Malaysia’s 14th General Election: A Digital Marketer’s Observation

A friend was asking me whether I am a voter or a non-voter for this year’s mother of all elections.

She then proceeded to chide me for not being a voter and not fulfilling my responsibility to the nation (which is kind of true). She doesn’t know that I am going to vote this year, as I am keeping mum about this topic from people.

May 9 2018, is definitely going to be a historic, groundbreaking moment for all Malaysians, period. The most interesting part to me is that politicians are now beginning to use advertising and digital marketing tools to market themselves to influence people and eventually get the buying in from the voters.

Here is everything you need know about the upcoming general election, from the eyes of a digital marketer.

Voter’s sentiments

It’s getting easier for brands, political parties and marketing analysts to track what people are saying about their brands and parties. A simple search on Twitter shows that trending hashtags in Malaysia right now are #Undirabu, #JomUndi, #PulangMengundi, #CarpoolGE14 as well as #UndiRosak. Even without the hashtag, by typing in the keyword, you can also find something you’re searching for.

Positive sentiments from voters include those willing to pay for other Malaysians’ flight tickets to fly home and vote! Strangers giving strangers money and tickets just so they exercise their right to vote. This is really a phenomenon, isn’t it? Mainstream newspapers also reported that a movement of mass volunteering rides is also being offered to those who want to go home but do not have transportation or money. The best thing is carpool rides are being offered regardless of which party you are voting for. Malaysians really do know how to rally when their nation truly needs them to, particularly with the advent of social media platforms.

Negative sentiments include the #undirosak campaign where voters encourage other voters to spoil the votes as a protest to both parties. This is beyond me, really. I don’t quite know what their objective is but one thing for sure, it won’t help the nation at all.

There are other neutral sentiments too – those that are informational, or simply retweets from official party’s tweets or political candidates while other sentiments were more funny, quirky and interesting. Brands also leverage on this trending topic by posting encouragement posts to encourage their fans to votes. Some of the brands that really know how to ride along with the sentiment are Texas Chicken, the BIG group, Mini, and AirAsia to name a few.

Marketing Mix

Another thing that amazes me the most is the marketing mix that political parties employ to attract voters. A rising trend for all parties is a shift towards digital marketing. Khairy Jamaluddin posted a Jaminan Orang Muda (JOM) video campaign on his Facebook page while the opposition party, Pakatan Harapan also uploaded a Let’s Get to Know Syed Saddiq thread (an IIUM graduate and world-class debater) which also appeared on my feed. My Youtube ads are also being swarmed by political ad campaigns, mostly from the dark blue party while I see the masthead being occupied by BN, with YAB Datuk Seri Najib Tun Abdul Razak as the subject or selling point.

BN utilizes a lot of search engine optimisation as their marketing ammo, that’s for sure. Simply typing the keywords such as Malaysian election and you will see strings of paid ads on Google. The opposition side, Pakatan Harapan also uses Google advertising to reach voters as well. However, the ads are standard banner ads, which is far different from the approach taken by BN.

Overall, BN seems to have more leverage in terms of reaching more Malaysians with their ads and social media sponsored posting, to ensure that the people are aware of their manifesto. This may be largely due to their financial resources, lack of positive engagement siding them or the fact that they hired skilful digital marketers and media buyers to help roll out their marketing campaigns. It could be agencies behind those stunts.

On the other hand, Pakatan Harapan is leveraging hard on their engagement on each of the posting made. It seems that the level of engagement on each posting on Facebook and Twitter is extremely high. Most of them are on their side. They hardly sponsor any post for the visibility, but it is the momentum of engagements that helps these postings to stretch the reach out to people. 

Paid ads versus engagement, this is what I’m seeing today on the digital front. One thing for sure, I can safely predict that digital spends for rival parties from the last election to the current upcoming election have increased to a new whole level compared to the previous general election back in 2013.

Marketing Strategy

Additionally, the major difference that I observe is the marketing strategies employed by the two major rival parties are somewhat unique from one another.

Pakatan Harapan’s strategy is more emotionally driven. A few videos were laid right before my eyes on Facebook which showed a number of iconic PH leaders speaking in front of an audience, reminding them about the risk they’re going to take when voting. They talked about the current economic situations, the current challenges faced by the country and other similar sentiments. Many videos are with amateur quality, giving the impact of the real situation being recorded. The content play is mostly video, less other fancy ones. It is emotion, emotion and emotion all the way to ease the relatability of the people. Their target groups are those who are being hit by the economic downturn, not happy with the current cost of living, unhappy with alleged scandals happening and wanted an absolute change at the top.

On the other side, BN’s strategy is less emotional. From what I can observe, BN is sharing a perspective of a better living to the people through initiatives they will embark if BN retain the power to administer the country. Most of the sentiments are based on promises, digital content and statistics. The strategy is aiming for the Millennials who are new voters, the long-time loyalist and those who have yet to decide. I am guessing that majority of the voters will come from these three particular groups. Hence the BN manifesto is skewed towards TN50, creating new job opportunities, BR1M, 1Negaraku related aspects, infrastructures to be built and a few others.

All in all, politicians may spend money on attracting the right group of people, serving the right type of message as well as having the right marketing mix but still, a tale as old as time, voters will have the final say on who to vote for.

If you ask me, how will voters vote? Well, generally, we tend to process advertising information via two ways. One is via central processing and the latter via peripheral processing. Voters who use central processing as a benchmark will analyse political messages carefully and weigh one against the other before deciding. On the other hand, voters who use peripheral processing as a benchmark will go with the most attractive candidate or politician which they resonate or like the most. What type of processing will you use for the upcoming election?

In the end, both sides need to realise that marketing is just 10 percent of the battle. The 90 percent is solely based on the substance and the value proposition each side is having and the amount of trust that they can acquire from the people.

Godspeed.