For consumers with disposable income, 2009 was a vintage year in Malaysia. A proliferation of choice spawned by value plays gave consumers spending power when they needed it most, during the low-ebb of a global recession.
This, combined with the emergence of peer influence, was a key theme of the year, according to Naga DDB strategic planning director Tai Kam Leong. Those trends were most heavily felt in the telecoms sector, which saw Telkom Malaysia (TM) make a defining play for the younger market, and among automotive, food and beverage brands.
"Brands have become wiser through the changing economic climate by learning about consumer's spending behaviour and how this affects their lifestyle," says Nicky Lim, CEO of Grey Group Malaysia. "The downturn was a good time for marketers to revamp their brand portfolio, to look at brands that offered more value to the consumer and boosted sales. It was time to restructure the brand's value proposition."
The flight to value saw a bigger investment in below-the-line advertising in the first half of last year. Digital and social media became more of a priority, while search also attracted investment, notes Universal McCann Malaysia CEO Prashant Kumar. His agency led the 'Everyone connect' integrated campaign for TM that drove buzz among bloggers who received the white label music track 'Through my window', to drive online gaming and then word-of-mouth to improve the brand's standing among a younger demographic. "People were not expecting a campaign like that from TM," he says.
Other big-brand face-offs saw Audi go head-to-head with BMW in the luxury auto segment with the cheeky 'Joy is overrated' print campaign, a snipe at the former's 'Joy' theme. Proton also closed the gap on market leader Perodua, and Fraser and Neave's license to bottle Coca-Cola came to an end, meaning it will battle its former brand from next year. Meanwhile, credit cards fought for points by introducing zero per cent rates for consumers.
"It was truly the year of the consumer," says Kumar. "If there was one positive, it was that everyone went for value. They were falling head over heels for it."
Meanwhile, in the retail sector, aggressive discounting by Tesco, Giant and Carrefour - plus the emergence of stronger generic brands - played out in 16-page, full colour print buys in major daily newspapers. According to Lim, savings were the dominant selling point for all hypermarket players as they jostled to outdo each other with the lowest rates.
It was the battle between brands that made it a memorable year for consumers. How the situation develops now economic growth has returned will be interesting to watch in this surprisingly dynamic market.
Malaysia Top 20 brands
10 Air Asia
15 Dutch Lady
17 Malaysia Airlines
1 Harian Metro
2 Sin Chew Daily
3 Berita Harian
4 The Star
5 Utusan Malaysia
This article was originally published as part of the 2010 Top 1000 Brands report.