Malaysiakini Letter

'I Choose Malaysia' - selling a feel-good image

Clive Kessler  |  Published:  |  Modified:

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.

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