KUALA LUMPUR, April 10 ― Barisan Nasional (BN) and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) 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.
The PMO spent RM67.8 million on advertising last month according to data from consumer analysts Nielsen Media Research, earning itself the top place among advertisement spenders, well ahead of the RM43 million spent by classifieds, and the RM25 million each spent by Nestle and Unilever Malaysia.
Another report by Maybank Investment Bank (IB) Bhd last month noted that the PMO was also the top ad spender in February 2013, with its RM36.1 million spent comprising seven per cent of total gross advertisement expenditure (adex).
BN was ranked 45th in the Nielsen ranking, spending RM4.9 million in March. It also appeared in the top 20 spenders list by Maybank IB with roughly the same amount spent.
The Nielsen data is, however, based on the higher non-discounted rates, and does not include spending on billboards and digital advertising, where BN’s spending was highly visible to Malaysians in recent months.
BN has gone on the offensive in the online advertising space early for this election, spearheaded by the BetterNation theme. The @barisanasional Twitter account started tweeting from May 2012, and has been featured as one of Twitter’s “Promoted Account”.
A “Promoted Account” will be advertised prominently by Twitter, its frequency depending on the amount paid, and reportedly costs at least US$15,000 (RM45,900) for a three-month campaign. A “Promoted Trend” ― for example, to promote the hashtag #BetterNation ― reportedly costs up US$200,000 (RM612,000) per day.
Other online campaigns under the BetterNation umbrella include the Facebook Page “Friends of BN - Barisan Nasional”, and the betternation.my website where supporters can request for free goodie bags containing a T-shirt, badge and stickers.
The Malaysian Insider reported last month that government agencies, departments and BN parties are buying bulk online advertisement space while more pro-government video clips are being produced to crowd out opposition material and advertisements ahead of polls.
Advertising industry sources said they are handling more requests for space in websites and portals that are popular in Malaysia with some agencies asking for exclusivity up to end April, when balloting is expected to be conducted.
The Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), a unit under the PMO, is one of the departments asking for advertising space. Advertisements have also been placed to promote Najib’s “Action Kit” targeting first time voters, which contains a booklet, pen, collar pin and stickers.
The Maybank IB report noted that the bulk of the spending went to television and radio stations under Umno-linked Media Prima and pay-TV provider Astro.
“This is typical of ad spend before general elections, where the government spends more on ads on free-to-air TV and radio than on print, to better ‘connect’ with the voters,” it said.
Meanwhile, billboards carrying pro-BN government have been cropping up all across the country, especially along the North-South Expressway (PLUS) where they can be spotted every few hundred meters.
The billboards ask Malaysians to vote for a “Barisan 1 Malaysia”, while highlighting the various 1 Malaysia-themed initiatives launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak since he came into power in 2009.
Banners bearing the same message can also be found, especially in the administrative capital Putrajaya, together with roadside replicas of the 1 Malaysia logo.
Some political analysts have commented that BN’s worst-ever electoral result in Election 2008 was partly due to its reluctance to embrace the online citizens, and it cannot afford to ignore the proliferation of social media this time around.
Critics, however, have pointed out that despite spending on advertisements to increase their exposure online, BN parties have at times barred the online media from covering their events.
Just last week, the supreme councils of Umno and BN held meetings that were off-limits to certain online media, including The Malaysian Insider.
Malaysia has been bracing for the polls since last year, as Najib leads the ruling coalition BN for the first time against a bigger, stronger and what has been described as the most united opposition force to date.
The prime minister’s initiatives have made him more popular than his party and government, with the latest Merdeka Center survey showing his approval ratings are at 61 per cent last month, down from 63 per cent last December.
Both his government and party have been scoring just above 40 per cent approval ratings in similar surveys, reflecting his importance to BN’s efforts to regain its customary two-thirds majority lost in Election 2008.