LATE last month, it was revealed that skincare product Sweedskin will be the main sponsor of Anugerah Industri Muzik (AIM) ke-22.
Pledging a whopping RM 1.5 million to the awards ceremony, Sweedskin is offering half the sum afforded to Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) ke-30 by celebrated businesswoman Dato Seri Vida of Vida Beauty (Qu Puteh, Pamoga and Milenia).
Elsewhere, you may recall that beauty and cosmetics company D’Nars was the main sponsor of this year’s Anugerah Pilihan Online while reality singing competitions Gempak Superstar and Dangdut Star were backed by health and beauty companies D’ Herbs and Jamu Mak Dara respectively.
At present, it seems that the healthcare and cosmetics industry play a significant role in sustaining our local entertainment industry, particularly in Malay-language television content.
But upon hearing that more are opening up to sponsors from the health and beauty industry, has anyone stopped for a moment to consider how this entire deal has been working out for the rakyat?
The “boleh lah”, or when it’s still mildly tolerable
Based on recent shows we’ve seen, the brand placement celebrity tycoons demand in exchange for money borders on soul-shattering.
Today it’s nearly impossible to imagine life without Malaysia’s favourite, attention-hungry entrepreneurs — a result of channel managers who simply comply with zany sponsors. The opportunity to market through entertainment has created new icons and celebrities who keep mainstream audiences distracted from the pressures of Malaysia’s worsening economic and political climate.
Gegar Vaganza rehash Gempak Superstar — an unfocused Astro Ria reality competition showcasing poor talents and even poorer production value — for example was funded by D’Herbs, and as such warranted founder and spokesperson Aliff Syukri‘s trademark camp but vapid commentary.
Without such an ambitious advertiser, how else are you going to watch soap actors like Raja Ilya and Tasha Shila perform songs in character?
The latter stunned millions during Gempak Superstar with her shocking rendition of Celine Dion‘s “My Heart Will Go On” which earned Fauziah Ahmad Daud‘s stifled rage on live TV.
It’s light entertainment; fluff, designed to make chores like laundry bearable. We aren’t objecting yet.
Still, one would expect a rise in production value to accompany a sponsorship. A flip through five years worth of awards shows on Youtube conjured doubts if AJL benefited from Vida Beauty’s RM3 million injection at all — it’s possible that the ceremony became even less of a spectacle after 2014.
It must have been efficient to deal with just one source of funding, but at what cost? Have a look at this fan-recorded clip from the Gegar Vaganza finale last year to understand what we mean.
Some deeds clearly await reciprocation — sponsorship opportunities in entertainment almost always demand returns in exposure. In fact, each time you see a tycoon performing charity or appearing normal, they’ve made an impression on you. Now consider that Mark Zuckerberg charges Malaysians approximately RM0.002 per impression through Facebook Advertising.
Face it, these funders we’ve name-dropped are less about philanthropy and more about entrepreneurship — it always circles back to return on investment (ROI) from each platform at the end of the day. But it’s all good, because that’s just part of business. Right?
The “maaf”, or when we don’t want any part in this
Making money is a ruthless game. You don’t really “make” money, you “take” it from someone else either by transaction or force. Kudos to all these brands for finding an effective way of boosting sales without resorting to violence, but have local audiences and the industry’s reputation been exploited in a quest for more transactions?
For instance, AuraWhite Beauty‘s official website provides no real explanation of how their beautifying, skin-whitening shakes actually function within the body. On top of responding to user clicks with pop-up ads, the site also has no detailed product descriptions or ingredients list available for any of its products.
We don’t think much of entrepreneurs who ramp up on publicity to sell products that won’t appeal to discerning consumers, let alone do we think these people should present our national ceremonies.
Once, singer-actress Ayda Jebat as AuraWhite’s main ambassador infamously took home some of the biggest awards at Anugerah MeleTOP Era (AME).
Appearing in a shimmering gold and black dress to promote AuraWhite throughout the two-hour show, Ayda went up to the dais at least five times — her wins include Best Singer, Best Song, Best Drama, Best Actor and Best Female Artist.
The following day, dissatisfied viewers swarmed her social media pages and questioned the credibility and integrity of AME. Ayda responded by dismissing allegations that her role as ambassador influenced the night’s results.
But really, our biggest fear is when viewers suffer from misplaced trust in these charismatic personas.
In January, Dato Seri Vida (real name Hasmiza Othman) was under public scrutiny after Brunei’s Ministry of Health discovered toxic levels of mercury in two of Qu Puteh’s skin whitening products. A nationwide ban was instantly issued across the sultanate.
Dato Seri Vida’s immediate reaction was to deny the existence of mercury in her products. After investigation from local authorities on the same day however a product recall was issued.
According to our health ministry, the move follows consumer complaints of tinnitus and hair loss following use of Vida Beauty’s Qu Puteh Whitening Pro 9 and Qu Puteh Whitening UV Block.
We don’t think it’s a mere coincidence that the Malaysian investigation and product recall happened hours after Brunei detected hazardous levels of mercury during a test.
First of all, the ministry confessed to receiving multiple complains of tinnitus and hair loss — pretty serious side-effects from putting lotion on your face.
Then there’s a blog containing months of public online reports indicating rashes, itches and redness from using both products. Doesn’t it seem plausible that an insider kept this information secret until a neighbouring country noticed something seemed amiss?
In any case, both items are now back on the market. How many more brands do you think are currently circulating substances which might actually be harmful to users?
The “astaga”, or how we’re crippling future generations
But you know much worse it can get? A school in Kelantan once requested parents to attend a Persatuan Ibu Bapa dan Guru (PIBG) meeting in pink — men were to arrive in pink formals and females with an additional pink headscarf — for a meet and greet session with Dato Seri Vida.
There was also going to be special deals on her health drink Pamoga at the meeting. While that’s one brave attempt at marketing, consider how the school in this particular situation had no qualms about connecting the parents of their students to Vida Beauty’s empire of elixirs.
In the long run, there’s a chance these kids could begin striving for impossible health and beauty standards based on obsolete Western ideals set by local entrepreneurs. In a world ruled by brands like Qu Puteh and AuraWhite, your tan, complexion, weight, intelligence and hair may be completely out of order.
Regulations adopted by certain broadcasters prohibit the promotion of slimming products. But how is promoting weight loss (admittedly useful in cases like obesity) worse than skin bleaching and potential scams? Why are we not imposing the same restrictions on skin-whitening products and dubious miracle edibles?
Now you know why we get paranoid hearing about government institutions like RIM jumping onto the wagon? To be fair, it remains to be seen how far Sweedskin will reach this December.
Presenting a range of skin whitening and anti-aging products containing exclusive, rare ingredients sourced internationally, the brand is represented by youthful ambassador Syamim Farid, first runner up of modelling competition Dewi Remaja 2014/15.
Sweedskin might have its crosshairs on the 18 – 25 demographic, but it really depends on how Syamim does come AIM, doesn’t it?
Don’t get us wrong, we don’t doubt the sincerity of some of these entities. We only want people to understand that when health and beauty entrepreneurs set and uphold a standard on something you have no choice over just so you give them your money, it’s going to erode your self-esteem.
Furthermore, if we’re also going to allow the marketing of various concoctions and skincare products as “healthy” so haphazardly, our television-watching children will be more inclined to harm themselves over something as meaningless as complexion.
But at the end of the day, who are producers and authorities going to listen to: young writers concerned about the psychological welfare of the rakyat or several million ringgits? Think about it, then tell us.