Off the Record
Kill The Marketers07/12/2011 14:11:00
I always get asked why there are very few big hits in the entertainment scene in Malaysia. Hits in music, TV, film, theatre and the like that capture the imagination of an entire nation. Oft-repeated causes of the mediocrity of our creativity, like lack of professionalism and talent, are valid, but these are simple to understand and remedy. I strongly believe we can figure out how to bring professionalism in the creative industries and create an infrastructure that can bring our talents to a global level.
But all these plans and hard work to bring Malaysia’s creativity to the next level will come to nothing if we don’t solve a more fundamental and tougher-to-pin-down problem: Our marketers are too clever.
Yes, I’m being sarcastic.
A lot of Malaysians out there are professional marketing practitioners. They know that one of the key pillars in marketing is the concept of market segmentation - the art of dividing up your audiences to neat little characteristics and accompanying descriptions like he’s a Chinese Malaysian from Ipoh, therefore he behaves like this, he likes this, he goes there or she’s Indian Malaysian from Kuantan with a Master’s degree, therefore she is like this, and likes that, and doesn’t like that.
Marketers can be a real racist bunch.
Whilst I fully appreciate the concept of market segmentation and its use as a business tool, I believe it has been bastardised by marketers who can’t see, or choose not to see, beyond the surface. These marketers get research data, then sit in their quiet offices and lump the beautiful people of Malaysia into groups of easily-digestible characteristics which they then feed to unsuspecting bosses or clients for an exorbitant fee. Of all the crimes in business, this has got to be the most heinous.
Whilst the concept of market segmentation is more straightforward in a homogenous society like Japan or Thailand, it needs to be very smartly applied in a multi-cultural country like Malaysia. Due to the lack of in-depth understanding of the complexities of the Malaysian social fabric, or maybe simply due to laziness, marketers usually segment Malaysians to Malay, Chinese and Indian (completely forgetting the other ethnicities as well).
And to prove that they have thought about it a little bit more, they have recently begun to come up with terms like Millenial Malays, Urban Malays, Generation 2 Chinese, Chinese Chinese, Upwardly Mobile Malays and other really weird descriptions. I’ve seen these being presented right before my very eyes.
To make things worse, the big companies and brands take this overly-simplified information and channel their money accordingly, which then pressures Malaysian media to segment themselves by these over-simplified pigeon-holes of race and language.
Everyone has largely ignored the beauty of the melting pot and how our social fabric is way more complicated than a bunch of stereotypes the marketers would like us to believe. And hence, the problem of why we can’t get a massive hit nowadays.
A long time ago we could get the hits. Hits that drive the nation to a frenzy. Everyone sang along to P. Ramlee, Search, Sheila Majid, Zainal Abidin and Innuendo. This is because everyone heard the same thing, and non-segmentation of media made it easier for everyone to hear different music.
At the end of the 90s, Malaysian media became overly-segmented, all in the name of serving different audiences, as demanded by the big marketers. That’s when the major nationwide hits disappeared. Mawi is a big star, but most non-Malays haven’t heard about him. Age Of Glory and NurKasih have massive TV viewers but only amongst Chinese and Malay audiences respectively. Last week I was at a media gathering and a young woman shook my hand and said hello. I asked which company she was from. A quick whisper in my ear told me she was one of the nation’s most famous actress. We have been so insulated from hits happening in audience segments that we don’t belong to that Malaysia is like a collection of many different countries, each living in its own eco-system: its own schools, it’s own media, it’s own communities and it’s own hits.
8TV took a huge risk with Malaysian Idol, producing it in dual-language and making it more Malaysian, rather than more Malay or more English, despite resistance from many quarters, especially from the marketing fraternity. When Jaclyn Victor was crowned the Malaysian Idol, I looked back and saw a true Malaysian crowd in the audience, all races, young and old. You don’t get this a lot nowadays.
Most media companies are trapped, unable to do events that draw in multi-races. The pressures of marketers who go, “You got to make it more Malay or more Chinese so we can easily address the needs of our sponsors” are just too tough to fight against.
Marketers are in the way of us really embracing the beauty of our country. Marketers are in the way of the big nationwide hits that are just waiting to be unleashed because it’s just too complicated and too much work to make sense of our wonderfully complicated culture.
However, to unleash our potential as a country able to produce massive hits, we have to find a new way. We have to dig a little deeper.
Do this and you will be pleasantly surprised, o Marketer. Our melting pot holds the most amazing treasures for those who just dig a little bit deeper.