Marketing Guide

The Malaysian Code of Practice in Advertising – Should controversy be avoided?

Malaysia practices the same type of advertising environment as compared to any other countries today. In order to promote healthy competition among advertisers and to ensure that no one breaks any law in advertising, there is a Malaysian Code of Practice that all agencies and companies must adhere to in their campaigns.

Sensitivity to others most important

The most important factor about advertising in Malaysia is to ensure that the messages are not offensive. This is a very thin line that agencies need to adhere to because Malaysia is made up of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society. Anything said will come under the scrutiny of every Malaysian and when any advertiser breaks the rule, they will surely come under fire.

Malaysia different from countries like US

Unlike the United States where controversy might be some sort of publicity for a brand, Malaysia practices otherwise. This means that agencies would have action taken against them if their commercials spark any form of controversy like seditious messages or racism among others.

In certain parts of the world, advertisers are allowed to compare between 2 brands (with the name of the competitor highlighted) as well. This is not allowed in Malaysia where the names or logo of competitors cannot be used.

More relaxed enforcement in recent years

However, the guidelines appeared to have ‘relaxed’ in recent years where hypermarkets and telecommunication companies have used a ‘pseudonym’ where the brand of the competitor was not used but a similar looking logo and ‘Hypermarket A’ and ‘Hypermarket B’ was referred to where the consumer could easily identify what the advertiser was trying to say.

The main word that agencies used in advertising in the country is sensitivity. This is because anything that was put out in the media will be publicly seen and then criticized. One of the most highlighted cases that happened recently was the television commercial launched by national oil and gas company Petronas.

While the company had often been associated with TVCs which are heart-warming and promotes unity among the people, Petronas’ ‘Do The Dappan’ TVC worked otherwise.

The intention was not malicious actually but Malaysian Indians felt that the Petronas TVC had portrayed them in a negative light which was put up in YouTube. It had to then released a press statement claiming that there were no ill intentions for the ad and that it was all for the harmony of the country. Such is the situation where the Code of Practice was followed but it was only when the TVC was launched that the advertiser knew how the people felt.