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Inside the Creative Scene in Malaysia

Gigi Lee is Executive Creative Director at Y&R Malaysia and has previously sat on the D&AD Awards Art Direction Jury. We asked her to shed some light on Malaysian advertising trends and some of the challenges and opportunities shes faces working as a creative in a Malaysian advertising agency.

Malaysia Boleh! The creative advertising scene in Malaysia. | D&AD

Boring, timid, conservative. Three words that describe what young Malaysians think about our industry.

Before I continue, let me give you some context. Malaysia - you may have heard about us – the country between Thailand and Singapore  - is made up of 3 main races: the Malays, Chinese and Indians.

We also have the Peranakans (descendants of Chinese traders who married the locals), and the Mamaks (Indian Muslim folks). Not forgetting the minor races, and indigenous people. Of which, there are altogether 18 tribes comprising different languages and customs.   

Now imagine you’re asked to advertise to the ‘mass’ market, and you’ll slowly realise the problems we’re facing. It starts from the moment the brief lands on your table. Say you’re a Malaysian Chinese. You probably ideate in Chinese, present the work in English, which subsequently runs in Malay, the official language of Malaysia.

Malaysian Chinese clients (they make up a sizeable majority) use a variety of dialects to communicate: Cantonese, Hakka, Hokkien and Hainanese to name a few. The Malays also speak a variety of dialects: Kelantan Malay, Johor Malay, Melaka Malay and more.

If all these sounds confusing, wait – there’s more! Here are some dos and don’ts when it comes to producing a TV commercial:

  • No armpits. (Unless it’s an ad for underarm deodorant).
  • Talent must not appear sleeveless.
  • No dogs. (Unless it’s for dog-related products. If you absolutely must have a pet in there, make it a cat).
  • No boots. (Don’t ask).
  • No hugs. (What if the couple is not married to each other!).
  • No Manglish. (Bad English, basically. Malaysian words + English = Manglish).
  • And more...

Unfortunately, it’s a list all senior creatives have memorised. Most of our advertising campaigns are bi-lingual. Voice-overs are dubbed over talents who look like they could be Malay, Chinese or Indian. However, due to budget constraints, clients will produce a ‘neutral’ single-language campaign that reaches all audiences. Like this one for Digi, a local telco company.

Pick up some Cuit Cuit Sign Language with the #ConfirmMalaysian Film

Yasmin showed us a side of Malaysia we didn’t realise, or perhaps have forgotten, existed. Where people are colour blind, love triumphs over judgement, and racial acceptance, not ‘racial tolerance’, is the norm.

Watch Leo Burnett's Tan Hong Ming Film

Nomination / TV & Cinema Advertising / 2008

Back to the burning question on the minds of young creatives: Is there a future for Malaysian advertising? After watching the work above, what do you think? When you choose to look beyond demographics, we are all alike. The same blood runs beneath our veins.

We have a beautiful culture, a rich heritage, a goldmine of stories. Have we, myself included, lost the stamina to dig deeper? Many talented creatives have left our shores, due to economic or career opportunities. Those that remain must define and re-define the idea of Malaysian advertising.

A lot of our work has already been awarded internationally. You’ll even find quite a few of them on this site. It’s anything but boring, timid and conservative. Malaysia Boleh! (Boleh = Can).  

Malaysia Boleh! The creative advertising scene in Malaysia.
The Jungle Book / In Book / Illustration for Advertising / 2012 / Y&R

In closing, I’ll leave you with images, curated from the local advertising and design community, from an exhibition on local fruits. Enjoy.

Malaysia Boleh! Inside the Creative Advertising Scene in Malaysia.
Quick Draw Wins / In Book / Outdoor Advertising – Poster Advertising Campaigns / 2012 / Ogilvy & Mather Malaysia

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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