The next General Election will be a game changer in terms of how the media battle will be waged.
Whilst the past GEs saw the frequent use of massive rallies and news media to capture the Non-Malay vote, the next General Election will see things taken to a whole new level through Facebook and Twitter’s live streaming capability.
In this regard UMNO and Barisan Nasional are far behind the Opposition parties. This is partly as a result of being the incumbent party, lacking a proper focus and also as the UMNO/BN campaign strategy is targeted towards securing support through direct face to face interactions, which many have claimed involve providing gifts of some kind.
Bersatu on the other hand is slowly developing an interesting marketing strategy and we will focus on two aspects – brand building and marketing channels.
As a new party, Bersatu’s biggest challenge is building a brand that will resonate with its intended target segment. They have organised as a a nationalistic racially based party which scores highly in terms of their target market – Malay voters who voted for UMNO at the last election. They have scored a coup in terms of also being able to draw from Chinese support due to their association with the DAP and intention to form a political bloc with other Opposition parties. Whilst this strategy was initially met with strong resistance from the Malay voters, the association with DAP allowed Bersatu some breathing space in its early formative days as it lacked infrastructure. Slowly but surely, Bersatu is beginning to develop their own party infrastructure and are becoming less reliant on other Opposition parties. For its part, DAP is playing a low profile and allowing Bersatu to rise to the forefront.
Bersatu beginning to appeal to mainstream Malay voters (pix: Malaysiakini)
In terms of brand identification, Bersatu’s choice of a red motif with the national flower is also another marketing coup. Red is a colour that is closely identified with nationalistic Malays as it frequently features in UMNO rallies. Bersatu’s clever psychological trick has the effect to draw parity with the Malays in terms of the struggle of Bersatu with that of UMNO.
Currently, Bersatu is experimenting with the use of Facebook Live as a means for their stalwart, Tun Dr Mahathir, to connect to millions of voters. An interview conducted live on Facebook gathered a record 110,000 views. And Bersatu, Kelab Chedet and the other Pakatan Harapan component parties have a relatively young and agile social media team who are able to use different media channels in order to reach their intended audience.
When using a marketing channel like Facebook to stream live events, the impact on voters psychology can be explosive. Facebook viewers are recognizable to one another and the effect of viewing a live event together strengthens their resolve to share their political conviction with their networks. Marketing studies have frequently shown that consumer behaviour can be influenced by the opinion of peers. The effect of one Facebook viewer who passionately believes in Bersatu could translate to a shift of 15 to 16 votes. Moreover, these viewers are predominately drawn from previously Government supporting Malays i.e. the marginal vote that allowed Barisan Nasional to triumph in the last General Election.
So long as Bersatu continues to innovate and ‘hammer’ on their points of difference with UMNO i.e. corruption, cost of living, involvement of China, 1MDB as well as draw points of parity in terms of ensuring continual Malay hegemony, they will emerge as a strong rival to UMNO/BN.
As BN lost the popular vote the last time around, Bersatu’s short term goal of unseating the Prime Minister may be easier to achieve than political analysts have estimated. There are many permutations that could lead to such an outcome, such as voters in Perak voting BN for state and Bersatu for the Parliament. They may even emerge as the defacto mainstream choice of Malay voters in the next GE. The Prime Minister may have no choice but to delay the GE until 2018 and take a ‘wait and see’ approach.