Staff Reporters
May 10, 2018

Adland reacts to Malaysia's historic vote

Six decades of rule in Malaysia by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s party has come to an end. Here are some early thoughts from industry players.

Opposition party supporters cheer general election result on May 9, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto - AFP)
Opposition party supporters cheer general election result on May 9, 2018 in Kuala Lumpur. (Photo by Chris Jung/NurPhoto - AFP)

For 61 years, Malaysia has been governed by the ruling Barisan Nasional party, most recently led by Prime Minister Najib Razak. But after a series of government scandals and gaffes in recent years, voters opted for change yesterday, electing 92-year-old opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad to lead the Southeast Asian country in a stunning victory, according to election commission figures.

Campaign asked members of the marcomms community in Malaysia to share their thoughts and initial reactions. Here's what some had to say.

Kien Eng Tan, CEO, Publicis One Malaysia / Leo Burnett Malaysia:

"Wednesday night till early morning today was gripping. I have to say following the Malaysian general election scoreboard felt even more intense than watching the world cup finals! 

The election results signals a shift in the way Malaysians view politics. This shift in return will affect the Malaysian political landscape - I believe the newly formed government will hopefully be sensitive in ensuring the harmony of the various-ethnic found across peninsular and east Malaysia. Whilst government policies in Malaysia will hopefully evolve from a race-based system to a progressive merit-based platform."

Christine Chang, Chief Client Officer, Havas Group Malaysia:

“This is a historic time for Malaysia, and I am optimistic that all controversies will be put right and all Malaysian will be United to the future. This should also bode well with regards to foreign investment and the economy, for which I am optimistic. I am looking forward to a new future of growth and development for this amazing country.” 

Alvin Teoh, ECD, Naga DDB Tribal:

"There is a great sense of hope and expectancy and at time of writing, things are still hanging in a balance. There is a sense of cautious jubilation. But amidst this sense of hope, I am worried about what people are really feeling across the land. Getting our news mainly from our social feeds, we are only seeing what is in an echo chamber and therefore this does not give us the full picture. And that is worrying. One side's victory is another side's bitterness, and to be fair, everyone has a valid reason to feel what they feel. There is a great need to listen, to dialogue, to build bridges and collaboration for the betterment of all. My greatest fear is arrogance seeps into the ranks of the victors. The greater the victory, the greater need for humility. From the leaders to their supporters.

On another note, there is a lesson for marketers too. BN is a brand. And the citizens of this land are like customers. This brand disrupted us with its massive campaign on every possible media space. Billboards, public transport, direct mailers, online videos, even a plane and its crew. They had testimonials, personal letters, native ads, and on-ground, they were giving out cash at their massive roadshows. And let's not forget branding in the form of flags at every imaginable 'touchpoint.' They had a narrative they wanted everyone to buy into. They we're present in every point of the 'user journey'. Yet, they failed. What's the lesson here?

Money, data, media, narrative—they all fail if you're not able to build a culture of trust. It's a 'show me, don't tell me' sort of thing.

And so, a brand's narrative means shit if it does not match the experience, and from that, the narrative of the people. In the end, the most powerful medium is people. And the narrative of any brand is felt, owned and retold by them. That for me was this brand's greatest failure.

I had an email conversation with Tracey Follows [founder of Futuremade Consulting and head of strategy with Wired UK Consulting]. She asked me:

Does your work reflect the changes that are happening in society? And are you able to influence it?

It took me a long time to answer that because my answers were inadequate. I think I have a brain-crush on her. Anyway, that's the thing. BN, in my humble opinion, did not share the narrative of the people under their care. They acted in a manner that was insensitive, disrespectful and appalling to anyone who is able to reason. The people felt they acted for self-interest and it was at the brink of tearing this land apart. True or false, that was the people's narrative, and they retold that story with a simple 'X' on a ballot paper. Marketeers can learn a whole lot here.

How will this impact business? I don't know enough to give you a specific answer. But I assume, marketeers will be a little cautious. And if you're working in government accounts that are not merit-based, then yeah, worry. Worry a lot. But I also know Malaysians. They'll hold back with caution, look-see, then it's business as usual and we'll put our backs into it and all will somehow be well." 

Shaun Tay, CEO, FCB Kuala Lumpur:

"As a newly independent agency who’s gone through its own reboot recently, I’m absolutely proud of the result and of the fortitude of Malaysian people in making change happen. With the new energy and optimism, I’m confident of our future and our business."

Nicky Lim, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia:

"I think one of the things that stood out most is how transparency and accountability is more important now than ever in today’s digital age where consumers are connected, have access to instant information, and very much plugged in to trending issues. We would be instantly judged by consumers, what’s more with social media as an effective and powerful amplifying tool, brands that do not come clean will lose the trust of its consumers. Politics are no different."

Shufen Goh, principal, R3:

“General sentiment in Malaysia has been very muted for a while, so this is a much needed shot of optimism for change. For the marketing industry that has been plagued with transparency and data integrity issues, we don’t expect dramatic immediate policy change, but I think this sets the tone for transformation."

Rozani Jainudeen, Managing Director, Weber Shandwick Malaysia:

"We are monitoring the unprecedented situation in Malaysia closely following Pakatan’s win. We foresee a smooth and peaceful handover of federal power to the Dr. Mahathir-led coalition.

We have faith in Malaysia’s democratic institutions, and advise our clients to remain calm in this historic moment. Business shall proceed as usual, and our track record of dealing with delicate issues with high-level stakeholders provides us with the experience and aptitude to provide effective strategic counsel to our clients."

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