This article was first published in Issue 241, January 2020 of Marketing Magazine Asia. To download a pdf copy of the full magazine, click here.
Celcom Axiata was voted by our readers as the best Independence Day ad of 2019. The next round of voting for your favourite 2020 CNY TV Commercial is officially open. Click here to vote before 30 January 2020.
How Celcom Axiata’s 2019 Merdeka TVC won the hearts of our readers
In Malaysia, ads during the festive season are comparable to ads during the Superbowl in the US. Every year, as each major holiday approaches, Malaysians look forward to the rolling TV Commercials (TVC) that either tug at the heart, make you laugh or most of the time, both.
You can also always count on Malaysians to have unofficial debates on which their favourite festive ad was this time, be it over social media or in coffee shops.
MARKETING Magazine decided to make the debate official by turning it into a voting system where our readers could vote for their personal favorite.
The latest round was voting for your favourite Merdeka TVC and the online survey was based on 364 respondents from the industry who are our readers at large.
As most may know, the winner was Celcom Axiata for their impeccable execution of advancing the spirit of independence through technology.
Inspired by true events in 1957, Celcom and Axiata’s 2019 National Day film titled Getaran Pertama chronicles the search for the first choir to sing the national anthem of the soon-to-be independent Malaya.
The commercial follows the adventure of Ahmad Merican, who was the Music Supervisor of Radio Malaya in 1957 and his good friend, music teacher and conductor, Tony Fonseka as they take on the task to fulfill Tunku Abdul Rahman’s wish of seeing everyday Malayans – regardless of race, creed and background – uniting as one voice to herald the birth of our new nation.
The team from M&C Saatchi, the agency responsible for producing the TVC, used deep learning modules that analysed hundreds of pictures of Tony Fonseka, allowing them to recreate his likeness. The system they created mapped out his facial features and allowed them to reproduce his facial expressions. By using mixed reality, they successfully rendered a virtual likeness that was true-to-life.
Wildly impressed and intrigued by the whole process, we dived deep behind-the-scenes of Getaran Pertama, from concept ideation, research and production by interviewing key individuals behind the commercial. The following is what they each had to say.
CEO, Celcom Axiata Berhad – Idham Nawawi
How does Getaran Pertama resonate with Celcom as a brand?
As a company that has been standing with the nation for over 31 years, we are proud to be part of a historical event where we are able to see how creative technology and history are combined to create an epic production in today’s digital world.
“We see this film as a tool for demonstrating how a brand like Celcom leveraging on technology for an encore performance of “Negaraku”, bringing back the memoirs of the first Merdeka Choir in 1957.” – Idham Nawawi, CEO, Celcom Axiata Berhad.
Celcom aspires to be “The Nation’s Most Inspiring Digital Organisation by 2022”. This production is a significant milestone for all of us in Celcom. We are a home-grown brand that loves this country and will be walking step by step with Malaysia as we move towards becoming a developed nation. We see this film as a tool for demonstrating how a brand like Celcom leveraging on technology for an encore performance of “Negaraku”, bringing back the memoirs of the first Merdeka Choir in 1957.
Celcom is proud to be part of this film that relives one of the nation’s greatest moments, as a reminder to all of us, how everyday Malaysians can come together to achieve something great in to perfect harmony.
What was Celcom’s aim behind the theme of unity highlighted in the TVC, given the current political landscape in Malaysia?
We believe that this is an epic story that is worth retelling – simply because it spells UNITY – a token to remind everyone that unity in diversity is this country’s underpinning foundation to success and was built years prior to independence.
Over the years Malaysia has been standing strong even during the most testing times; we have proven that we are co-existing in this country and sub-consciously we have always tried to withstand the challenges together and keeping the country in harmony, despite the differences we have.
As CEO and a fellow Malaysian, how did you feel when you first watched the final version of the Getaran Pertama?
Goosebumps of course. As the film ends, I realised that many of us have long forgotten how beautiful Negaraku is, when it is sung insuch a harmonious and melodious way.
Throughout the film, I surely felt like it brought back such memories of the beauty of unity and harmony among Malaysians in addition to clothing, building design and lifestyle pre-independence.
If I have to choose a scene, I admit that the last scene when Tony Fonseka bowed to the choir immediately after the singing Negaraku while Tan Sri Ahmad Merican watching, touched me deeply. They both knew that a historical event had been created that marked the formation of a nation and the nation of Malaysia. I felt really good and almost shed tears.
