Over the past 18 years Petronas Malaysia’s festivity-themed commercials for Hari Raya, Chinese New Year and Deepavali has become a much-anticipated tradition in Malaysia, thanks to the late and celebrated Yasmin Ahmad. As ECD of Leo Burnett Malaysia, she placed an indelible stamp on the national oil company’s commercials, distilling the nation’s complex mixed-cultures and uniting them with humour and love in 30-second spots.
Yet despite having always included Kaamatan and Gawai in its festival-ad lineup, this is the first TV commercial the brand has created specifically for the festivals.
Kaamatan and Gawai are two separate harvest festivals celebrated by native tribes the Kadazans in Sabah and the Dayaks in Sarawak, respectively. Both festivals are religious and cultural days of thanksgiving and take place around the end of May to early June each year. Because the festivals were so localised, Petronas had previously focused on running print and on-the-ground activities around these events.
Then, last year, Petronas decided to test the waters by making a 12-episode web-documentary series on the festivals. “It started out as a plan to create a documentary to talk about the state for our stakeholders in Sabah and Sarawak, something they could show their constituents,” explained Mohd Fitri bin Mydin, head of campaign management at Petronas. “But when we were talking to the people in the villages they said, ‘Come and see what we do, what we really do, not what you see on TV, because in the next 10 to 15 years, it may be gone because our kids don’t come back anymore’.”
Realising the children of the Dayak and Kadazan are now scattered across Malaysia and the globe, Petronas decided to quietly launch its online documentary so the festivals would be preserved for posterity—and to help connect the tribes with their scattered offspring.
This year, the team decided to dedicate a full-on Petronas festival TVC to the joint celebrations and turned once more to Yasmin Ahmad for inspiration. “We had the footage, some of it never used, from the webisode series," said Fitri. "We had the musical score ‘Kembali’, which Mia Palencia created for us in 2012. What we weren’t sure about were the words. We didn’t want a straightforward voiceover, that would be too tourism-ish. So we decided to look into our archives to see what we’ve done in the past.”
What they found was ‘Whose Earth is this anyway?’ (above) a corporate ad created for Petronas by Yasmin in which her voice read a poem she wrote. “The poem hangs in one or two of our offices in Sabah and Sarawak. They took a liking to it and so we decided, very early on, to go for a sonnet poetic mode for this one.”
The poem chosen (shown in the box) was written by Malik Abdullah, a senior copywriter at Leo Burnett who has worked closely with Yasmin in the past.
“We intentionally wanted to move away from the stigma that without Yasmin, we wouldn’t be doing as well creatively anymore," Fitri said. "There are many people in Leo Burnett and Petronas who generate these ideas and go towards this direction."
The overall goal of the final ad, he continued, is social cohesion. “It’s our goal for the year for all our festival ads. The text at the end reads ‘Reflect on yesterday, live for today and hope for tomorrow’. That branding will be on all our festive advertisements. The theme is hope and optimism and I think that carries.”
The three-minute webfilm, titled ‘Gift of Life’ has drawn more than a million views on YouTube with largely positive feedback (this is YouTube after all). “Many of the views were driven by Sarawakians and Sabahans living in Kuala Lumpur….Quite a few have given us a ‘high-five’ and a thank you,” Fitri said.
A 30-second version also aired on all Malaysian free-to-air channels, and the campaign was supported via print (below) and radio.
Eric Cruz: Executive Creative Director