Is fear of social backlash resulting in brands playing it safe this CNY?

Chinese New Year celebrations are in full swing. This month, we have been seeing an overwhelming amount of Chinese New Year ads across all platforms.

Across the board, several themes remain constant. Family for one was a hot favourite. For instance, Guardian Malaysia, working with BBDO expressed how Asian parents are not the best at expressing themselves emotionally, especially when it comes to verbal expressions of love. Instead, they show their affection for their family in more subtle ways, but all the while their children know that they wish the best for them.

Another ad that got audiences really emotional was a video posted by Changi Airport. The sight of a father longing to celebrate the new year with his daughter settled abroad certainly did set the tear machines running had the right mix of emotional quotient.

Jetstar and Maxis too tried to make their mark this festive season. The ad by Maxis emphasised on the bond a grandparent shares with a grand child. The ad also expressed how while many may hope for fortune, success, or good luck, a little boy and his grandmother discover what’s most precious to them. Jetstar, on the other hand, took a slightly different yet familiar approach released a video where travelers were quizzed that if they were given a pair of free flight tickets, would they travel over Lunar New Year, and miss get-togethers with extended families and friends? The results were heart warming.

The theme of family, reunion and camaraderie are constants this year (and also for the past few years). While we understand why these topics were chosen during a time of bonding and all around positive spirit, we wondered if marketers were simply taking an easy, tried and tested way out.

When asked on the topic, Lynette Ang, CMO of Sentosa and veteran marketer in the Singapore advertising field said, this phenomenon of playing it safe is not just around CNY. Overall, brands are playing it safe when it comes to advertising, so as to not face social backlash.

A renowned creative director in Malaysia agreed to the fact that this mediocrity in creativity was due to the fear of online backlash, many clients are cautious and take the route of familiarity. What he urges clients to understand and accept is that when you dare push the boundaries, flak is unavoidable, “therefore brands must not shy away from experimenting with new ideas.”

Alvin Teoh, ECD, Naga DDB, echoed the same sentiment and said,

Most marketers fear the voices of netizens and hence stay away from experimental ideas. While, it is easy to say that brands must be bolder and braver, the fear, however, is understandable.

He added that because of the numerous types of communities and people in the world of social, it is difficult to please everyone. However, there is a need to strike the right balance between a refreshing and non offensive idea. He also explained that brands are making a conscious effort to stay relevant because of cultural limitations.

“You cannot go far from the perimeters of the festive season if you want to reach out to the audience,” he added. The key here is experiment with new interpretations of older themes.As such marketers need to believe in their ideas and stand by it.

Teoh explained that while social media is a platform where brands have an opportunity to sell great ideas, the key lies in respecting the craft of story telling and paying for it. He said:

While social media may be economic for marketers, the craft of story-telling on social media cannot be taken for granted. It comes at a price.



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