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A ‘New Malaysia’: Moving beyond popular themes to engage consumers

The past few months have been interesting for Malaysia, especially after the watershed 14th Malaysian General Election which created hope for many citizens.

With Merdeka Day just around the corner, brands and consumers once again take the time to reflect on what it means to be Malaysian. The usual themes come to mind when talking about Malaysia’s independence day – unity, food, heritage and culture, nostalgia and happiness. Despite this, brands can still resonate with consumers when marketing to consumers via their Merdeka Day campaigns by picking the themes that relate to their brand values.

BBDO Malaysia’s ECD Donevan Chew, said doing so will enable the communication be as meaningful to the brand as it is to consumers. For example, BBDO worked with Fonterra this Merdeka Day to create a campaign titled “Moves the Nation” for Anlene. The campaign revolves around the fact that everyone, regardless of their age, played a part in making the “New Malaysia” happen, and is in line with Fonterra’s belief that age should not determine what one can achieve.

“This year, the theme of nation pride seems to be the most prevalent as companies try to gain brand love by riding on the positive sentiments of the people post election. Again, relevance to the brand is key,” he added.

Also weighing in on the issue is Yasmin Mokhtar, managing partner, Merdeka LHS, who said “New Malaysia” is one of the new themes that are popular for this year’s Merdeka campaigns. One of its clients, Vinda Tissue, launched a Merdeka campaign revolving around taking a stand against unpleasant behaviour, bad habits and social ills. It encouraged all Malaysians to stay strong, to make Malaysia a better and cleaner place.

“This year, we’ve had a change of government since the country first gained independence 61 years ago. So it is a historic time for the nation with a general sense of optimism and change in the air,” she said.

Meanwhile, Alvin Teoh, NagaDDB’s ECD, said brands can take a deep dive into certain themes. For example, the theme of “coming home” can be expanded into Malaysians coming home to undo the brain drain that Malaysia is experiencing, Teoh said. When talking about unity, brands can touch on closing the political divide by getting individuals with opposing views to talk about the commonalities they share, because Teoh believes that the only way to build Malaysia is to first build bridges.

However, the team was unsuccessful in pitching these ideas to clients. “Marketers are weary of backlashes in the Malaysian quick-to-boycott culture, so most of the themes are based on feel-good and positivity because it’s safer,” Teoh explained.

Nonetheless, he acknowledged that there is a real sense of pride and patriotism in the lead up to this year’s Merdeka Day.

“The patriotism displayed in previous years felt forced or were done in defiance because many wanted to say ‘This is my country too and you can’t take that away from me’. But this year, it feels like there is a sense of pride in the country and we all want to be a part of this story, this journey,” Teoh said.

Merdeka Day is no doubt a defining moment in Malaysia’s history and as such, M&C Saatchi Malaysia’s CEO Lara Hussein said it would be good to reflect on the country’s history and road to nationhood so that the youth can learn from the past.

Lara, who is currently working on a new edition of DIALOG featuring Tunku Abdul Rahman’s thoughts, said Malaysians should always remind themselves of how Merdeka was achieved and the values that have been set by founding fathers. The values include unity, inclusiveness, fairness, integrity and total adherence to the rule of law.

“There’s a new sense of optimism and energy that we are experiencing this year. A belief that the future is bright and that we all share a common goal, to make Malaysia great. It’s about interdependence not independence, the idea of working together to achieve a common good,” she said.

Agreeing with Lara is Grey’s creative director Thangwei Heng, who said this year’s Merdeka is celebrated under the spirit of rebirth and everything new. He added that a few other angles brands can tap on for their campaigns include liberation, glory and equity – embracing the differences among Malaysians and treating all races equally.

Social talk: What consumers are concerned about in the lead up to Merdeka Day

According to Isentia, unity, the Asian Games and promotions were the talk of the town in the lead up to Merdeka Day. Online buzz peaked on a few occasions, with huge spikes on 20 August and 28 August, as a result of sales and promotions surrounding independence day.

Meanwhile, data from Digimind also showed that local and international consumer brands were gearing up to capitalise on Malaysians’ growing hype and anticipation of Merdeka Day. It noted a significant spike in online activity from 25 to 28 August, as brands attempted to time their offers strategically to reach and engage the most consumers on social media. Key phrases such as “merdeka sales”, “promo merdeka” and “promosi merdeka” were used to entice consumers.

Check out the list of Merdeka Day ads here:

1. Vinda

2. Celcom

3. Media Prima

4. PETRONAS

5. Telekom Malaysia

6. Maxis

7. Anlene

Do you have a favourite Merdeka Day ad? Share it with us at janicetan@marketing-interactive.com.

(Read also: Merdeka Day reflections: Independent agency heads share their proudest moments)

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)

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