The MCA is part of Malaysia's ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (National Alliance), and is a majority share-holder in national English daily The Star, which has been running the print ads.
According to multiple sources who requested anonymity, the agency that created the ads is Rapp Kuala Lumpur. Campaign Asia-Pacific tried to reach out to Lim Wai Yee, COO at Rapp KL, via email and mobile, but no reply was received by press time.
The ads have drawn the ire of Malaysia's online community for the insinuations it makes about MCA's rival, the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and its ties to the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS). DAP decided to stand for election under the banner of PAS in Peninsular Malaysia after the Registrar of Societies announced on 18 April that it would no longer recognise DAP.
In Malaysia, party candidates need to get a letter of authorisation from the party leadership when they register themselves on the nomination day. DAP claimed that the registrar's declaration vacated all positions in the CEC and hence no one would be able to issue any letter of authorisation.
Many Malaysians regard the move by the registrar as an “underhand tactic” against the opposition alliance, while the decision of Chinese-dominant DAP to use the logo of the Islamic party (PAS) is perceived as a milestone for racial unity in the multicultural country.
One ad in particular (below), which ran Sunday, a day after nomination day, has been shared on Facebook more than 1,300 times with posters condemning the move as "childish", "disgusting" and the act of "scum". One Facebook user, who does not appear to be affiliated with any political party, wrote: "You win votes by showing what you can do for this nation. NOT by tearing down and insulting and making down right cheap low blows to the opposition." [sic]
One industry veteran told Campaign Asia-Pacific that the agency which created the ad "crossed a line", while another said that the ads were "not only annoying but people are furious".
The Malaysian government dissolved the parliament earlier this month to pave way for the country’s 13th general election, which is said to be the toughest battle that the ruling coalition has ever had to face in its 56 years in power.
The government has responded by spending lavishly on advertising. Data from insights firm Nielsen Media Research has shown that the ruling coalition and the Prime Minister's Office has spent at least RM73 million (US$24 million) last month on advertising, making this round Malaysia's most expensive general election in history. An advertising industry leader in Malaysia has noted with rueful amusement that most of the nation's production houses are tied up with work for the coming election, making it hard to get regular advertising work done.
Update 11:30 am, 26 April: A petition has been launched on Change.org to boycott Rapp KL for producing "fear-mongering" election ads. The petition has reached 500 signaturesas of 11 am today.