Hot dogs and hot news: How the "hot dog" saga impacts Malaysia's brand

The Malaysian religious authority's decision to deny halal certification to fast food chain Auntie Anne's over the term “hot dog” may have more repercussions than just religious and social ones. This is especially since many of the regional media outlets across SEA picked up on the news spurring netizens to voice their unfavourable opinions on the matter.

Most recently, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, Tourism and Culture minister said the uproar created over the use of the word "hot dog" is ridiculous and that the whole issues was raised by ignorant individuals who are "not living in the real world."  The UMNO supreme council member said there is no need for this "stupid issue" and he is not offended by the use of the word "hot dog."

In front of the Malaysian press, he joked, "I think I want to eat a hot dog now."

"Brand Malaysia" risks being left behind, said Nick Foley, president for Southeast Asia Pacific & Japan at Landor. Foley was referring to Department of Islamic Development's (JAKIM) stance of maintaining strict approaches to "religious paradigms" and not adapting to consumer tastes and preferences in the modern world today.

“In a 24/7 world, countries need to view themselves as brands. Agile brands adapt to change. The Malaysian government need to be wise enough to evolve its understanding of how to take a contemporary approach to matters such as halal certification and food products that align with the tastes and preferences of the Muslims,” he said.

Foley added that this case highlights one of the most significant issues most government bodies have had to face in the last decade - the growing influence of social media.

"It is the great community leveler of our time. Countries that have previously been able to control the message are now having to adjust to an environment where that is no longer the case," he said. Communities can now easily voice out displeasure.

He explained that the reaction in Malaysia to the "Pretzel Dog" debate shows the growing influence of social media.

Ten years ago a story like this would have been shut down.  Today, through a number of online platforms, people are making it clear that they don’t want to have unnecessary restraints imposed upon them.

David Lian, managing director at Zeno Group Malaysia said the incident is just one out of many that had happened in Malaysia. Two years ago, an event called that “I want to touch a dog” which was initially launched in an attempt to dispel Muslim fears of touching dogs came under fire by several members of the public. The event had a polarising effect, being covered by global press and spurred emotional comments from the public.

When asked how this particular "hot dog" incident affects Malaysia's image, he said:

"Our image is the sum total of many, many parts. Yes, there is an impact, but look at how the situation is resolving itself."

He added that nation needs to wait and see how Malaysians react and what happens next.

It’s quite important to remember that the narrative is moving rather than static.

Lian added: "Would you see the US as a laughing stock because of some of Donald Trump’s comments? This (hot dog saga) is just one issue amidst many, and I’m sure every nation has its idiosyncrasies to work out."