Islamic Lifestyle

A digital Eid: Online increasingly the way to go for Malaysia’s advertising ringgits

Photo for illustrative purposes only. Idyllic and heartfelt scenes of family are often depicted in Eid, or Hari Raya, advertisements in Malaysia

As Malaysia’s internet penetration jumped nine percent from 2015 to 80.1 percent last year, many brands are increasing their digital advertising expenditure to meet consumers on platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. In line with this trend, log into any of those social media accounts this time of year and you’ll find ads from almost every brand celebrating Eid al Fitr, or more commonly known as Hari Raya in Malaysia.

Hari Raya ads in Malaysia are what Christmas ads are to the British - they're highly-anticipated and enjoyed by the public, and reflect the traditions and shared experiences of a community. In Malaysia's case, it's a celebration of the culmination of a month of fasting. For brands, it's a prime opportunity to leave a 'feel-good' mark on audiences. 

This year, for example, online shopping retailer Lazada’s endearing video about an elderly couple buying gifts racked up over 3.2 million views in two weeks.

Monopoly electric utility company Tenaga Nasional Berhad's video of a young boy trying to find privacy in a house filled with visiting relatives received over 2.4 million views in just under a week.

“A decade ago, digital advertising would seem like an afterthought: a snack in the media buffet. But today, digital advertising is very much a main course,” Emir Shafri, executive creative director at Young & Rubicam, told Salaam Gateway.

The abundance of Eid ads going online isn’t surprising considering Malaysians’ digital engagement. In 2017, 74 percent of Malaysians aged fifteen and above were internet users and smartphone penetration stood at 98 percent, reported market researcher Nielsen. In terms of social media use, Malaysia was the world’s fifth most social media active country with a 71 percent penetration, according to a study by UK media company We Are Social and social media management platform Hootsuite.

“The numbers are staggering. We are one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to social media. We are online constantly,” said Andreas Vogiatzakis, chief executive officer of Malaysia at Havas Media Group.

“Even for clients who are not sure what to make out of digital, they do know that they have to migrate at least partially,” added Vogiatzakis.

Other media industry players agree. “I wouldn't call it a trend as it's practically our reality - digital is less a medium and more an intrinsic fabric of people's daily lives,” said TJ Wong, creative director at Wunderman, a global digital agency with an office in Kuala Lumpur.


The Malaysian Advertisers Association (MAA) put advertising expenditure at 4.65 billion Malaysian ringgit ($1.17 billion) in 2017, down from 4.96 billion ringgit in 2016.

The industry body said the only media to experience significant increases in ad spend were digital, pay TV, outdoor and cinema, with digital growing “most aggressively” at 22 percent per annum.

MAA estimated that at the current rates of growth, digital’s share of advertising spend will overtake TV’s share towards the end of this year or by early 2019. Digital’s share went up from 17 percent in 2016 to 23 percent in 2017, and TV’s share has been holding steady at 25 percent since 2015.


While digital migration is driven in large by the fact that Malaysian audiences are heavily using social media, it is also fuelled by the advantages offered by digital platforms.

“Technology enables digital platforms to be more accountable. There is a clearer attribution path – with my investment, I know much better, compared to traditional media, what is the return on that investment,” said Vogiatzakis.

Digital platforms also offer the unique opportunity to engage with consumers. This is key for conversion especially for e-commerce. Importantly for brands, Nielsen found that among the 17.4 million Malaysians aged 15 and above, 10 percent have shopped online for products and services, and the majority of them are under the age of 39.

Because digital offers a rich universe of data about customers’ behaviour, advertisers can adjust their content to individually target users in a way that cannot be done through offline media.

“You no longer have to create a one-size-fits-all message for the masses. Instead, you can “mass personalise” your message, customising potentially hundreds of messages to hit the right customer with the right messaging, at the right place and at the right time,” said Emir.

Digital also offers different formats for storytelling, as commercials go up to even 15 minutes long in Malaysia—Eid ads, especially, really milk the nostalgia and emotional factors.

Digital ads are also not constrained by as many censorship restrictions set by Malaysia’s Ministry of Communications and Multimedia.

Of course, online videos also have the possibility of going viral — something that isn’t so possible with television advertising.

“Due to the nature of social media, you get what I term ‘social velocity’ - it's the shares and reshares which spike the views and reach of the ad,” said TJ.


But that’s not to say that television is dead. Offline media formats still dominate consumer reach. According to Nielsen, traditional media has above 70 percent reach among those aged 15 and above. Further, only 1 percent of young adults between 15 and 24 consumed digital media exclusively in 2017.

“It's a misconception that one medium is better than the other, in fact with so many mediums at our disposal, the key thinking right now is: which mediums are my priority and how can we maximise opportunities on those mediums,” said TJ.

Offline media formats still account for the majority of ad spending, and is ideal for mass marketing.

“If you ask me today the prediction for the next year or 2-3 years, I don’t think digital is going to overtake offline and online media. I think the bulk of the money is going to be within the offline platforms,” said Vogiatzakis. “For example, people are going to drive. So if I want to create awareness on a big scale, outdoor advertising can always be useful. Same thing with radio, cinema; you have a captive audience that is sitting there. Cinema advertising has been steady forever.”


Still, the shift to digital has created room for more creativity in Eid advertising content, as brands try harder to create thumb-stopping content.

“More ad diversity, more stories that reflect different viewpoints of Raya, more risk-taking from creative agencies and brands,” said TJ.

However, it’s a double-edged sword. “You will have a saturated Raya ad market with more competition for awareness, an increase in lower quality ads and more brands doing Raya ads with the wrong intention - just for the sake of it,” he added.

Not all companies have had success with digital marketing. In 2017, health and beauty retailer Watsons came under fire for releasing a 15-minute Eid commercial that featured a model in blackface. Watsons was forced to take down the video from its social media pages and apologise twice after widespread criticism of its ad as being racist for likening whiteness with beauty.

For local advertisers, it’s still about the content and the storytelling.

“[A]gain the basics of a good Raya ad on social media doesn't change from if it were seen on TV—a good story, insightful messaging, right intent and well-crafted execution, like most content we consume,” said TJ.

(Reporting by Lily Jamaludin; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim

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