Around this time of year, marketers in Malaysia scramble to symbolise racial harmony in five minutes or less. While Malaysia Day—signaling the formation of the federation including East Malaysia and Singapore—is a more inclusive celebration to all Malaysians compared to Merdeka Day, it somehow sits lower in the order of importance for brands. Anyway, here are some campaigns we’ve both appreciated and vehemently disliked this year in order from worst to best.
After a deeply offensive blackface ad in 2017 that made headlines regionally, Watsons Malaysia ought to have bucked up their inclusivity training and marketing, right? Right?
Well, last weekend, the drugstore chain reposted an ad on Instagram by partner cosmetics brand C.CODE to commemorate Malaysia Day and the ‘diversity’ within the country. In the ad—which has been taken down following numerous complaints—a light-skinned woman was seen singing along to a jingle while sporting foundation of varying shades. The woman was made to ‘switch races’ as she transitioned from Chinese to Malay to Indian.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the jingle in the video used the offensive term ‘kamikaze’ to refer to Malaysia’s past of Japanese colonisation.
Twitter user Roshinee Mookaiah said in a post: “It is unfortunate but not surprising that such a forced muhibah video concept regurgitated such a stereotypical and flawed view of Indians. The head/hand shaking was duly acknowledged too. You could have just approached any Indian woman. You could've just spoken to, consulted or used an actual Indian model. Same can be said about getting a Malay person involved instead of just getting the model to [wear] a tudung in such a messy way…”
Mookaiah added on Twitter that she had spoken with the management team at Watsons who apologised for the oversight. The brand told her that this was a “big wake-up call for them to do better" and they said they'll ensure their staff would be better educated on these issues moving forward.
For both Merdeka and Malaysia Day, Pepsi released a series of limited-edition packaging designs created by local artists. The designs feature cooking vessels and equipment often used in Malaysian cooking such as the claypot, kuih ros mould and mortar and pestle.
The new designs were accompanied by a music video featuring musicians and artists of different races. The artists—hands on chests—are seen chanting their love for the country. We think it’s all a bit contrived, but on the bright side, it could have been so much worse.
The streaming platform was the victim of unfortunate typeface following an online Malaysia Day poster that made its rounds on social media. The poster—intended to say ‘Anak Malaysia’ translating to Child of Malaysia—looked like it spelt out ‘Anal Malaysia’ instead. Amused netizens pointed out the boo-boo, after which the brand issued a clarification on Twitter.
It said: “We saw your reaction to your campaign logo and we wanted to confirm that it says ‘Anak Malaysia’ and nothing else. Sorry if our logo design created any confusion. Next time we’ll check at least 50 times!” Brownie points for the brand’s ability to laugh at itself.
The poster—which has since been taken down—was created to promote the platform’s localised content in Malaysia.
A new campaign by Naga DDB Tribal shows local street artist Kenji Chai creating three murals on the walls of KFC restaurants across Kuala Lumpur. The resulting video (above) compiling Chai’s process is slickly produced featuring a catchy soundtrack that features a background choir chanting "Ini Kepci, cara kita" to indicate the Malaysian pronunciation of KFC.
However, it would have been great to veer away from the ‘Malay-Chinese-Indian’ trope often used by marketers in nationalistic ads and actually put to paper the diversity the same brands often peddle. It may come as a surprise, but yes, Malaysia has other races aside from those often used in ads.
If there’s one thing Malaysians across all political spectrums rally against, it’s flying roaches. To tap into this resounding fear, independent telco service Yoodo launched a Merdeka and Malaysian Day campaign called Malaysians Against Lipas Terbang using the hashtag #yoonity.
The campaign included a Change.org petition which penned a passionate cry against the flying creatures: “We Malaysians have been quiet for far too long. We have all been shocked, scared or even publicly humiliated by flying cockroaches and it is time for us to take a stand”.
For the truly brave, there’s even a customised cockroach filter on Instagram where users can embed roaches on their selfies for the chance to win a prize or two.
In late August, for Merdeka Day, the brand also attempted to dramatically portray this nationwide fear via an ad where Malaysians across all races gather in a room to be asked about unity and harmony. When an unexpected flying guest emerges in the room, they embark on a quest to kill this unseemly pest by any means possible: a sole slipper, a squash racquet, a rolled-up newspaper and a water bottle. An effective call for unity if we ever saw one.