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Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar Win Triggers Argument Among Malaysian Advertising Firms

Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar Win Triggers Argument Among Malaysian Advertising Firms

The claim that Naga DBB started the ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’ campaign opened a can of worms dating all the way back to 1999.

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Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh’s Oscar win has drawn praise, admiration, and also criticism from the people back home in Malaysia.

Granted, her public support for former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in 2013 during the 13th general election won her no favour among some Malaysians, especially amidst the 1MDB controversy.

One of the biggest critics of Yeoh’s Oscar win was author and former journalist Kee Thuan Chye.

On Facebook, Kee wondered why Malaysians were so ecstatic about Yeoh winning the Oscars when the country did nothing for the actress.

Yeoh started her roots in the acting and film industry in Hong Kong. Kee also questioned what the actress did for Malaysia and whether she helped the local film industry grow.

He also claimed that Yeoh’s partner, Jean Todt, reportedly got a piece of land on an island off Terengganu and received a staggering million-ringgit fee as Malaysia’s tourism ambassador.

Coming to Yeoh’s defence was Tan Sri Vincent Lee Fook Long, a veteran in Malaysia’s advertising scene. Lee is the group executive chairman of Foetus International Sdn Bhd, a one-stop centre for advertising, marketing communications, public relations and event management.

He’s also the founder of Naga DDB, an advertising agency that has been around for more than three decades.

Lee said Yeoh worked hard for her career and has helped Malaysia by being its tourism ambassador years before.

When Lee asked Yeoh for help, she allegedly said yes without hesitation because “we must all help the country” and “it’s a national service.”

Lee added that together with Naga DDB, they started the Malaysia Truly Asia campaign and Yeoh didn’t receive a single cent to help the country.

He also pointed out that just like all of us, Yeoh didn’t know then that Najib was involved in the 1MDB case, and she made the mistake of supporting him for the general elections.

Although Yeoh’s Oscar win is a difficult topic for Malaysians to navigate, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) plans to make Yeoh their tourism ambassador instead.

It opened a can of worms

Lee’s claim that Naga DDB came up with the Malaysia Truly Asia tagline was refuted by a marketing agency called Integrated Strategic Communications (ISC) International.

According to ISC International’s statement, the agency was contracted by Tourism Malaysia from 1999 to 2010 to be the sole agency to conceive, develop, produce, launch and roll out the iconic and multi-award-winning “Malaysia Truly Asia” campaign.

The campaign was carried out during four contract periods, covering the tenures of at least four Tourism Ministers – Datuk Seri Abdul Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, Datuk Seri Leo Michael Toyad, Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor, and Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said.

Founder and CEO of ISC, Austen Zecha, took the drama in stride and said, “So much fuss about a non-issue, really. But why bring in a Malaysian icon’s name to buttress and perpetuate an industry lie?

He continued, saying, “In essence, fact is fact, truth is truth, but why would another agency founder again bring the bizarre false claim about having started, Malaysia Truly Asia, in a story about Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh’s incredible Oscar win?”

The drama goes way back

Somehow, this drama unearthed an alleged bribery case that happened between ISC International and the Malaysian Tourism Ministry in 2011.

According to reports, ISC International withdrew its bid to renew its contract with the Tourism Ministry after they were asked for bribes in exchange for the deal.

In a press statement, ISC International rebutted then Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen’s denial of ambiguity in the tender process for the advertising and promotions contract, worth RM381 million.

Zecha claimed that he and his deputy were jointly approached by the client (Tourism Ministry) on 19 January 2011 for a 50 % rebate or an annual share of the firm’s income from the account.

In exchange, ISC International will “re-win” another three-year Tourism Malaysia contract for the Europe, North America, and Oceania tender.

This proposal led ISC International to withdraw its tender on 26 January 2011 with its founders, shareholders, directors and management agreeing that the whole thing was a grave insult.

The proposal also cast further suspicion regarding the ambiguity of the whole tender process.

Zecha reiterated that ISC International did impeccable work for the Malaysia Truly Asia campaign since 1999.

He also alleged that it had been told by the ministry that it could only bill Tourism Malaysia RM3 million in 2009 and 2010 for its previous three-year contract for Europe, which was actually worth RM18 million annually.

Zecha asked whether the Treasury would allow for such hidden “Direct Bookings” and Treasury-registered companies to be short-changed on contracts’ worth.

At the time, he also placed scrutiny on Ng’s involvement in the issue. Zecha said Ng’s remarks in Parliament contradicted her earlier statement that she was unaware of the five companies that were each awarded three-year contracts totalling RM381 million or RM127 million per year.

The five recipients of the tenders were Naga DDB for the Asean market with a contract value of RM25 million a year, SMASCOM & Designs Sdn Bhd for East and North Asia (RM25 million), Sen Media Sdn Bhd for South Asia, West Asia and Africa (RM26 million), M&C Saatchi Sdn Bhd for Europe, America, Oceania (RM21 million) and Impact Creations for domestic and events (RM30 million).

It turned out that Ng knew at least two companies that were awarded the contracts. Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi asked in Parliament whether the five contracts were awarded through the use of political connections.

One of the companies was Impact Creations Sdn Bhd, believed to have been selected because Juni Ewe, the managing director of Impact Challenger Sdn Bhd (allegedly related to the first company), is a friend of Ng’s.

Ooi also asked whether Naga DDB Sdn Bhd was given the contract because the founder and executive chairman, Lee, was also the executive deputy chairman of the MCA-owned Star Publications.

ISC’s complaint about the tender process led the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to raid the offices of Impact Creations and the Tourism Ministry.

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