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The POV of the Pig Zodiac

Chinese New Year is a festival unlike any other and is highly celebrated all across the globe and Malaysia is not short of this. Unlike most countries, Malaysia makes up a multi-racial nation and represents many beliefs and traditions. However, with many different beliefs there may also come minor complications.

For the past two years on celebrating Chinese New Year, the Malaysian public have been vocal towards how brands conducted their marketing campaigns in conjunction to the festival as the depictions during the Year of the Dog and Pig are considered impure in the Muslim belief, thus its sensitivity.


The Mindset of the Malaysian Public

We uncover what went on in the social media landscape, where a number of conversations in regard to this year’s celebration that made headlines. According to Chan Hoi Choy, CEO of Sunway Shopping Malls on his thoughts that although the pig represented a part of the Chinese zodiac signs and culture, it does not necessarily have to be portrayed as part of mall decorations. Lowyat forumers took jabs at the radical Muslim community; that it is always the other racial community that must compromise to them and never the other way around. Federal Territories Minister, Khalid Samad however made a statement that there was no restriction on the use of pig images in public places for the coming CNY festivities reflecting the civility of the “New Malaysia”.

To some liberal Muslims, the year of the pig was regarded as an idea for their business. A Sabahan Muslim couple, decided to buck the norm, with piggy wares for CNY with interesting and artistic designs ranging from pig inspired lanterns and figurines. Quoting the couple, “pigs are God’s creation and as long as they keep to their religion and not consume swine meat, they see it as no harm butas an opportunity to reach out to their Chinese customers”. Lowyat forumers were in favour and supporting the couple’s notion as they see it as a great opportunity for them though some have criticised and said that perhaps such efforts in East Malaysia may be accepted but not necessarily in the heart of KL.


CNY Brand Advertising Approaches

Advertising has also become a tough obstacle to leap over, as majority of brands in the market has taken a step back in not going above and beyond with their advertising campaigns for the year. Case in point, Malaysia Airlines’ Going Places magazine – which came under fire when social media users thought that a beef dish in one of its pages was pork; just to show how hyper-sensitive Malaysians can be when it comes to this subject.

However, there were two major approaches where some brands got it right this time around; the direct and indirect approaches. The indirect approach with no immediate correlation with the Year of the Pig, where you would have brands like Samsung that focuses on connecting millennials with the older generation using latest technology. Netizens were touched by the subliminal messaging of the advert as it made them reminisce times of their own grandparents.

Secondary look would be Sunway Malls highlighting on the Hakka heritage through the various activities and events held at their malls which a large percentage of Malaysian Chinese can resonate with as seen via the launch posting on Facebook garnering 1,428 total engagement.

As for the direct approach which has an immediate correlation with the Year of the Pig, there are risk-takers like Starbucks who were bolder in selling their brand, was somewhat commendable through the different collectibles sold pertaining to the Year of the Pig. Annually they have produced merchandise to be sold nationwide in relation to the year’s zodiac sign and this year was no different with 567 total engagement received. There were, however, some netizens poking fun of the pig being not haram among the Malay community, but they generally also agreed that the designs were adorable and unique.

Even multi-national companies like luxury brand Gucci, decided to jump on the bandwagon and leverage on the Pig zodiac sign coming out with adorable piglet designs with piglets in their model shoots. Although this was a global approach targeting the Chinese market, but it did garner concerns from the local Malaysians as some have highlighted on the post that it may not sit well for some folks especially the Malay community.

According to Mia Lim, Managing Director of Zanroo Malaysia, “from a Social Media Listening standpoint, brands should look to leverage using social media listening tools to uncover conversations among the public; towards brand adoption during the festive season. Social Media has been a stronghold for real-time conversations and should be used to understand the landscape better where brands should be taking bolder moves in addressing such issues. If consumers have no qualms with it, then marketing campaigns should adhere to responsible branding efforts in embracing the different beliefs making it a cohesive community”.

All in all, the issue when it comes to zodiac signs dos and don’ts varies, although certain parties have voiced out that images of the pig do not bother them so long as it is not forced upon them, however it is left to the brand to question the norm and be creative. In time, the public will become more accepting; it just depends on how the story and art are told.


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