Faaez Samadi
Jun 29, 2017

Q&A: The factors that make Malaysia a unique market

We asked three in-markets experts for their insights into Malaysian consumers.

Q&A: The factors that make Malaysia a unique market

We asked three in-markets experts for their insights into Malaysian consumers.


  • Prashant Kumar, senior partner, Entropia
  • Aaron Cowie, CEO TBWA Malaysia
  • Sue-Anne Lim, chief data and strategy officer, Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia

What distinguishes the Malaysian consumer market from others? What are the most interesting trends in Malaysia that make its consumer market unique in Asia?

Lim: The most interesting about our market is that it's multi-lingual. While colourful, it poses a very challenging task to marketers. You effectively need to reach out to your audience in three different languages with the same budget that could otherwise be more effective in a uni-language country, despite it being multiracial, as in the case of Indonesia or Thailand. It’s very tough, you need three versions of one campaign for a relatively small market. You literally need more bang for every buck you spend.

Cowie: Malaysia is unique. It's multi-ethnic, multilingual and multicultural. Diversity is the essence of the country, and marketers must take into consideration the differences in languages, values and cultures to communicate their brands, products and services effectively. Whilst it is one country, what appeals to one race may not necessarily appeal to another. Research has shown that for the Malay community, the family forms an important part of their lives and keeping a close relationship and bond with family members is still prevalent amongst modern Malays and even Gen Z. In contrast, the Chinese Gen Z tend to place an emphasis on individual pursuits such as achieving good results, travel experiences and career ambition.

Kumar: The Malaysian consumer market is highly diverse racially, as there is a critical mass of Malays, Chinese and Indians here. Consumers are also really advanced users of social media – global surveys have repeatedly put Malaysia among the top countries for social sharing. In Southeast Asia, it is the largest market - by far typically - of all new age major digital brands such as Lazada, Grab, iProperty and iFlix among others.

What are some of the cultural issues brands need to be aware of when marketing?

Cowie: Malaysia has a significant Gen Z population base; approximately 30 percent out of the 30 million population belong to Gen Z, a generation that is globally connected and with no boundaries. With the rising cost of living in Malaysia, many are cutting down on spending on luxury goods, eating out at fancy restaurants and shopping trips. There is a rise in home cooking and stay-at-home activities like watching TV, online surfing and video games. With the introduction of Grab and Uber in Malaysia, there is a rising trend for people to supplement their monthly income with part time driving. Increasing number of health conscious Malaysians are watching what they eat and engaging in physical activity to stay fit.

Kumar: The need to account for the racial nuances is one. Humility and generosity are traits people admire in brands. Sensitivity to language and religion is another.

Lim: Things might get a little sensitive when touching on religion and cultural stereotypes. Interestingly, it's also these divisive issues that got Malaysians questioning, who am I really? Am I ethnic first or Malaysian first? We don't have an answer, but choosing to embody universal truths that transcend race and religion, would be the way to go for brands.

Is there anything advertisers need to avoid?

Kumar: Respect towards religion and diversity is critical. Aggressive and offensive chest-beating has to be avoided.

Lim: In the creative business, you really want to avoid starting the conversation about rules. For innovation to take place, we need to first unlearn what we’ve learned. But for the sake of complying with government communications and legal guidelines, then yes, there are some no-no areas. No showing of armpits on national TV, for example. It's always good to check with the censorship board.

Cowie: Avoid anything that is culturally or religiously sensitive, and no politics. There are various laws in Malaysia that govern these matters.

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