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Marketers worldwide are deferring their planned campaigns as a result of COVID-19 and a recent study by WFA found that 79% are creating new messages that respond directly to the impact of the crisis on consumers’ lives. In Malaysia, the pandemic could potentially to coincide with the period of Ramadan and Hari Raya, one of the important festive seasons in the country during which brands commonly produce campaigns to celebrate the festivities. Currently, Malaysians are made to stay at home due to a Movement Control Order (MCO), and everyone is awaiting with bated breath as to whether it will be further extended after 14 April.
With much uncertainty surrounding the economy, the fate of Ramadan and Hari Raya campaigns is still up in the air. One brand to carry on with its festive campaigns is Telekom Malaysia (TM). In a phone conversation with A+M, Izlyn Ramli, TM’s VP, group brand and communication, said regardless of the current situation, its Ramadan and Raya campaigns will continue to celebrate the spirit of reflection and gratitude.
However, she said the team is also mindful that they need to be creative to cut through the clutter, especially on digital media, where brands have been flocking to in an effort to capture consumers’ attention. One way to do so is to look at what consumers are doing, for example. Izlyn said TM’s focus is to always push out meaningful messages.
Now more than ever, we need to be authentic. As a brand, we want to remain true to who we are and keep people connected.
She added that timing is also paramount as brands need to deliver the right messages at this time. "We will see plenty of themes around celebrating humanity and remembering the frontliners,” Izlyn predicted.
Instead of reducing its ad spend during this period, the telco has repurposed its advertising and promotion budget for CSR initiatives. These include PSAs for consumers to stay home. With most consumers remaining at home during the MCO period, the main channels of focus for TM include print, TV, social media, EDM, direct mailers as well as videos that are shareable on WhatsApp.
“We want to be useful to Malaysians and have them stay home, keep them entertained and stay connected. We want to focus on being of value instead of pushing sales and hard selling,” Izlyn added. Some of the initiatives TM has taken include PSAs on ways to stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 news, tips on picking up new skills when at home, and how consumers can remain occupied with unlimited data and entertainment with unifi Home.
Separately, a spokesperson for QSR Brands said it wants to lead with purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic. "We understand that the upcoming Ramadan and Raya period is an extremely important season for Malaysians. Throughout this season, our commitment remains - to provide Malaysians with delicious, fresh and safe-to-eat food, without compromising any values and quality in our services," the spokesperson said. QSR is also now busy developing special Ramadan and Raya promotions for both KFC and Pizza Hut Malaysia, which will be announced soon.
Proving the real value of advertising
Like TM, agency heads A+M spoke to said they are currently working with clients to ensure the brands demonstrate real value during such trying times.
From a media buying standpoint, MediaCom Malaysia is working with clients to rethink the entire chain of marketing communications to go fully digital. This is especially important since there are restrictions on some of the fundamental activities of Ramadan, such as community prayers, open houses, and travel. GM Saurabh Chandrashekhar told A+M that for most of its clients’ products, relevance increases during this period of Ramadan and Raya, and consumption does see a spike. Therefore, there will still be “a concerted effort” to market these products.
“What is definitely going to be restrategised, is the ‘how’, where we are working with our clients to crack marketing and communications to be extremely thoughtful, empathetic, that completes the loop in a no-friction delivery of the promise,” he explained.
The considerations taken by Chandrashekhar’s team revolve around a few fundamental questions:
- Are we solving a real issue for the consumer or are we just entertaining them?
- What do we need to equip ourselves with in order to deliver what we promised?
When these questions are kept in mind, Chandrashekhar said it becomes easier for the team to think about ideas.
Meanwhile, Trapper Media Group is also sending more digital proposals and discussing with OOH media owners for extensions for loss of visibility and exposure due to reductions in traffic count - but this it says, is bound to spike once MCO is over. The agency is also seeing clients requesting for virtual event ideas and plans. That said, it boils down to the clientele. For the agency, FMCG clients are still spending as normal because most products are still listed as essentials during the MCO, but media selects have changed with more home-based mediums are being considered. Trapper also tries to leverage on co-branded partnership between clients for Ramadan and Raya campaigns.
"It is a tough period and some of our clients fall under the essential category during this period, and we realise that certain available mediums do have an emotional attachment with consumers to drive top of mind recall," the team added. As for those that are directly affected by the MCO, Trapper said the more appropriate response is to wait it out as it is going to be "for a short time more".
While a “wait and watch” philosophy is generally prevalent, Invictus Blue’s chief digital officer, Abhishek Bhattacharjee, said clients who are still activating their festive campaigns are doing so by adapting and conceptualising communications which add value to everyone, rather than pushing products. He added brands, in these times, play a very important role in deciding what to communicate as the mouth piece of information, content or entertainment.
