A couple of days ago, a friend of mine, a pensioner, received an unusual phone call from a woman he didn’t know.
From the way he described it, it sounded like someone from a market research agency was trying to gauge public opinion and sentiment. The woman asked him if it was okay if she took 20 minutes to ask a few questions.
Among the questions:
- What do you think of the Northern Corridor Economic Region plan?
- Are you happy with your recent pension increment? (He replied no, he still finds it hard to cope with the rising cost of living.)
- What do you think of Penang Chief Minister Dr Koh’s performance?
- Who do you think would make a suitable successor?
- What do you think of Keadilan?
- What do you think of Anwar?
- Would you be comfortable with Pas ruling the country?
- Do you think Visit Malaysia Year will help the economy?
- Who do you normally vote for?
Now, my guess is that this phone call has something to do with the coming general election.
We know that during the 2004 general election campaign, two of Abdullah Badawi’s aides – an ex-banker and a political scientist – coordinated a media blitz that used the creative input of three or four advertising companies. The media campaign covered television, radio, print media, billboards and even direct mail.
They used the ad agency Leo Burnett to come up with television commercials.
The landslide BN victory was actually a triumph for these advertising agencies as well. The media campaign was designed to promote the “feel-good” factor, to market the BN “brand” image and to portray Abdullah Badawi in the best possible light.
The message and approach use varied depending on the target audience. They also used the “soft-sell” approach because they didn’t want to put off the target audience through a “hard-sell” approach, which would have been “overkill”.
Before coming up with this media campaign, I am pretty sure these ad agencies would have done their homework to find out what issues are important to which target audience. You know, focus groups, random surveys, cold call interviews with voters, opinion polls – that sort of thing. The idea is to find out what appeals to voters and what puts them off. In the minds of these agencies, it’s all about perception and how it can be moulded.
One ad agency director said after the last election that his television commercials focused “just on Malaysians talking about what they like to do, what they believe in about this country and their life, rather than politics.”
“Because Pak Lah talks about everyday things, not mega-projects,” he said. (Try telling Malaysians that today!)
“Things like education, better service from the government, improving the police, anti-corruption, dealing directly with the public.” (We know all about that now, don’t we?)
“We were successful in selling the BN’s brand and the principal product, Datuk Seri Abdullah, well. If people ‘felt good’ towards the BN I feel it was validated.”
Those quotes were from a Bernama report after the 2004 general election.
As the Malaysian Media Monitors’ Diary observed back then:
In this advertising and marketing game, voters are reduced to unsuspecting consumers whose minds should be moulded and manipulated into buying the “product.” In this game, the BN is the brand, the dacing is the brand logo, the tag line is “Excellence, Glory, Distinction”, and the emotion they are trying to create is “feel good”. The principal “product” is of course, Abdullah Badawi, and the product attributes highlighted are the images of him as an anti-corruption crusader fighting against formidable odds, a man who listens to the people, etc.
It worked, didn’t it?
Now I am wondering who first thought of those tag-lines “Work with me, not for me” and “Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang“. And was it any wonder that Abdullah focussed on combating corruption and reforming the police as the main planks of his programme.
I wonder if the Barisan Nasional has already appointed its ad agencies for the coming election and if they have already begun their “market research” to find out the issues that matter to you and me so that they can better mould public opinion through their next election media blitz.