OP ED: The Perils and Juxtaposition of Illegal Gambling within an ad for a Sacred Festival

By Assoc. Prof. Dr. Aida Mokhtar, International Islamic University Malaysia

A jingle sounding like a typical Hari Raya song, Malay actors and actresses in Hari Raya clothing, the cooking of lemang (a Hari Raya delicacy of glutinous rice and coconut milk cooked in bamboo), and the Kampung (village) scene are appropriate symbols of Hari Raya but these were used in an obviously inappropriate manner in an advertisement for an online casino brand operating in Malaysia

What was depicted in the advertisement was the provocative juxta-positioning of Hari Raya against gambling during the Holy month of Ramadhan. Ramadhan is a Holy month of fasting (the fourth pillar of Islam) when Muslims refrain themselves from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk with profound spiritual self-reflection, supplemented by practices of reading the Qur’an and performing Tarawih prayers. 

Against this backdrop, gambling, which is prohibited in Islam, was promoted by Muslim Malay actors (a few women were even seen wearing a hijab) in celebration of Hari Raya, causing utter shock to the Malay community in Malaysia. Even more shocking, there was not only one but two Hari Raya themed advertisements that were promoting online gambling during Ramadhan. 

Gambling and betting are not only prohibited in Islam but also an offence according to the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Content Code. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) requested Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to take the advertisements off on the terms of service and community standards of each company. 

According to MCMC, Gambling activities and online gambling promotions are subjected to the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953 that is under the jurisdiction of the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM). The advertisements have also brought about the arrest of several suspects involved in their production. It was reported in the local media that the case is being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code, Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, and Section 4(1)(g) of the Common Gaming Houses Act 1953.

Using a slice of life and drama format, one of the advertisements depicted a Malay man whose financial problem prevented him from returning to his kampung for Hari Raya which he later sorted out by gambling online. The message of gambling is the solution to one’s financial problems was conveyed and is unacceptable. 

The question arises for which target audience was it meant for when it featured Malays and Hari Raya? It was downright offensive to target the Malays in a country where the official religion is Islam with a 69.6 percent Muslim population in 2020, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. 

Gambling is also universally detrimental because of the relationship problems, financial difficulties and negative mental and physical implications it brings.

Advertisements celebrating the festivals of the different ethnic groups (Malays, Chinese and Indians) in Malaysia are popularly shown marking the festive mood while conveying value-laden messages that stirred emotions. 

Advertisements are meant to be seen multiple times by the target audience in order to create awareness of the brand, convince the target audience of the brand’s suitability, make people purchase and other effects. Thus, the gambling-themed Hari Raya advertisements were intended to be repeatedly watched and shared online, thus making their effects detrimental by encouraging the act of gambling amongst Muslims in Malaysia. 

What are the ideals of advertisements for the Muslim target audience? Advertisements that uphold Islamic values, are produced in an Islamic manner, feature products that are halal for Muslims are those that are appropriate for the Muslim target audience. Some may use the narrative that religion should not be used to sell products, but for a Muslim, when Islam is a way of life, Islamic values must be considered in the production of advertisements for Muslims. 

For Muslims to purchase products, they have to be halal and marketed in such a way where the four Ps representing the marketing mix with components such as promotion, price, product and place embrace Islamic values. For the advertiser operating in Malaysia not to understand the Islamic belief system and for them to include Muslim actors and Hari Raya in their production is mind-boggling. Perhaps ignorance of religious sensitivities in the pursuit of profits is the root of the problem. The consequences of this seemingly bad judgement are grave.

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MARKETING Magazine.

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