Also, Bhattacharjee explained that this is a unique opportunity to purposefully demonstrate the real value of advertising as not being primarily a sales promotion medium. Instead, it advertising can be used to promote meaningful dialogue between a brand and the population and have more of a symbiotic co-existence.
Seldom do we come across times like these when the entire population has the same thing on their mind.
"That is our biggest consideration – the fact that there are greater sentiments at play than the contest, campaign video, new product line up or the new menu,” he said. If the campaigns do not add value to these macro-sentiments at large in some way, be it through uniting people, or supporting people, or in any other meaningful manner, Bhattacharjee said perhaps it is not the right message at this time
He added that during this period, there are daily micro-level insights that emerge, which were never prevalent before, such as cooking at home everyday, socialising on video, and working out virtually. These are the factors that the team at Invictus Blue consider when brainstorming for campaigns. Bhattacharjee said a keen understanding of these insights is what will drive great ideas and meaningful conversations or even humane gestures in the least.
Empathy a key theme
During trying times such as this, brands walk the fine line between remaining relevant and being seen as opportunistic. In view of this, it is important to for clients to take on a more authentic, nuanced and empathic approach on how they can celebrate the festive season through this “new normal” lens, Ogilvy Malaysia’s chief executive Nizwani Shahar said.
“Much speculation surrounds the MCO in relation to Raya. Regardless, we recognised very early into the MCO that there would be a shift in the cultural implications of how we will experience and celebrate the festive season,” Nizwani said. She added that the agency is tapping on its consumer insights and data discover, to plot trends and develop a clear point of view on what brands can do this festive season.
“A big consideration is empathy. We need to assess and understand if what we are doing is right given consumer sentiments and also the mood of the nation,” Nizwani said. According to her, this allows the agency to define a clear role for the brand to play in helping Malaysians experience the best of the occasion. She also encourages brands to constantly communicate and be omnipresent during this time. However, the agency is also vigilant that the manner in which a brand behaves and speaks can make a difference between being relevant or opportunistic.
Similarly, FOREFRONT’s group chief business officer, Parames Dorai, said its clients are shifting the focus of their Raya campaigns to be more empathetic, helpful and community-driven. Initiatives such as #KitaJagaKita, established by Malaysian author Hanna Alkaf to help vulnerable communities, are rallying Malaysians from all walks of life. With that in mind, Dorai said its clients are pushing for Ramadan and Raya campaigns that are more community-driven, to provide support to the people in need.
“In that vein, campaigns have been scaled back about 50%. Ramadan or Raya open houses are also put on hold to abide by possible government restrictions on mass gatherings in the coming months,” Dorai added.
She also said that instead of simply emulating successful festive campaigns in recent years, brands and clients should be observing, listening, and adapting to what consumers need to see and hear during this time. “Ramadan or Raya ads this year don’t have to be devoid of the festive spirit and acts of piety. Rather, we can focus on ads that aim to spread love to vulnerable communities and focus on the preservation of life, a key aspect in Islam,” Dorai explained.
Also weighing in on the issue was Kingdom Digital's head of client servicing Lui Xiao Yee, who said the agency is consulting with clients accordingly on how best to proceed. "We want to make sure that the content we produce for our clients are not only in line with their brand image, but also relevant to their audiences’ feelings and needs currently," she explained. For the upcoming Raya festivities, Lui said clients in the essential services sector are moving ahead with their planned ad spending. On the other hand, those that are impacted by the MCO, however, are currently restrategising their online presence to fit into the current narrative.
Types of content the agency is currently helping clients to push out include stock replenishment, operating hours, and updates on government announcements and guidelines. It also wants consumers to remain upbeat during this challenging period through fun and engaging content, including self-enrichment.
Besides being more authentic and providing value, brands are also even more active on digital as it has proven to be an effective medium to target consumers who are often at home. "While most of our clients are occupied with the current MCO and change in business mode, there are still a few who are asking us to continue pushing Ramadan and Raya campaigns digitally, while ensuring the messaging is sensitive to today's context," Casey Loh, creative chief at The Clan, said.
Despite this being a challenging time for the adland as clients are slashing their spending, The Clan is still taking very brief that comes its way as an opportunity to challenge the status quo and introduce newer innovations, to not just join the conversation but also be part of the solution, Loh explained.
"It's all about making a difference to those affected by the MCO and the COVID-19 pandemic. So while top of mind awareness is important for brands, affinity is really what we are aiming for in these difficult times," he explained.