Some advertisements are works of art. These contain well-told stories, interesting characters, and meaningful insights, while making a marketing message go down that much more smoothly. Mira Sharon recommends 5 advertisements you can watch to learn more about what makes us Southeast Asians tick.
To tell stories is a beautiful act, and advertisements are an underrated way to share them. While most commercials are short, sweet and straight to the point, some are practically short films, with engaging storylines, cool aesthetics and meaningful messages packed into just a few minutes.
Southeast Asian advertisements in particular are one of a kind, often drawing on the rich cultures of the region and what makes us unique – from our food, festivals and legends, to our values, architecture and ways of life. We have compiled a list of 5 interesting advertisements from various parts of Southeast Asia.
Be forewarned: Tears of laughter, sadness or even both are guaranteed.
1.“Boyz In Da Hood" by Petronas
A name offers people a fleeting glimpse of our identity. However, some people with non-English names may feel the need to alter or shorten their names to be easily understood or pronounced by those outside of their culture. This Deepavali advertisement by Malaysian conglomerate Petronas (who are known for their iconic ads) shows us that our inherited names needn’t be a burden. This video from 2003 shows a group of young men trying to impress people by using “cool” names and slang. Muthusamy changes his name to the more cool-sounding (and whitewashed) Sam. A paati (grandmother) they meet reminds them to embrace their original names and culture. She also hands them a murungakkai (traditional vegetable) to pass to their mothers. This ad is an apt reminder for us to embrace our identities instead of diminishing ourselves for the approval of others. May this teach us to embrace who we are, in all our forms.
2.“Eats. More Fun in the Philippines” by Jollibee Studios
A pivotal element of Southeast Asian culture is undoubtedly the food. In EATS, Jollibee allows us to embark on a Filipino gastronomic journey with celebrity chefs Jordan Andino and JP Anglo, amongst other personalities. They explain how the Philippines has more flavours than it has islands (and there’s 7,000 islands!). The viewers are then tantalised by dishes such as the gorgeously versatile Adobo (a classic dish eaten with rice) and the piping hot Pancit Palabok (rice noodle dish) – enough to make you drool (especially considering the fact that rice and noodles are up there in our version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There’s even a dish which combines dried fish with chocolate porridge, or the Champorado, and we also learn a new word, merienda – an afternoon snack. What ultimately makes this beautiful is the way they describe what food and feeding people means to them. In every plate lies their heritage, culture and traditions.
3.“Mr. Lim’s Reunion Dinner” by Singtel
How do we show up for our loved ones? In this piece, we see Mr Lim excitedly anticipating the return of his adult children and their families from abroad for Chinese New Year, but responsibilities enter the picture and they cannot make it back home in time. In Southeast Asian culture, where family is a sturdy backbone of society, family reunions are dearly cherished. In this advertisement, we witness how the father buys the best herbs and freshest fish way ahead of time to celebrate his children’s voyage home – a common act of love. This emotional video by Singtel touches on the common dilemma that children face, of balancing their lives and responsibilities while watching their parents age. Hopefully it teaches us that when it matters, we will be there for the people who are eagerly waiting for us at the dining table, their love on full display, even if they don’t say it.
4.“Selling Pineapple Ice Cream” by AIS
This advertisement is a glorious display of the different facets of Southeast Asia. It is the story of a bond between mother and daughter, and how they try to make ends meet by selling tropical fruit in a roadside food cart. The mother, never having received formal education, teaches her daughter the best way she can – through hard work and demonstration. This heartwarming video features the aesthetics of Southeast Asia such as the sight of local markets and roadside stalls – a shared feature for many nations in this region. The story shows us what happens when creativity, youthful vigour and a mother’s love combine, against the backdrop of an enterprising working class looking to uplift their lives and the lives of their children. Based on the true story of Achara Poonsawat who received scholarships from AIS, this advertisement will leave you in your feels.
5. "Story of Legend of Archipelago" by Indoeskrim
At first glance, you would think this commercial was a history-inspired skit due to the traditional Nusantara olden-day feels it gives off. There are siblings in a feud dressed up in warrior-like costumes and their mother (in a jewelled crown and bedazzled traditional outfit, and using a blinged up iPhone) casts spells on them to prevent them from arguing further. Then, there’s the dad who appears on a GPS-navigated eagle. With its quirky elements inspired by Indonesian sinetron (soap opera) and mythical legends alongside modern touches, it takes a while for one to understand what this advertisement is actually selling. We will save you the trouble: the product advertised is actually Nusantara Indoeskrim, or “Nusantara-style” ice cream, with flavours like mung bean and kopyor (a coconut dessert). The wit, folkloric themes and exaggerated acting make for a hilarious commercial, one that might just tempt you to grab a scoop yourself!
Header image credit: Creative Commercial on Youtube and AIS Youtube Channel.