WHEN was the last time you bought a sofa?
What is the colour of your sofa?
What is the size of your sofa? Two-seater or three-seater?
Did you buy the three-seater for your family? Or do you just love big sofas?
Do you foresee buying a new sofa in the near future?
What colour will you pick for your new sofa? What material? What size?
Your answers to these questions, according to Azrin Zizal, the SCL head of South-East Asia, can reflect your attitudinal stand.
“For instance, if you had bought a three-seater sofa because you have a big family, we can read it as you wanting your family to be comfortable, and therefore value tradition, thus appealing to a conservative message construct,” said Azrin.
SCL’s sister company is Cambridge Analytica, whose data scientists claimed to have helped Donald Trump win the United States presidential election. SCL also managed strategic communications for the “Leave” campaign in the Brexit referendum.
Azrin was involved in both of those major campaigns. He has worked full-time with the company since 2015 and is their representative here. He is discreet about ongoing projects but judging from the company’s portfolio, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were talking to political parties here in the run-up to the next general election.
On Saturday, I had an insightful chat with Azrin over teh tarik at Mr Roti Canai restaurant, Putra Heights. His description of data-driven politics is fascinating.
“How do you relate the sofa questionnaire to reading the Malaysian political psyche?” I asked Azrin.
“Depending on the respondent’s answer, you would be able to draw psychological assessments that reflect his psyche.
“You will know what medium to use to communicate with him and how he will react to that communication,” said the 44-year-old with a double degree in law from Universiti Islam Antarabangsa.
“Let’s just say you identify him as a father who values tradition, so naturally he would read newspapers. We can make an informed guess that one way to effectively communicate with him is through printed media.”
“A Barisan Nasional voter would have what kind of sofa?” I asked Azrin.
After a good laugh and much prompting by me, he sportingly suggested that a Barisan voter would PROBABLY choose a “safe” sofa.
“Probably if he can afford it, he would buy something solid and not flimsy, plasticky or shaky. He will want stability in his life and something certain for the future, which he can assure will give many good years of daily use,” he said.
“An opposition voter will buy what kind of sofa?” I asked.
“He will PROBABLY be more adventurous, going with the latest design and choosing it for its aesthetics without taking into consideration how durable it will be,” he said.
Azrin qualified his quip with “probably” and should be taken with a pitch of salt. A real assessment would depend on many other factors and considerations so as to come to an informed and measurable profiling.
“What was your involvement in the ‘Leave’ campaign?” I asked, while holding my second teh tarik (this time kurang manis).
Azrin was one of the consultants who deciphered the Asian segment of the British population.
“What it means is we gave an understanding or shed light on the psyche of the Asian segment in terms of how best to communicate or understand how they will react to these communications,” he said.
“Can you give me an example?” I asked politely, thinking, “Can’t this guy tell me in plain English?”.
“For instance, South-East Asians, especially the first and second-generation immigrants, still hold to tradition.
“So the way to communicate with them was not only by traditional means (newspaper and television) but through the community they lived in,” he said.
“For the Muslim community, we spoke to them through their congregations, while for the Chinese community, through the Chinese restaurants.”
Brexit, said Azrin, was not won by the heart but by guts.
“What that means is the British feeling that they have been disenfranchised for many years being part of the European Union.
“Many felt the British had less control of Britain after the EU,” he said.
SCL’s campaign, according to him, went along the line that Brexit is all about giving control back to the British.
“It was very emotional. It was about making Britain strong,” he said.
“It was about how we could get the Asian voters from not caring, as they felt that Brexit was not their fight – and then turn it into their fight.”
For the Trump campaign, Azrin basically did the same job for the “Leave” campaign.
He said the Asian voters in US were pretty much the same as their counterparts in Britain, except for fourth and successive generations of Americans (who tend to be more American as they no longer have grandparents born outside of America enforcing upon them their root culture).
“The Asian voters are not naturally Trump supporters as it was the general impression that Trump wanted to make America for Americans.”
Contradictorily, however, Trump’s idea of making the American economy strong also meant that there will be more local produce as well as internal economy flow, which resonated well with their sense of survival – i.e. their business and economic interest.
What Cambridge Analytica did was employ a targeted engagement methodology to the Asian segment and spoke to them via social media, apart from engaging them personally.
“The message was making America strong again but we highlighted building the USA economy and creating more economic opportunities,” he said.
“How do you apply your proprietary Targeted Audience Analysis to Malaysian politics, as this country is not yet data driven?” I asked.
“We would go down – for example – to Sekinchan and speak to padi planters.
“While going through data from social media is good to get a feel of the national conversation, most rural people do not communicate online.
“They speak to friends at coffeeshops, for example. By going to the ground we will be able to listen to their conversation,” he said.
If Azrin gets his way, the team that helped Trump win might ask you about your sofa.