‘I Choose Malaysia’ – selling a feel-good image

Clive Kessler
Jul 25, 2012

Congratulations on noticing and commenting upon this new promotional exercise by “the old national management team”.

I noticed it some days ago, and wrote to some friends about it.

I said: I saw an amazing new political ad on TV yesterday: an ad, I suppose, for the government, its re-election.

But interestingly, it provided no sight, sign or mention of Umno or BN or the “government” or “kerajaan”, no sight or mention of PM Najib Abdul Razak, nor of any of his cabinet ministers.

And no sign, sight, or mention either of any specific national government projects, no mention of government transformation plans, KRA, KPI.

None of that.

Instead just faces, most speaking rapidly, earnestly, with apparent conviction and quite authoritatively, even demandingly.

All set against a plain white background.

All those talking faces saying “I am going to vote”, “the power is in my hands”, “security” “peace”, etc, etc.

But at the beginning and end – framing and “anchoring” the whole collage of visages and earnest assertions – is the face of none other than Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with his best, familiar smile.

Some people call it his likeable little boy smile, the smile of a boy who knows he’s been naughty but also knows that you’ll forgive him – because he is likeable, charming, has a winning way.

In other words, through this ad the “old Umno/BN national management firm” seems to be signalling that it knows that it hasn’t got much to say for itself these days, much that people are ready to listen to, hear, and very little goodwill to call upon.

Instead, it is now trying to get people to vote for its re-election in the same way that KFC uses the face, the image and icon, of their likeable, quite mythical, old colonel to get you to buy their fried chicken.

There are a number of implications of this, all worth thinking about.

Among them are:

First, have the Lords of Umno given up on thinking that any Najib “feel-good” or popularity factor can win the election for his/their party?

Second, is it the case that they have now recognised their key dilemma: how do you sell a product when everybody feels that your product is “on the nose”, going rotten?

Well, you sell instead a “feel-good” image, a persuasive or seductive mood, and just don’t mention the dubious product.

You hide it.

And, here, you just don’t mention the party or its current leaders!

It’s an amazing ad.

You should all watch out for it, and think about it.

Floating in the ether

Some further thoughts about that interesting TV ad.

It works on a strategy and aesthetic of “radical decontextualisation”.

What it offers is not connected to anything outside of itself.

It floats in the ether, hovers above the political reality that it speaks to, that it seeks to influence and shape.

In other words, its strategy is to sell and promote, to market, Umno/BN purely as a “brand”, not as a product, as anything directly grounded in the current facts and issues of national political life.

I see the logic of it, and it’s not a stupid strategy.

In the face of the present situation, its disquieting problems, what is “the old team” to say and do?

But I doubt that it can really work, “deliver”.

I suppose that they will start by “trialling” it, just to see how it goes, whether it is effective, especially in urban areas and with the young.

Perhaps there is even more to that new ad.

Is it perhaps being prepared and held “on hand”, “in the can”, “on stand-by”, just in case it is needed for a non- or post-Najib campaign?

Is somebody perhaps using this ad to test the waters, trying to gauge how an alternative (non-Najib) campaign would fare in comparison with what is now in prospect?

Are some people in the Umno/BN “engine room” already planning a second, alternative campaign: one to run just in case they decide that they have to replace Najib before the election is held?

Definitely worth thinking about, watching.


CLIVE KESSLER is Emeritus Professor of Sociology & Anthropology, The University of New South Wales, Sydney.

  1. #1 by monsterball on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 2:06 am

    They do not feel good and that’s why Najib had to try all sorts of stunts to win the hearts of Malaysians.
    They have always believe in the power of advertising and promotion campaigns to win an election.
    But the product they are promoting and advertizing is already rejected by Malaysians during 12th GE.
    And today with almost 3 million young voters where vast majority is sick of the old stuffs and want changes….the people Najib can be proud of succeeding to be convinced are young school children…not qualified to vote yet.

  2. #2 by yhsiew on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 2:06 am

    Perhaps selling a shaky image because Sabah and Sarawak are no longer Umno/BN fixed deposits.

  3. #3 by Jeffrey on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 7:24 am

    ////……No sight or mention of PM Najib Abdul Razak…..But at the beginning and end – framing and “anchoring” the whole collage of visages and earnest assertions – is the face of none other than Dr Mahathir Mohamad, with his best, familiar smile…////- Clive Kessler. What does this mean in terms to ‘sell and promote, to market, Umno/BN purely as a “brand” ‘ ??? I don’t think the Ad is preemptive of Najib being replaced before the election is held. UMNO cannot afford this at the 11th hour. More likely the Ad speaks directly and exclusively to that segment of vote market which has vested interests in and has always been steadfast in allegiance to Mahathirism/ Ketuanan ideology. It defines the fight and outcome of imminent GE is that between those who still believe in Existing Order based on Dr Mahathir’s Race ideology/theories (without distraction/adulteration of Najib’s transformative/liberalization programs) versus all the rest.

  4. #4 by Winston on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 10:36 am

    The devil also smile very beguilingly!
    This ad is trying to brainwash the Malaysian electorate.
    We know this devil for fifty-five years.
    And we know the evil this devil has wrought on our country.
    With this devil, it’s simply destruction of the whole country.
    Most Malaysians, especially the young who are far better informed than their predecessors, have already decided to let this devil fry in hell.
    The decision is a very simple one.
    The choice between unending, unlimited destruction of the country from UMNO/BN and liberation and good governance from PR.

  5. #5 by lkt-56 on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 11:39 am

    UMNO/BN brand… interesting indeed. For those whose mind are made up in respect of voting incumbent or voting opposition, it definitely will not have an effect. But for those who are apolitical or whose mind is not made up, it just may get ingrained into their sub-conscious to vote for the brand. But it could work both ways. If you are fearful of the return of Mahathirism, it will lead to rejection of the brand!!!

  6. #6 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 12:07 pm

    What happened to that short-lived, independently produced ‘Undi-lah’ video clip featuring some YBs and that VIP posing with Jabba the Hutt ? Is it banned?

  7. #7 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 12:16 pm

    When I was in town last, I spoke to my regular kacang putih man about the local political scene.

    He said ‘NR just came to my constituency but I am still not going to vote for him. Dia cakap bohong’ and he then spat out some red saliva.

    ‘So your family are going to vote Opposition?’, I asked.

    ‘No-lah. My wife always vote BN. When I asked her why? she replied ‘we are all Malaysians so we must vote for the government’. Just like that-lah’, he said, ‘she won’t change her mind’.

    So you see, there are many people out there who will just vote like this man’s wife.

  8. #8 by sheriff singh on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 12:26 pm

    On this supposedly neutral ‘I Choose Malaysia’ clip, it has got the people’s attention. There is a subliminal message hidden in there ‘Vote Najib, Vote Najib’. The man need not be seen, just heard in your minds. Clever eh? Find out who is paying for it and you might find your leads.

    The elections are only a month or so away but the Sabah frogs might spoil the party. It is the mating season out there and the frogs are getting frisky and are wanting to find their perfect mates.

  9. #9 by Loh on Thursday, 26 July 2012 - 2:54 pm

    This is the results of Mamakthir making wild statements over the past months. UMNO wants now to use it to fool the racist Malays that government policies would stay. UMNO knows that despite what Najib tried, non-Malays have given up on MCA and MIC. They know that Mamakthir has made non-Malays resolute to vote out BN, and the only hope Najib has is to try and convince Malays to continue voting for racism, that is if Najib agreed to the adverts. It could be worse, as Mamakthir now campaigns for his son, and Najib could do nothing about it.

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