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MERDEKA! And The Branding of Freedom


With Malaysia’s 58th Merdeka around the corner, the nation is adorned once again with the fluttering Jalur Gemilang perched atop buildings, windowsills and flagpoles. With jets screaming across the city skyline along with patriotic paraphernalia on sale at your local sundries, it’s like a yearly déjà vu – but always with a minor twist.

Every year, Malaysians are greeted with a theme to the year’s Merdeka event – a theme that sometimes resonates well with the rakyat; And at other times, a theme that is received with backlash and discontent.

So that got us wondering – what process does the government use to come up with these Merdeka themes and slogans? Do they subscribe to our branding philosophy of matching product truths with consumer truths?

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and see what we can figure out about the branding prowess of our Merdeka Branding Committee.

2015 – Sehati, Sejiwa

The Product Truth:

Malaysia is in economic disarray with the ringgit freefalling against the greenback. Our government, the emblem of Malaysia, is embroiled in scandal after scandal. And our national debt is towering over us like the twin towers of doom!

The Consumer Truth:

Malaysians are restless. They are unhappy with the newly imposed GST and the rising cost of living. They are also wary of any statements made by authorities with some even rallying to voice out their dissatisfaction in public.

The Conclusion:

2015’s Merdeka slogan is “Sehati, Sejiwa” – roughly translated, this means “one heart, one soul”; a single-mindedness that the nation isn’t fully embodying. Our Merdeka Branding Committee definitely loses some major points here. But that said, the theme does invoke a sense of love and care, something we all look for in times of calamity, especially around such an important date. We rate this just slightly above average for at least staying true to our hearts and souls.

2014 – Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta

The Product Truth:

Malaysia is in the eye of the world due to two tragedies involving our national airlines. Both losses exposed our frailty but also displayed our perseverance.

The Consumer Truth:

Malaysians are reeling from the shock of the two tragedies. Outpouring of love is being shared amongst the general populous and a sense of solemn hope and solidarity filled the air.

The Conclusion:

2014’s Merdeka slogan is “Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta” – roughy translated, this means “Here where love is born”. With everything Malaysians have been experiencing, this mantra of care and kinship was music to our ears. From the perspective of telling true stories, this campaign hit the nail. Big ups to our Merdeka Branding Committee!

2012 – “Janji Ditepati”

The Product Truth:

It was the year leading up to elections. Election year means fierce political wit on every end of the spectrum, and often times yielding interesting and insightful news.

The Consumer Truth:

The Malaysian people was very aware of their influence on Malaysian agenda. There was definitely an unmistaken sense of activism in the hearts.

The Conclusion:

2012’s Merdeka slogan is “Janji Ditepati” – roughly translated, this means “Promises Fulfilled”, an intimation to the political landscape at the time. If you look at the product truth and consumer truth, it does seem like a sensible choice, right? Wrong. The Merdeka Branding Committee totally missed out one the most important aspect: the brief. Merdeka isn’t about politics. It’s about freedom. This of course, didn’t sit well with the people to the point that the theme song was taken offline and the logo was redesigned.  Major boo boo. So I suppose we’ll let you rate this campaign for yourself.

It’s always fun and often easy to dissect campaigns from the past, but what’s important and probably more difficult is looking and living in the now. Merdeka is a time of celebration as well as a time of remembrance. If we stick to the brief, every year should prove to be an awesome independence day. And every year it is. And what we can truly learn from that is to never let the communication get in the way of the message. Merdeka is what it’s all about.

Selamat hari merdeka, Malaysia!

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