Brand Malaysia: “Orang Utans and Pandas don’t cut it anymore.”.

September 4, 2012

Brand Malaysia: “Orang Utans and Pandas don’t cut it anymore”.

by Dato Dennis Ignatius (08-30-12)

According to Datuk Seri Idris Jala, Cabinet Minister and CEO of the Performance Management and Delivery Unit  (PEMANDU), the Government is in the midst of a major exercise to rebrand the country and promote a more vibrant image abroad.

A national branding unit with a RM30mil budget and a dedicated team of officers has been established in the Prime Minister’s Department to spearhead the project.

International management consultants have also been hired to give strategic advice and assist in the rebranding exercise.

Malaysia has undoubtedly had its successes. Dynamic development strategies, successful investment promotion, innovative tourism marketing, a reputation for racial and religious tolerance, an innovative foreign policy and world-renowned corporations like Petronas helped make Malaysia a respected name globally.

However, during the past decade in particular, a series of unfortunate developments has left brand Malaysia in tatters, as I noted in this column more than two years ago (“Brand Malaysia reeling from a thousand cuts”, February 4, 2010).

Racial and religious extremism, corruption scandals, significant outflows of local capital and talent, a lack of transparency and accountability, intense and highly divisive politicking and a perceived democracy deficit have taken a ruinous toll.

And all this at a time when it has become far more challenging to sustain national brands. In a world of real-time communications and social media, global opinions are shaped before local policy makers can even react.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, for example, recently expressed concern that xenophobic comments and postings on the Internet by Singaporeans were damaging Singapore’s international reputation.

Furthermore, where previously national branding was centred mostly around tourism, today a cutting-edge global reputation hinges upon quality of life, business environment, justice and good governance as much as anything else. Orang utans and pandas don’t cut it anymore.

Malaysia has not fared too well in this new branding environment. We were ranked 43rd out of 113 countries that were measured for brand strength by FutureBrand, one of the branding industry’s pioneers and a collaborator in the Malaysian rebranding exercise.

With the exception of culture and tourism, Malaysia did not score highly in any of the other categories (value system, quality of life, good for business, etc.) that FutureBrand considers in assessing a country’s overall brand.

The Government’s move to take stock of how we are presently perceived by the world at large is, therefore, timely. We might also need to consider repositioning our nation beyond the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” tourism specific brand that served us well these past years.

To be effective and productive, however, the rebranding exercise must be grounded in a realistic appreciation of what branding is all about.

Branding can help focus and project the essence of a nation, its values, its culture and the unique qualities it brings to the world. It cannot serve as a substitute for sound policy or camouflage obvious weaknesses. Merely developing a nice jingle or a catchy phrase by itself will not substantially improve a nation’s image.

It should come as no surprise that the countries with the best and most recognisable brand names are countries with free and open societies which have found a way to empower their people, ignite their creativity and marshal their talents.

As FutureBrand explains on its website, “from progressive politics to a sense of openness and freedom of speech, a country that is geared around its people … will always score highly”.

Countries like Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, the United States and Sweden, therefore, did well while Pakistan, Zimbabwe and Cambodia did poorly.

We don’t, of course, need expensive foreign consultants to tell us all this; it’s common sense and already obvious to most Malaysians. What we do need, more than anything else, is the political will to address the underlying causes of our declining national brand.

There can be no doubt that if we seriously tackle the very issues that regularly make headlines in our own media, our international image will improve dramatically. The unique and amazing strengths of Malaysia, after all, remain undiminished; they just need to be given proper expression.

We also need to keep in mind that building and sustaining a successful national brand requires long-term consistency, commitment and attention to detail, something that we don’t seem to be particularly good at.

Take, for example, the KL International Airport (KLIA). We spend time and money to promote it as a world-class airport only to see these efforts undermined by repeated heists at the airport. According to local media reports, there were three major heists at KLIA in the last few months alone.

It doesn’t take an expert to tell us that if KLIA is perceived as lacking in security, it will never realise its full potential as a competitive regional hub.

The bottom line, therefore, is that if we want a better international image we must start by cleaning up our own act. Foreign consultants can help with spin, packaging and presentation, but it is up to us to make the policy changes that alone can build and sustain a successful national brand.


11 thoughts on “Brand Malaysia: “Orang Utans and Pandas don’t cut it anymore.”.

  1. There is no need to waste millions on foreign consultants. Idris Jala should have a team of local talent who appreciate the need to get our fundamentals right. If Mr. Jala can’t do the job, he should step down, or be fired. There is too much talk from him. Time for action is now.

