“Maggi mee, fast to cook, good to eat.” “Milo, grow like a champion grow.” “Energizer. Keep going and going.” I grew up watching these TV commercials in the 80s. And I didn’t expect years later in 1993, I joined the advertising world as a copywriter. Some friends thought my job was literally “copying” information or dealing with copyright law! Well, welcome to the unexpected world of advertising.

The Early Days

The history of advertising in Malaysia can be traced back in the early days of independence. There were only a few advertising agencies in Kuala Lumpur, namely Cathay, Grant. Benson, Young, Fortune, Masters, Millington, MarkLin and the famous local agency, Union 45. 

The advertising industry in that era was dominated by foreign agencies but the landscape started to change in the 80s and 90s with the set up of more local agencies. In 1971, the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents of Malaysia was established to represent the voice of advertising agencies in Malaysia.

In those days, if children told their parents they would be joining advertising, the first impression in mind was they would be drawing bus signages, cinema posters and billboards. Thankfully, this stereotype perception had gradually faded over time with the emergence of new art colleges in Malaysia like Lim Kok Wing Institute of Creative Technology, One Academy and more.

Life As An Ad Man

Many people think advertising is full of glitz and glam. Believe me, agency life is not a bed of roses. We rack our brains and even stay overnight in the office to meet deadlines. It is even more of a torture when there is an advertising pitch.

But if you get used to it, you will love your job. I have been saying I wanted to quit advertising probably more than ten times in my entire career. Guess what? I am still doing copywriting today.

Looking back at how I first started my career can be quite amusing. Back then, there was no internet. So art directors would do scamps and the visualisers have to hand-draw or airbrush the ads and storyboards. 

Photoshop and other Adobe software were still not extensively used. Corel Draw was used instead. Video editing was done manually by cutting and pasting the back of the films with Scotch tape. A tedious process compared to video editing using computer today.

I have also worked in an agency which didn’t believe in investing in technology. Hence, copywriters had to use the complicated Wordstar software instead of Microsoft Word. Well, not all is bitter. Advertising people also have their taste of glory. We have our own Oscar in advertising known as Kancil Awards and later, more awards like Putra Brand Awards and Effie Awards came into play. Afterall, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

The Digital World

Today 87.4 percent of Malaysians use the internet. Digital marketing has become more important and clients channel more budget in digital than traditional media. Out-of-home media such as digital billboards, transit and wallscape advertising are also growing in demand. The landscape of advertising has changed but the good old wisdom of the business stays. 

Above all, “I’m lovin’ it” in spite of my love-hate relationship with the industry. 

Text and images by Francis Yip

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