Raya ad season is akin to the Superbowl in Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia—it’s a vital calendar date where marketers bring out the big guns. Yet, each year, it’s easy to identify a pattern of tired narratives that get churned out in major campaigns, particularly in Malaysia. More recently, Malaysian marketers have gravitated towards long-film formats where major players like Petronas and Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) put out films that are around the five-minute mark. They also tend to be tear-jerkers, complete with sad-parent characters and a soaring piano score.
“Long films are accepted during festive periods, with the audience primed in the right frame of mind to be told a story,” Ensemble Worldwide’s ECD Didi Pirinyuang told Campaign Asia-Pacific for our Top 1000 Brands analysis. “Malaysians want to be told a story. They’re looking to be entertained, to have their emotions go through a roller-coaster, to see themselves as part of the cultural fabric [when it comes to] festive storytelling.”
One recent campaign that has captured the nation in an unexpected way is ‘Ini Iklan Raya, tau!’ for Malaysian snack brand Julie’s. The campaign—which hilariously parodies Raya ad tropes—debuted last year to much success and a sequel film was produced this year, once again featuring actor Amerul Affendi as its main character (see both films below). It’s a rare achievement but the writing in these two films manages to be sharp, incisive, and niche—yet universal enough for Malaysians of all ages to resonate with.
The brains behind this campaign are Junad M. Nor and Nadirah Zakariya, founders of local production company Layar Lucida. Early last year, both Junad and Nadirah were invited to pitch a script for Julie’s on behalf of creative agency GOVT Singapore, and to their pleasant surprise, the client fell head over heels with their original draft.
“When Junad and I got the brief, we knew immediately this was something we wanted to do,” Nadirah told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “The idea of challenging stereotypes is something that Layar Lucida is passionate about, so it was a dream project for us. [The clients] were really receptive to what we proposed, it was just amazing. GOVT also helped us along the way as they know the client best. Overall, it was a very smooth collaborative process.”
One of the great qualities of the campaign is its universality—a difficult thing to achieve when specific scenarios and experiences are being parodied. This was evident in the reception of the campaign. Beyond lofty YouTube and social media numbers, a personal mark of success for Junad and Nadirah was the fact that the ad was widely shared in their WhatsApp network of relatives.
“They’re not our usual target audience with some of the more artsy projects that we do. So the fact that our mom shared it in the WhatsApp group chat was definitely a small win for us,” said Nadirah. “Sometimes the aunties don’t really understand the work that we do, even if they support us. So for them to find this ad funny, that means a lot to me.”
As a bonus, the campaign opened doors for Layar Lucida, a company that wasn’t used to their works being shared by a mass audience before.
As directors of the campaign, Junad and Nadirah used actors who are often typecast such as actor Fauziah Nawi, who plays the ‘crying grandmother’ as a parody of her common roles elsewhere.
“We see [Fauziah] crying every year,” Junad told Campaign Asia-Pacific. “I’ve seen her cry since I was in primary school. So we thought, ‘let’s bring that back but with a twist’.”
Earlier this year, Junad caught an interview with actor Nadiya Nisaa who said that she was ‘too old’ to be cast in film projects at the age of 36. “She’s not old, she’s younger than me!” she said. “We thought it was ridiculous that she’s in her 30s and was being told that she’s too old to be in movies. And that’s why we chose her in this year’s film.”
On which stereotypes they wish to see eliminated from Raya campaigns, Nadirah said that she would love to see ads that aren’t set in a kampung. Junad, meanwhile, would like to see more colourful, complex roles for women.
'We don’t want to be preachy'
One narrative that often gets championed in Raya ads is the idea that every film should end with a moral lesson. And it’s not uncommon for these lessons to be unsubtle; brands may shout about it through extreme character behaviours, leaving little room for grey areas and real-life human nuances. Take, for instance, the trope of the ungrateful son. A son moves from his kampung to the city for work, and he ‘forgets’ his small-town roots when Raya rolls around, resulting in aforementioned sad-parent characters.
“That’s something we were trying to avoid,” said Nadirah. “We don’t want to be preachy, we don't want to shove anything down people's throats. If people get it, that's great. If they don't, let's just give them something entertaining. At the end of the day, it’s a festive ad. Yes, we are tackling important issues, but we also want to have fun with it.”
For both Junad and Nadirah, it’s important to challenge stereotypes presented in Raya ads party due to a lack of role models growing up given that there aren’t many women directors in the Malaysian filmscape. Representation matters, they say, especially with regards to how older and younger women are portrayed in Malay families.
“What you see on TV and what you see on mass media affects viewers. These things have the power to shape society,” said Nadirah, “It’s important to start shifting the way people think on certain issues. We understand that we have a platform, and we take it as a responsibility to try to inject bits of things that we believe in into our work.”
On the topic of Malay women role models, one cannot deny the legacy of the late Yasmin Ahmad, filmmaker and former ECD at Leo Burnett Malaysia. Recognised as one of the most prolific creatives in the region, Yasmin was responsible for some of Malaysia's most beloved campaigns—especially for Petronas.
“[Yasmin] definitely inspired a lot of people from my generation to want to pursue this,” said Nadirah. “And that’s really big. This is why representation matters. This is why I think it’s important to see the people behind the ads.”
Junad added that the magic of Yasmin’s work lied in her ability to capture human behaviour in a naturalistic way: “I’ve heard that Yasmin doesn't like putting messages in her work. She's just a storyteller. She tells stories, and the messages come naturally. And yet, she shaped the commercial landscape so beautifully.”
LAYAR LUCIDA'S FAVOURITE RAYA ADS OF YESTERYEAR