
Fan, Y. (2000), “A Classification of Chinese Culture”, Cross Cultural Management – An International Journal, Vol. 7, No. 2, pp.3-10.
Freling, T. H. and Forbes, L. P. (2005), “An empirical analysis of the brand personality effect”, Journal of Product & Brand Management, 14/7 (2005) pp. 404–413.
Hayes, B., Alford, B. L., Silver, L. and York, R. P. (2006), “Looks matter in developing consumer-brand Relationships”, Journal of Product & Brand Management 15/5, pp. 306–315.
Hertzberg, F., Mausner, B. and Snyderman, B.B. (1959), The Motivation to Work, Wiley, New York, NY.
Haron, S., Ahmad, N. and Planisek, S. L. (1994), “Bank Patronage Factors of Muslim and Non-Muslim Customers”, International Journal of Bank Marketing, Vol. 12 No. 1, 1994, pp. 32-40.
Keller, K.L. (1993), “Conceptualizing, measuring, and managing customer-based brand equity”, Journal of Marketing, Vol. 57, pp. 1-22.
Keller, K. L. (1998), Strategic Brand Management. Building, Measuring and Managing Brand Equity, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Knight, J. (2006), “Non-Muslims snap up Islamic accounts”, BBC News online Business section. [online] (Updated Sunday 17th December 2006) Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6168800.stm [Last viewed: 6th July 2008, 23:24].
Maklan, S. and Knox, S. (1997), “Reinventing the brand: bridging the gap between customer and brand value”, Journal of Product & Brand Management, Vol. 6, No. 2 1997 pp. 119-129.
Mintel Oxygen (2002), “Halal Foods – UK – January 2002”.
The Grocer (2007a), “Growing appetite for halal food”, The Grocer, 02-06-2007.
Jon Wilson is a Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Advertising and Marketing Communications Management, at the University of Greenwich, London, UK. Jon is also on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of Islamic Marketing.
Jon Wilson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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