‘Religious’ bigots force brand name change

Joe Samad, FMT

Brand names are now being targeted by “religious” bigots in Malaysia, creating political mileage for some.

The MP for Tangga Batu, Rusnah Aluai, said in Parliament recently that drinking Timah whisky was akin to “drinking a Malay woman”.

So, “Drink Timah Whisky – Drink Malay Women” should be the new slogan for Timah whisky.

Rusnah has since apologised for her weird statement in Parliament, saying she was misinterpreted. She said her intention was to ensure that there was no confusion linked to the label.

It seems she is the only one who is confused. Most people with their faculties still intact would be able to distinguish a whisky from a woman.

PKR’s Rusnah Aluai

How on earth can you drink Malay women? In this context, the only woman I know that we can drink is “Dutch Lady”. Nobody in their right frame of mind would want to drink a machik called Timah.

Rusnah will probably go down in history alongside Bung Moktar Radin, who uttered the dreaded “F” word, as having made some of the most famous utterances in the Dewan Rakyat.

Our MPs have so much time on their hands that they waste valuable time creating issues and forego crucial debates on the pandemic, women’s welfare issues, the 12th Malaysia Plan and Budget 2022.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (religious affairs) Idris Ahmad is another one who jumped on the bandwagon to reiterate calls for the name Timah to be changed.

News reports say the government will ban brand names that confuse Muslims. Now people are wondering why those of the Muslim faith are easily confused.

More eyebrows have since been raised as Idris’ ministry has received a budget of RM1.5 billion for the management and development of Islamic affairs under Budget 2022.

Will some of this budget be used to hunt down brand names that “confuse” Muslims? If so, Kit Kat chocolate would be a good start, as certain people may get confused that it may contain kitten or cat meat, therefore making it non-halal.

It’s about time we stop giving Timah whisky free publicity. Timah has already won prizes overseas; the company making Timah doesn’t need Muslim politicians wearing kopiah to help advertise its products.

The issue has become the butt of jokes in the wake of the reaction and statements of Muslim NGOs and political leaders. It’s ironic that Muslim MPs and ministers want a piece of the Timah action even though they don’t drink whisky.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) education officer NV Subbarow was reported to have slammed the authorities for permitting the item to be sold in the country, leading to others joining the bandwagon.

He said CAP could not understand how such a brand name and image were allowed in the first place as they could trigger an uproar among the people.

When we study marketing, selection of brand names is one of the topics discussed. There are two approaches to brand name selection.

The first approach is to have a brand name that is somehow reflective of the benefits or unique features of the product.

The second approach is to create an unusual or distinctive brand name, perhaps by even creating a new word, with the intent of building brand awareness and brand equity over time.

In Malaysia, the third branding approach is by using religion to create a ruckus out of nowhere, and generate negative publicity to create awareness and distinction.

You don’t need to waste time and money doing test marketing, you just create a religious issue and become a household name.

Penang is famous not only for its char koay teow and nasi kandar, but also for raising religious issues and making a mountain out of a molehill.

In January 2019, an image of the Grace Residence’s façade featuring lights that formed a giant cross went viral and caused displeasure among Muslim residents in the area who saw it as the Christian crucifix.

Penang mufti Wan Salim Wan Mohd Noor then urged the local authorities to direct the developer of the housing project to change the position of the lights so they did not form the sign of a cross.

Symbols and brand names have become big issues, and they serve to distract people from the government’s failings.

One has to be mindful of religious bigots who are out to trivialise and exploit issues for their own ends. Previously, we had the Auntie Annie ruckus where the company had to change the name “pretzel dog” to “pretzel sausage” to satisfy those issuing the halal certificate.

The generic name “hamburger” is also an issue because of the word “ham”. There are many bigots just waiting to exploit something or other out of nowhere to influence susceptible Malays by creating rumours and distrust.

One has to be careful in doing business in Malaysia.

If the government is not firm in containing these inflammatory issues, they will fester and turn into bigger issues resulting in greater disunity and mistrust in our multicultural, multi-religious community. It will also drive away foreign and local investments.

At the end of the day, you are not discrediting a brand or product but Islam as a whole.