We take a look at five of the funniest, cutest and most moving Merdeka commercials.
There have been many Merdeka commercials produced over the years in what has become a veritable tradition. In a way, they help us reflect on how far we’ve come as Malaysians and what makes this country what it is, While most have a jingoistic flavour that treats the spirit of nationhood as some of lofty ideal, the best commercials take a different route. Using humour, drama and unexpected points of view, these five win our hearts and inspire our spirits. Have a great 57th Merdeka Day, everyone!
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
This Merdeka commercial by the late director Yasmin Ahmad – who was already famous for her previous ads for Petronas – saw her turning her lens on a bunch of primary school kids for a series of unscripted interviews. And when Yasmin asked a gregarious boy named Tan Hong Ming, “Do you have a girlfriend?” his answer resulted in this light-hearted yet powerful clip about seeing the world through a child’s unprejudiced eyes. It captivated not just the nation, but the world, winning gold at the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
“My name is Tim Sharp.”
Malaysians can get defensive when confronted by outsiders’ perspectives about life in this country, but Maxis uses this to their advantage in this sharp commercial narrated from the point of view of an expat called Tim Sharp and his comic and confusing experiences communicating with locals who refer to each other using familial terms: brother, abang, macha, pakcik, makcik and so on. Through Tim’s eyes, we see how Malaysians consider ourselves as one big family – and, of course, in the end, he’s adopted as a Malaysian brother.
Yet another high point in Yasmin Ahmad’s advertising career, this 2008 Merdeka commercial she directed for Maybank is the first Iban-language ad to ever air on Malaysian TV. In the ad, which has Malay subtitles, a daughter asks her mother why there are no tigers in Sarawak, to which the mother replies that there are tigers everywhere, woven into the mat, tattooed on her father’s calf, and even one on the pendant on her necklace. Years later, the daughter has moved to London, and talks to her mum on the phone. And yes, the tiger – Malaysia’s emblematic animal, symbolising strength and courage, and also Maybank’s logo – is still with her.
Though it starts off in slapstick mode, complete with a toothless whistler, this classic commercial by Petronas from 1999 hits home with its depiction of two competing boat racing teams – the misfits in yellow representing Malaysia, and the jocks in red representing we’re-not-sure-who-exactly. The red team gets off to a great lead but overconfidence and disunity tears them apart. Meanwhile, the yellows, slow but steadily plod their way to victory – but then something magical happens – they don’t stop even after crossing the finishing line. The lesson: It was never about winning, it’s about staying together as one.
“It was a very special day.”
The one that started the Merdeka commercial tradition is still one of the best. Following the point of view of an Indian boy who is roused from sleep to attend the declaration of independence in Merdeka Stadium, this poignant commercial looks back on that historic moment from a personal perspective, humanising what most Malaysians simply dismiss as a public holiday. It was rallying call to Malaysians to reconsider what independence meant to us all, and it remains as relevant then as it is now.