    This is also my message to Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.Be consistent and principled and honour your pledge to make Malaysia great again. Leadership means having the guts to make tough decisions and stand by what is right.–Din Merican

  2. Again we are getting our priority wrong here. All this re-branding is only money wasted if the basic is not right. Just like all the promotion and advertisement is of no use if your product is crap. We should emphasize and enhance the basics substance such as a world standard educational system, a highly respected and fair judiciary, a clean and transparent government and civil service, a world class infrastructure be it roads, port or airports, a clean and sustainable environment, a compassion social safety net for the less able, a civil society who is comfortable discussing issues of mutual interest etc etc. Throwing more money into re-branding when we can’t even get our basics right is all forms and no substance. I am afraid we are just wasting the taxpayers money.
    I agree. Use common sense and be honest.–Din Merican

  3. Malaysia suffers from an image and branding problem. See here an image and branding by Malaysia’s leading MNC. Isn’t there a better name and image to use in branding?

    Imagine trying to sell this product in English speaking countries. Many a giggle and snide remarks passed, reflecting not only on the company but also on the country.

  4. We are not making money with all these big talk but daily told that money be used on some fantasy projects that never seem to materialise or worst it infrastructures become white elephants with high maintenance cost benefiting someone undeserving.

    Priority is the key here. Maybe a word from us laymen is do try something simple and achievable where the benefits are tangible with number for accountability. Most of the projects are smoke screens to cover others screens. No wonder we are having haze at a regular basis now.

    The perceptions among Malaysians now are every projects are opportunities for someone to corrupt. PM Najib: Vital to ensure people are happy is 55 years overdue with billions being wasted.

    A good suggestion is to get a reliable QS to re-look at the value of all on-going projects. Another area is the cost of maintenance such contracts. The people believes that by effectively re-evaluate the above 2 points will save billions.

    It is very simple just plug the leaks and Malaysia will prosper. No need big fantastic or mega projects. It is not that our government is incapable, it is the WILL, To be or not to be, that is the question. This is so lacking.

    Are Malaysia talent lacking? No, most are suppressed by race and religion. The talents ideas are not always beneficial to the selected few. The talents ideas are always hijacked because they are not cunning enough to the the selected few games. From this site and many others you can already get a load of information to put rights the wrongs. But the priorities are not putting rights wrong but the opposite because of again priority to certain selected few. The priorities are (1) don’t rock the boats, (2) you scratch my back I scratches yours, (3) projects negotiated secretly (4) don’t quarrel with your political “bosses” (5) create opportunities to make money regardless of potential hazards (6) votes buying (7) totally no accountability and the list goes on and on. Malaysia is a sick country and if the world catch a flu we are doomed.

  5. To add to your long list which need Rebranding, Thomas C , how do we rebrand things that have gone haywire undertaken by Jawi & Jakim in taking repressive actions against people who have committed NO offence, & yet prevail with Impunity over the bullshit ” Rule of Law ” so-called ?
    We may be able to bullshit ourselves, but we can’t bullshit the International communities…..

  6. Sorry, this bullshit about spending Millions on International Imaging, spending hundreds of Millions for Rebranding by Experts, i tend to agree that the end-product expires as ” craps”.
    Why ? The basics & fundamentals of Financing these craps have either not been considred, but perhaps even been cunningly Ignored by our own ” experts ” Where do our clever experts get their financing from ?

    Imagine, Maxis alone making Profits after Tax for 2011 @ RM 2.51 Billion ( not t mention before tax, which amounts to double that ) – yes, gullible public playing on Mobiles like small kids, and Mobile phone Cos make Biilions just by the ten or twenty cents usages…, its the small-time rakyats earning pittance (90% of them) financing ALL the GRAND Spending by Govt to prop up Image/s ? ?
    Cheap-skate laaaa…..

  7. Frankly, rather than spending 30 millions on branding. Perhaps, the government should bring Telly Savalas back from the dead & have a promo show. I am absolutely sure Bean would love it.

  8. Look, looes74. Singing was not Telly Savalas’ forte but licking lollipop was. It first became a craze among our women in Malaysia in the ’70s. Today it is like MACC’s standard operating procedure or like the American Express Card i.e. you cannot leave home without it.

  9. Aha ! Rebranding itself is a dirty word implying the previous brand no longer works ! Which brings me to an anonymous 7th. Century philosopher’s saying, ” The more we change, the more we remain the same” or someone describing the veneer of change ” Change gives us the illusion of progress”.

    I believe the majority of Malaysians are no longer fooled by this mumbo-jumbo.

  10. ”The more we change, the more we remain the same” or someone describing the veneer of change ” Change gives us the illusion of progress”.” an anonymous philosopher of the 7th century quoted by ‘aa’!
    that is really thought provoking – probably there are obvious reasons why he wanted to remain anonymous!?

    rebranding is like putting old wine in new bottles, as others have already pointed out, the content should have priority over the appearance of the bottle.

    wastage of money. malaysias representatives in embassies worldwide can contribute instead of hiring foreign consultants. the embassies should have first hand knowledge of what to promote for which country.

    anybody heard of the London double-decker with orang-utan and jungle themes? what happened to them??

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