Malaysian Grand Prix: Are local brands doing enough to market through the event?

The F1 in Malaysia is roaring off today.

While title sponsor Petronas’ marketing tactics seem to be in full gear, the rest of the Malaysian brands' campaign activities seem somewhat lacklustre.

Petronas invited the Malaysian media and contest winners over the last weekend to get a ride on the Mercedes race cars driven by Nico Rosberg and Petronas Talent Development rider Jazeman Jaafar. The next round of PR stunt saw fans meeting drivers Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg just two days ago.

Meanwhile, major Malaysian brands such as CIMB Bank and Old Town were absent from the event. A+M has reached out to the event's organisers. Organisers have also yet to confirm if the event will continue after this year.

On the SIC site, the event has listed the likes of Maybank, Malaysia Airlines, Drive Energy Drink and The Rudy Project as its partners.

For Maybank it is enabling card transactions for the event as well as marketing the event to its customer base. However, Maybank CMO Mohamed Adam Wee Abdullah said that the F1 is an intellectual property it did not have the rights to capitalise on as "we are not involved with the F1". He has yet to comment further.

Last year, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad criticised the current government for not supporting more events such as the Sepang F1 event, lauding its huge advertising value.

“The race was watched by more than 100,000 people including almost 30,000 foreign spectators. But more importantly the race was broadcast live by more than 300 TV stations worldwide. It is estimated that more than 300 million people watch the F1 race all over the world. They not only see the car racing but also many aspects of Malaysia’s development and facilities. For three days the TV audience saw beautiful Malaysia and a lot of Malaysia’s development,” said Mahathir in his blog post. Read the full blog post here.

Izlyn Ramli, VP of group brand and communication of Telekom Malaysia (TM) has suggested that it is always a matter of cost versus how hungry a brand is for visibility, adding that only a handful of Malaysian brands were of the stature to publicise themselves at that level.

She added that several local brands do not feel the need to be global and many are "regional and domestic players that do just fine with targeted advertising whilst enjoying great business growth.” TM does not currently run any campaigns related to F1, apart from a key stakeholder and customer engagement and loyalty rewards‎ initiative. ‎

“Key considerations for TM when deciding to make a balanced decision process in associating any big events include strategic fit, business objectives (ROI in terms of financial or non-financial such as corporate and products brand) and engagement value as well as benefits associated. TM also places priority on activating existing TM platforms as well as medium term sponsorship assets it already holds in its portfolio,” she said.

Not enough marketing done for F1 itself, say marketing experts

Dominic Twyford, country director of Landor Associates Malaysia said that it would be rather unfair to compare the Malaysian and Singapore Grand Prix. Singapore, he said, benefits from the fact that it is one of the world’s most iconic cities and its roads play host to a night time event. "It is a spectacle, it is a brand in its own right," said Twyford.

However, Twyford added that currently there is no strong campaign or lead up that creates anticipation or excitement in the minds of the Malaysia public for the event.

He also questioned the decision to target F1 at families.

“F1 in Malaysia should be a source of great pride and passion that infects the capital and puts the country on the map. A track side family carnival might be a nice idea but it is short sighted and off-brand,” said Twyford. F1 is still the “ultimate macho sport with fast cars, big money sponsors and pit girls," he said.

Sailesh Wadhwa, strategy planning director, Lowe & Partners Malaysia however said that the “unique theme” of ‘Experience F1 carnival' is definitely creating buzz amongst car enthusiasts and their families. He added this could be a strategic move to broaden the base of fans beyond just regulars. Wadhwa also noted that the event is one of the most followed F1 events and draws in international business. Judging by spikes in hotel rates, it is one of the key tourism boosters in the nation.

“SIC and Petronas over the years have done a commendable job in taking the event to the world with big names in the business coming down to Malaysia. Petronas’ showcase of racing cars every year at Suria KLCC garner more selfies with the car than a lot of other events and festivals. Let’s hope with SIC’s strategic move of broad basing the fan base to families in coming years we would see more brands jumping on to the bandwagon.”