Why BN Lost Despite Aggressive Campaign

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Branding guru says BN’s approach of throwing its message at voters and expecting them to lap it up aided the coalition’s downfall.

  • BN used social media aggressively, but not properly – lambasted the opposition which backfired
  • BN spent about RM20 million online, PH spent only RM800 on social media during the entire election campaign!
  • BN made mistake after mistake, such as weaponising Jamal Yunos and demonising DAP

A brand consultant today attributed Barisan Nasional’s (BN) loss in the May 9 general election to its marketing strategy which he said was “stuck in 1985”.

Fusionbrand Sdn Bhd CEO Marcus Osborne said BN, despite its well-paid advisers and media professionals, had failed to realise the changes in the media landscape, especially with the rise of social media.

Osborne said BN had believed that all it had to do was create a party-driven message and position it in the people’s minds.

He said such an approach might have worked if there were only two TV channels controlled by the government and newspapers which followed the position of government leaders.


However, it could not work in an age where social media put information and the ability to verify such information at the voters’ fingertips, he added.

“Consumers behave differently on social media,” he said. “They are part of communities populated by people just like them who were just as unhappy as they were. BN thought it could beat them into submission the way it had in the mass media environment.”

Although BN had used social media aggressively, he added, it had not used it properly.

“Malaysians are not confrontational, but push them into a corner and they come out fighting. Social media provided that corner.

“This required a new, more collaborative approach to engagement but BN carpet-bombed social media the same way it carpet-bombed traditional media for more than 60 years.”

In the lead-up to the election, BN had gone on Twitter in an aggressive, controlled approach using infographics, memes, and images justifying government policies, and lambasting the opposition’s promises.

Osborne said the Digital Forensic Research (DFR) lab of the Washington-based Atlantic Council think tank was quoted by Reuters as saying “over 17,000 bots tweeted content related to the Malaysian election” immediately after the election date was confirmed.

According to the DFR lab, anti-Pakatan Harapan (PH) tweets with the hashtags “#SayNoToPH and #KalahkanPakatan were used around 44,100 times by 17,600 users from April 12 to 20, 2018, and 98% of the users appeared to be bots”.

Soon after, Twitter suspended 500 accounts posting spam or malicious content about the election.

Osborne said no one was sure how much BN had spent on marketing in the lead-up to the election, adding that “we’ll probably never know because there aren’t really any fund disclosure laws in Malaysia, but we do know GLCs were asked to and did contribute”.

However, he said, a reliable source told him BN had “spent about RM20 million online which is a lot of money for a short campaign period”.

In contrast, he said, another source told him PH had spent only RM800 on social media during the entire election campaign.

“All that content you saw and probably shared got to you organically.”

He said the BN narrative, instead of being based on issues that mattered to the voters, was based on how wonderful the coalition’s president was and what BN had done for the country.

“BN made mistake after mistake. Initiatives such as weaponising Sungai Besar Umno chief Jamal Yunos and demonising DAP were perceived as negative and backfired.”

Osborne added that while BN had created an arms-length, slick, prime minister-driven campaign with a lot of chest thumping, PH was embracing voters, “or more importantly, PH supporters were embracing voters in the digital coffee shops with informal, instantaneous responses to issues”. – FMT