StarBiz recently invited leaders in the Malaysian advertising industry for a roundtable discussion on issues and prospects for the industry.
Taking part were : RISHYA JOSEPH, president of the Malaysian chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA), KHOO BOO BOON and JUNI EWE, president and vice-president of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As), and SHAHAR NOOR and BHARAT AVALANI, president and vice-president of the Malaysian Advertisers Association (MAA). Representing The Star were DATIN LINDA NGIAM, general manager (advertising and business development), M. HAFIDZ MAHPAR, StarBiz deputy news editor and DATUK WONG SULONG, deputy group chief editor, who chaired the roundtable.
Part one appeared on Friday. This is part two, the final part.
STAR: The advertising industry has to work closely with the regulatory authorities. How would you describe the state of this relationship?
Juni: (Khoo Boo) Boon has been talking about the more positive side of the Multimedia Ministry, about being open and self-regulation and so on. Advertising is one area that is very heavily regulated. One of the concerns is actually the Health Ministry. One category where there is growth in terms of product consumption and demand is health supplements because our society is more health conscious. Too much control is also not good for the business. And I understand they are also looking into cosmetics. These are things that may slow down the industry.
Bharat: That is a very important point that is being brought up. I think progress comes with self-regulation and all of us taking responsibility for our actions. On the one hand, we want to move ahead and on another, we put on the brakes. The more effort we spend on rules and making more rules, the more brakes you are putting on the industry. Efforts should be made to go after the so-called trouble mongers, people who produce misleading ads. Find a way to book them, penalise them and make sure others do not repeat this.
Khoo: It is only a small group of people anyway, so why put restrictions on the whole industry?
Star: As you mentioned, the health and drugs industry is growing. There is greater awareness of the importance of health. But at the same time within the industry there are a couple of bad apples. However, the whole industry is made to suffer blanket rules that are very strict and tough. What would your appeal to the Health Ministry be in such a situation?
Juni: We have had meetings with the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry and all the ministries of which advertising is subjected to – the Health Ministry, Information Ministry and Education Ministry. When we talk about self-regulation, it works better because the onus lies with the advertisers and the advertising agencies. Through sanctions eg, if your ad is unethical or misleading, it can be pulled out. If you deny them the (advertising) space, they would have no opportunity to advertise. That’s it. For the government to enforce more rules, it usually doesn’t work.
Khoo: No point giving rules when you cannot control. You look like a toothless tiger.
Bharat: The more rules we have, the more problems we have interpreting and implementing them.
Star: Talking about rules, you can imagine what each media owner goes through. Each time we see an ad, which we know, is breaking the rules, you should see the quarrel between the ad traffic and the agency and the client. At The Star we have had a few meetings with the Health Ministry plus the clients. We have also tried to be very customer oriented. We have told our clients that we have built up a very good relationship with the ministry and they actually nominate a person whom we can deal direct at all times.
Previously, we actually had to officially submit with a letter and wait for them to get back; by then whatever promotions will be over. Now we have a person whom we can deal with directly. So we sometimes tell our clients we will do it for you and not subject you the trouble of applying to the ministry. But if we feel that the ad will not be cleared, you must let us do the asking. But a lot of clients think if you ask, they will surely say no. A lot of them want to go on a hit and run.
Bharat: This is not right. The person who created the ads is not sure of the ad, and the media owner tries to print the ad. Obviously there is some disconnect here. I think that has to be corrected. I think the client and the agency that creates the ads have to be very clear what works and what doesn’t work. Leaving it to the goodwill of the media owner is too risky.
Shahar: The government should de-regulate. Secondly, there are too many “gate keepers.” We need someone at the very top, the number one or two that says, “Look here, we have to go this direction,” and simplify to expedite decisions. Otherwise every ministry will only look from their point of interest.
Rishya: The multinational clients have invested a fortune in this country. There appears to be no transparency on the made-in-Malaysia (MiM) rules and this is sad. Some clients are allowed to get foreign TV commercials on air, while others don’t understand how it happens. I hope the industry and the government will make this clear. No one understands where the MiM rule is right now, so it sits in this amphibious zone.
Star: What has been the experience of our neighbouring countries like Thailand and Singapore?
Rishya: Our world is going to become a borderless world. So what intrusion are we talking about? I think we accept that we are into a digital platform in television, we have Internet access, and the world is becoming a borderless place. So we can’t protect it as such. The government must realise that if we invite multinational clients into the country and they invest millions of dollars in production capabilities, the rules of engagement must be very succinct. Currently the MiM rules in particular are absolutely vague.
Shahar: That’s why the Malaysian Advertisers Association, in a collaborative way, is trying to urge the government to make them understand. The problem is it has become a government-to-government issue of late – the Thai government wrote to the Foreign Affairs Ministry on why they cannot air their tourism ads here. It is not fair that Malaysian companies can air their ads in other countries and they cannot air theirs in our country. We need to look into this issue.
Bharat: To me, if we look at it logically, it doesn’t make sense because on one hand you are giving our Malaysian consumer a choice of buying whatever he wants to buy. But when it comes to TV advertising it is the other way around, it has to be made in Malaysia. On one hand, you are giving the manufacturer a chance to sell their products but you are not giving them the benefit of influencing their consumers to buy. It just does not make business sense.
Star: Would you agree that in the earlier years of the 1970s and 80s, a case could be made for some degree of protection for the local advertising industry?
Khoo: It was relevant in those days about 30 years ago because we were very new and young. We have matured, and the government has matured. I think this archaic set of rules should be cast aside as we know it is not working.
Bharat: Over the years, people tend to forget the objectives of why the rules were made. Coming back to the MiM, I think those days, the policy makers made the rules with very noble intentions like protecting Malaysian culture and to build the local industry. However, they forgot to put a time frame. One must look at it retrospectively and everything has to have a time frame and a context. So when the time comes and the context changes then the rules must change.
Rishya: To be fair to the industry and support for our production houses, this has to be a clarification within the upper turf. There are two issues here: one is the point of allowing local content, the second point is how we can grow our production house capabilities. That is important and the original intention – how do we build up the skill sets of our production houses. We mustn’t lose that objective. The government has encouraged banks to look for foreign partners and merge. I think in the same way, incentives can be put in place where local production houses bring in foreign partners to create really competitive production houses that can compete with the best in the region. Like say Singapore and Hong Kong.
Shahar: I think the reason with us Malaysians is we like to do things and then forget to update and review it. Times have changed; we have to adopt that and make the changes. I think protection is good but overprotection is not good. If we protected too much before, that was probably causing the delay in our progress. It is good to protect but we shouldn’t protect for too long; otherwise, people become contented and they won’t grow. There is no challenge to move ahead with times.
Rishya: Two production houses that have been acting as regional production centres Pegasus and Planet. These guys are doing multinational business. What the government can do is provide them the incentives to grow. They are re-exporting their talents overseas.
Star: So local talent is not lacking?
Rishya: It is not lacking. But the government incentives are not there to make them more powerful entities from a regional perspective.
Bharat: These companies are successful not just because of the MiM ruling. It is their ability and competence that made them successful and they will be competitive irrespective of whether there is MiM ruling or not. I think that is what we should be looking at. The objective now should not be whether to keep MiM or not, but how do we make our local production houses the best in the world.
Related stories from Part Two
Local talent as good as foreignThe advertising industry will celebrate the 25th Kancil Awards (the industry’s top awards); is creative talent among Malaysian agencies improving all the time?
Ad industry looking forward with optimismOn what the future holds.
Related stories from Part OneBrand building is vital for Malaysia