But most importantly, the story touches all of us because the historical values we share are getting lost with time. Thus, with the production of this story, we hope to bring back the uniqueness and diversity that unite us all.
Head of Group Marketing & Brand, Axiata – Fernie Jasmine Abdul Ghani
As one of Asia’s leading telecommunication groups, what did creating a Merdeka TVC mean to the brand this year?
Our objective with the Merdeka TVC this year was to use digital technology to create a beautiful and uniquely Malaysian story of what is possible when we come together as a united force of people, celebrating our diversity. In line with our vision to be a New Generation Digital Company, the use of creative technology to re-enact scenes from the past in our Getaran Pertama TVC gave us the opportunity to demonstrate our technological capabilities in addition to evoking patriotism and awareness about the founding ideals of our nation.
Who came up with the idea for the Getaran Pertama?
The M&C Saatchi team proposed an idea that told a pivotal event in our history of independence, which then culminated to an event where the same historical character (the famed conductor – Tony Fonseka) was brought back to life through technology to conduct a new choir who sang the national anthem.
How do TVCs such as this help the marketing of your brand?
TVCs serve as an important touchpoint with our customers and stakeholders, enabling us to connect and showcase our values as well as our strengths and capabilities as an organisation. More than that, projects like Getaran Pertama are truly special because they carry the potential of inspiring people to higher ideals. With this Merdeka TVC, we were able to focus the spotlight on a lesser known but meaningful story in the lead up to our nation’s birth demonstrating the positive impact of unity amongst people of diverse backgrounds.
Tan Sri Ahmad Merican
What was your involvement in the production Getaran Pertama?
Not many know of the Merdeka choir formed by Radio Malaya to be the first to sing our country’s national anthem. The choir was pulled together on the request of Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman. I was happy to share the story on how my close friend and musical colleague Tony Fonseka and I had to deliver on this exciting task in the days leading up to Malaya’s independence in 1957.
“Until I saw Getaran Pertama, I did not fully appreciate the significance of the choir.” – Tan Sri Ahmad Merican
How did you feel watching Getaran Pertama for the first time?
I am now 95 years old and during independence, I was in my early thirties. At that time, forming the Merdeka choir was just another of the many assignments at Radio Malaya. However, I was fortunate that one of my closest friends was Tony Fonseka, a fellow musician and choir master, who led the formation of the choir in time for Merdeka Day on 31 August 1957.
Until I saw Getaran Pertama, I did not fully appreciate the significance of the choir. So many things had to be achieved in those early years, that I had forgotten how many Malaysians (Malayans then) from all walks of life, age and cultures were willing to volunteer their time and effort to be part of our nation’s history.
The video reminds me that when we share a common objective, we can with God’s blessings achieve the impossible. It also tells me that you do your best work with friends and the people you like. I remember the choir coming together as one big happy family. When they sang that morning at the Merdeka Stadium, it was a special and proud moment for me, Tony and am sure for every member of Malaysia’s first national choir.
I thank the people who have documented a small part of our history and hope that it is a story which will bring much happiness to all.
Datin Sri Sharifah Menyalara Hussein – CEO of M&C Saatchi Malaysia
What was the biggest challenge you faced in executing what seems like a big-scale production in terms of festive TVCs?
Time was our toughest challenge, as we were to re-create history (setting and styling) in a very short time.
What was the team’s most memorable moment while shooting the TVC?
Hearing the choir sing Negaraku for the first time during the shoot.
Who were some of the sources you used in ensuring the Getaran Pertama stayed true to the original events?
Mainly through internal research and a lot of going through various sources to verify the info we researched. Through extensive research and by talking to various parties, we were able to recreate the story as close as to the actual event
How did you the team feel with regards to the positive reaction after releasing the TVC?
We feel very proud and honoured to be part of this project and able to honour the unsung heroes behind this true event.
List of individuals involved:
Axiata Group Berhad & Celcom Axiata Berhad
Fernie Jasmine Abdul Ghani
Head, Brand & Communications (Axiata Group)
Sofia Abd. Aziz
Specialist, Brand & Communications (Axiata Group)
Ginny Phuah Guat Imm
Head of Brand and Marketing (Celcom Axiata)
Wan Ridzuan Halawah
Head of Corporate Brands (Celcom Axiata)
Advertising Associate (Celcom Axiata)
M&C Saatchi (M) Sdn Bhd
Executive Creative Director
Group Creative Director
Mundzir Abdul Latin
Low Pooi Yeng
Associate Creative Director
Directors Think Tank
Music (TwoAM Studio)
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