You don’t have to be a bad ass to excel in the industry

But having an opinion in what you believe in matters

It was just a day after GE14, and I could tell communications veteran Dato’ Ishak Mohd Ishtiaq (DIMI) had much to get off his chest. The euphoria of a stunning victory was a dawn of everything new. There was a new civility in the air, the people content and inspired and the masses were hungry for the change they yearned. DIMI had seen it all over the two decades in the advertising and marketing business. We cover his thoughts in this issue as a harbinger of things to come and a reflection of what people in the industry echo…
There seems to be a sort of calm after the storm with the new order…
It is very sobering and real. Like we have finally come of age. It makes every Malaysian the bravest citizen on the planet, for standing up to be counted. This liberating feeling will augur well for consumer sentiment and energy. We call it the awakening of a new narrative. In line with this new honesty, the market will be reset to charge ahead. We’ve seen too many shady deals that have given the industry a bad rap.
Don’t forget the government is a very large advertiser in the marketing ecosystem. We now need a new spine to value our creative ideas. We have diminished our own stand and opinion on what works and what doesn’t. It is time to reclaim our rightful role as the custodian of brands and creativity.
We talk to Dato’ Ishak Mohd Ishtiaq, Group CEO of IMI Media Group on the latest…

Is it a level playing field?
Our entire way of life and doing business has been about politics for so long, we can’t even tell the difference now. Malaysians have been told to do things this way and that, this can, that cannot, our creativity has been dissipated by a culture of sucking up to the top and this is prevalent across GLCs and MNCs too: “Malaysians are a ‘nice lot’, let’s walk all over them.”
Remember advertising rules of the past when Barbie dolls could not advertise because some Minister was told they were made from ‘babi”. And Washington Apples suffered the same fate because the government of the day had a problem with America. We were under the rule of control freaks who stifled growth and expression in the name of political expediency. I mean, sanitary pads and dog food cannot be advertised?
Level playing field? Malaysian companies having been diligently paying their share of dues to the government, be it GST or taxes. But when I read that the world’s biggest companies like Google and Facebook (they rule global advertising expenditure) do not pay taxes, I feel Malaysians are being bullied. Someone even cited that “Profit margins are slim in the online business, 70% of digital advertising revenue goes to Google and Facebook.”
The previous DPM said a proposal to tax Google and Facebook on advertisements would be presented to the Cabinet. But nothing came of it.
This magazine even wrote, “The income tax department classified Google and Facebook advertising as Royalty and liable to 8% Withholding Tax, but this was never confirmed. They said payments made to Google and Facebook for advertising fall under the scope of ‘royalty’, instead of payment for services.” 
Whatever that means.
In the meantime, Google paid back taxes it owed the Indonesian government since 2015 in full last year. Indonesia is currently pursuing Facebook and Twitter on tax obligations. Indonesia is the fourth country after Britain, India, and Australia that has managed to get Google to pay tax. I say we deserve a fair playing field. The new Minister has his work cut out. And he is legal!

What can the elections teach marketers?
Well, we have always known the customer is king. In this case, the Rakyat. A lot of myths were busted in GE14 and it will be beneficial for marketers to sit 
up and take notice. The Malay heartland, for example, is a massive under-tapped market. When you have an industry run by people who keep repeating that 50% of the consumer purchasing power is in the Klang valley, then we have a very blinkered life.
And marketers are fed formatted solutions that fit outdated research figures. These “Klang Valley” advocates conveniently preach this thinking so media is “easier to manage” and because they need big media players and bulk inventory to survive. Also the value of a consumer may not necessarily be defined with how much he or she spends. There is great affluence outside the Klang Valley which is hungry and curious.

Is adex a barometer of trends?
Not really, “official” figures are at best half true. Besides digital is under tracked. A better way to gauge industry performance is to factor what goes on in the rural heartland. There are many trends that marketers are missing out on. The disconnect is alarming, as if some sort of “superiority complex” is hindering their understanding of the market.
Tell us about how you see market sentiment in the coming months…
I see optimism on a scale never seen before. When the Rakyat is upbeat anything is possible. With Hari Raya, World Cup and culminating with Merdeka, I see a time for us to galvanise together, to rediscover our humanity and trust in each other. Malaysians are very special people. They have displayed tolerance, talent and tenacity through thick and thin. 
We are no pushovers.

Malaysia used to be a centre of creative excellence….
And I can’t see why we cannot recapture lost ground. We are melting pot of cultures never seen in any other Asian country. A perfect test bed for global products entering Asia. While I do not propose protectionism, there is merit in fending for ourselves. We need all the help we can get to shine again. That’s why I believe the Made in Malaysia ruling for TV commercials shoud be brought back. Because our once thriving production industry has been decimated and while marketers said they wil use the savings to reinvest in media, it never happened.
When an international brand with a ready-made TVC can go on air with some modifications, local brands have to start from scratch and pay the cost. Malaysian businesses suffered, and the only gainers were global brands marketing in Malaysia.
Great ideas and excellent production values were the hallmarks of our industry. Let’s bring that back, and prosper!

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* Mohd Adam Wee Abdullah, Group CMO & Chief Customer Experience Officer, CIMB Group
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Noelle Lim, Director, BFM Edge Education
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Time: 8.30 am -6.00 pm

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