KUALA LUMPUR, April 24 — Barisan Nasional’s (BN) advertisement campaign in newspapers is peddling racial fear against Pakatan Rakyat (PR) but could backfire in the May 5 general election, say industry insiders and opposition politicians.
A few of the print advertisements play on Chinese fears of PAS’ Islamist influence on the one hand, and Malay fears of DAP influence on the other, with the slogan: “A vote for DAP is a vote for PAS,” and vice versa.
An advertisement in the MCA-owned The Star depicts a rocket shooting into the sky only to reveal the PAS moon logo in its wake, with the message: “The power behind DAP is PAS. First their flag. Tomorrow their fundamentalist principles?”
“The ads look like they are designed to cause anxiety and fear that the Chinese would lose their culture and education if they vote for DAP,” Masjaliza Hamzah, from the Centre of Independent Journalism (CIJ), told The Malaysian Insider.
“There’s zero concept. Just accusations with no tact or respect. The ads are very patronising, an insult to the people’s intelligence,” said 32-year-old copywriter Kevin, who declined to give his last name.
“They forgot the golden rule of advertising. No advertising can save a bad product,” he added.
The advertisements appear to be riding on the DAP’s close shave when the Registrar of Societies (RoS) decided not to recognise its office-bearers, which meant that the party came close to having to contest under PAS’ moon logo instead of its own iconic rocket symbol.
However, the opposition parties said they are not worried about the BN ads having any negative influence, and told The Malaysian Insider that in fact they help prove that PR is a united coalition.
“Indeed a vote for DAP is a vote for PAS, and at the same time a vote for PAS is a vote for PKR, and a vote for PKR is a vote for DAP. We’re together in a coalition,” said Tony Pua, DAP national publicity secretary and Petaling Jaya Utara MP.
“The ads are very good… I hope BN continues to propagate the slogan. No vote for BN,” PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu also said.
Twitter user @patricklsk agreed, tweeting: “MCA actually paid for newspaper ads to help promote DAP-PAS cooperation? This is getting hilarious! #freemarketing”
This nuance is perhaps lost on most, however, and the ads have angered many.
“We were talking about it in the office today. Someone asked me if I had seen it, and I said yes, I have it. Come over, it’s in my dustbin,” said an account director, who declined to be named.
“The more ads they put up, the more angry the rakyat will be. They are digging a deeper hole for themselves,” she said.
A chief operating officer of an agency described the ads in The Star, with three to five opposition-slamming ads per newspaper, as “overkill”, which the public would tire of very soon.
“They do it all wrong. They give too much attention to the opposition instead of highlighting their own achievements,” he said.
“But they are good for a laugh, a bloody expensive laugh,” he added.
Pua said that BN had preyed on racial fears in the last four elections and that DAP would have reacted with anger and defensiveness before, but not this time.
“BN is still playing old politics. We have gone well beyond old politics,” he said.
A Facebook user, Tan Lin Li, wrote: “Let’s attack policies, not parties,” posting a photo of a DAP ad published in The Rocket and Sinar Harian featuring Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, which has also been making the rounds on social networks as a counter-example to the BN ads.
“There is nothing to be frightened about and I believe people in Malaysia are intelligent enough today to discern the lies BN tells them as opposed to the truth of the matter,” Pua said.
He added that if PR had any money it would create counter ads saying, “A vote for MCA is a vote for Perkasa.”
Masjaliza also questioned whether the BN ads adhere to the Malaysian Code of Advertising Practice.
Datuk Johnny Mun, chairman of 4As Malaysia, an association of advertising practitioners who share best industry practices, told The Malaysian Insider that the Code only applies to product advertising generally and does not govern political advertisements.
Masjaliza also said the ads compromise the integrity of a free and fair media.
“For example, spending on advertising should be limited to a certain amount. If there isn’t a limit, then it would give the advantage to the party with the biggest coffers,” she said.
It was earlier reported that BN and the Prime Minister’s Office had spent at least RM73 million last month on advertising, as the ruling coalition launches an advertising blitz to keep Putrajaya in what is set to be the most expensive general election ever.