Are elections promotions a good idea?

With the 13th General Elections only 17 days away, Malaysians are inundated with talks and unrelenting news reports on the issue as we anxiously await the day we get to play our part as a citizen.

But it seems Malaysians have something else to look forward to, other than the opportunity to make a difference in the country's politics.

Various brands have been seen creating promotions in line with the elections.

AirAsia was one of the first, with its Fly Home to Vote campaign that offers cheap air fares and additional flights for Malaysians abroad to come home to vote. According to Aireen Omar, chief executive officer of AirAsia, since the launch of the campaign in early April, the airline has received overwhelming response, with almost its entire inventory for the GE13 weekend almost snapped up.

"We foresee about 30,000 guests to travel through the Low Cost Carrier Terminal alone, and we will mobilise our taskforce to ensure a smooth journey for all our guests," added Aireen.

Elsewhere, The Last Polka, a local artisan ice cream manufacturer, launched its "Flavour the Future" promotion, whereby consumers who show up at The Bee, Publika on 5 May with an inked index finger get one free scoop of ice cream. The Last Polka will also feature two new flavours. Consumers who show up on 5 May get to vote on which flavor they prefer, and the flavour with the most votes will be launched by the brand.

KFC is also getting in on the elections fever by giving a 20% discount on its bucket and barrel meals bought from 9.30pm until the store closes during the promotion period, from April until 5 May.

When asked why it had decided on creating this campaign, The Last Polka's co-founder May Yee tells A+M that the brand, being Malaysian, has always focused on creating products that reflect its roots.

"Besides it being plain fun, this promotion is really to reward our customers, many of whom are in the young, urban KL demographic who we believe share common values about their belief in Malaysia and the part they're playing in deciding its political future.

"While The Last Polka remains non-partisan, we are big fans of democracy and of Malaysia and the general goal here is to encourage people out there to participate, to be heard," May Yee said.

AirAsia shares the same sentiment. "As a Malaysian company, we feel it is our responsibility to help all Malaysians return home to perform their duties as a Malaysian," Aireen tells A+M.

Sincerity is key 

"Taking advantage of an election to promote a brand is not a new concept. It's the same as leveraging on Valentine's Day or Mother's/Father's Day," says Biresh Vrajlal, managing director of consultancy agency Mercatus+.

While that may be so, great brands are the ones who appreciate that such opportunities need to be used tactfully, says Nahri Salim, associate director at cohn&wolfe XPR.

Giving out discounted chicken and free ice creams may be well and good, but brands are advised to practise caution when executing campaigns based on such a sensitive national event.

When asked whether it's wise for brands to leverage on the elections in coming up with promotions, Salim says, "First and foremost, brands should not be looking at the upcoming general elections as a promotional bandwagon, but as an opportunity to actually engage with their customer bases in a meaningful manner. Sincerity is a key factor, and often is the simple difference between fostering an appreciative general public or attracting mass cynicism."

"Brands that pursue overtly self-serving promotional engagements during such a time, could very well be perceived as belittling what could potentially be a momentous occasion in our nation's political history," Salim warns.

However, he adds that the brand that is able to support or enhance the experience of the general public in this highly anticipated moment would likely be deeply valued from those members of the public who were engaged by it.

Michael de Kretser, CEO of Go Communications, agrees, saying it is good news that brands are encouraging and providing incentives for people to vote but they must be careful to not tell their consumers who to vote for.

Biresh advises that depending on how the promotion is executed, sensitivities would need to be observed.

So then, do such promotions actually promote patriotism or is this another good opportunity for brands to promote brand awareness?

Biresh says a little of both. "It presents a great opportunity to boost brand awareness, and at the same time, remind and educate consumers on the importance of their civic duty."

Nahri says that successful engagements during this election season would be by those companies able to demonstrate a brand's authenticity through transparent and meaningful initiatives.

As for de Kretser, "I say for any brand with a good idea during the elections campaign - Go for it! The more people that vote, the better - democracy needs as many people to participate."

With that, we can look forward to having some discounted chickens and a sweet treat after we cast our votes on 5 May.