Agencies and brands react to Thailand national mourning

Industry scrambles to comply with advertising blackout; length of some restrictions not yet known.

Thais waiting for the funeral procession for King Bhumibol to leave Siriaj hospital. (Source: Twitter user @tonkumchoke via @RichardBarrow)
Thais waiting for the funeral procession for King Bhumibol to leave Siriaj hospital. (Source: Twitter user @tonkumchoke via @RichardBarrow)

BANGKOK - With Thailand at a standstill amid a public outpouring of grief for the death of its revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday, ad agencies and media owners are scrambling to comply with media-blackout guidelines and adopting a wait-and-see approach for the weeks and months to come.

Regular programming on TV channels will resume after midnight on Friday but the only ads allowed will be house ads for the broadcasters themselves. Media owners are closely monitoring guidelines issued by the National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission.

A UM Thailand memo obtained by Campaign Asia-Pacific (below) gives an overview of the near-term impacts, including YouTube being shut down for seven days (although sources on the ground said this has not happened); newspapers, magazines and websites publishing in black-and-white only; and both digital billboards and lighting for static billboards being shut down.

The memo said clients are advised to cease commercial advertising for at least seven days and on-ground activities and entertainment for 30 days, while also changing existing advertising to condolence messages.


UM Thailand CEO Tharaputh Charuvatana said the industry was caught off guard by the rather sudden death of the king, despite his prolonged illness.

"For sure, the whole country will come to a standstill for seven days," he told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "All media outlets including the online media will be following the rule to not broadcast content with entertainment elements."

Industry players and media owners called an emergency meeting on Thursday night to discuss how to cope with this unprecedented situation.

"Most of us have not prepared anything in advance for this event," he said. "It is difficult to say what will happen as we have never experienced this in our generation. We will probably know what to do after a few days."

King Bhumibol was the world's longest reigning monarch; he ruled for 70 years. When the king's sister passed away in 2008, the nation observed two weeks of mourning. National mourning for the king is expected to go on longer and be more significant. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has announced that Thailand will observe a year of national mourning.

As the king was a deeply revered figure in Thailand, Tharaputh said he expected the sombre mood engulfing the nation to only start to wear off after three months. "The overall tone of our ad content for the coming months will be more serious to suit the national tragedy facing our nation," he said. "It will be inappropriate to showcase our content in a light-hearted manner as we used to."

Isobar Thailand managing director Adisak Amornchat said it is too early to estimate how the king's passing and prolonged national mourning period will affect overall consumer spending and marketer spending.

"Thai people are united in our grief for the king," he said. "It is not the right time to think about business now."

An owner of a PR agency who did not wish to be named said his agency and its clients were largely unprepared for the numerous events and launches that have to be put on hold, and he expected spending from clients will be reduced greatly in the coming months.

He remained optimistic for the prospects of the industry, however, saying that the political situation is likely to be stable with the military government keeping a tight rein.

Facebook's advertising help centre released an update stating that ad delivery was suspended on Thursday following the king's passing. Facebook's ad delivery has not returned to normal on Friday as of press time.



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