‘Of life and art in advertising’: An hour session with Khaidi Kamaruddin

By Hannah Fuad

“So, anyone has any question to ask?”

The auditorium at the International Islamic University Malaysia settled in after a few seconds of awkwardness as Khaidi Kamaruddin caught the audience’s attention with his unconventional style of starting the advertising seminar.

Organised by the Department of Communication, the seminar was held on 16 March with an objective of providing an insight into culture and advertising in Malaysia from practical perspective. The seminar began with the end in mind, as Khaidi encouraged students (and lecturers) to ask questions, followed by the raising of hands, one by one.

At 41, with two kids, and years of accomplished experience, Khaidi is a council member of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agents Malaysia (4As) and the founder of the advertising agency, Bulb Communique.

He had an impressive list of clients and employers, yet he recounted his humble foray into the industry ‘from the streets’ as a rookie events promoter.

“The minute you speak a different language, you think differently.”

He realised this himself as a young boy who only thought and spoke in Malay, and mingled with Malays of similar backgrounds. The limit of his knowledge and understanding of others incapacitated his ability to understand the worldview of other cultures, thus preventing him from being able to reach out to them.

Here he reiterated the importance of profiling the audience to achieve successful communication – “by knowing well their numbers and general culture, as well as understanding in depth the various identity templates of people without bias.”

“Advertising is not just doing advertisements.”

On his experience with POS Malaysia, Khaidi explained the essential role of an advertiser in identifying the needs of a client over their requests. In advertising and marketing, he said, decisions are made based on two things:

  • Income growth
  • Culture growth and sustainability

More work should be channelled into creating and building a good brand and culture before even beginning to advertise. “To do this, we need to delve into the knowledge and the demographics surrounding the client – primarily knowledge of other different disciplines such as economics, psychology, quality management systems and processes.”

It takes more than simply advertising to make advertising successful. With today’s audience of varied experiences and increasing access to information, it will take a Jack of all trades to capture their attention. “In the end, it is not how much attention they give you (through their purchases, for example) but how long you can sustain that attention.”

Touching on Aristotle’s philosophy that art imitates life, he popped up the question:

Does advertising (art) imitate culture (life)? Or is it the other way around?

There is no black and white answer to this. Affirming it as a symbiotic process, Khaidi described how advertising would mimic culture in its general ideas that are familiar to people. “Yet, successful advertising could create a culture out of a completely new idea – one that people would find themselves accepting and inclining towards.”

Putting it bluntly, our work as communicators lies in ‘manipulating the minds’. In this sense, an advertiser who is good at his job has the power to shape societal culture. “Herein lies our responsibility to regulate sensitivities and maintain ethics in the way we communicate messages to the masses. We could do good with it, or otherwise. And in the event of the latter, we are fortunate to be able to rely on regulations set in place to protect the greater good.”

“Google the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners.”

Lastly, Khaidi reiterated the importance of widening worldview and building knowledge banks of potential audiences. Young talents today might have information in their heads, but are hardly capable when it comes to creatively applying them to reality. Eagerly recommending platforms from Cannes Lions to TED talks, Pinterest to Slide share, he strongly advocated continuous learning to break from the confines of a closed mind, so as “to become successful communicators that are of benefit to the society”.

“Follow the money,

That’s where the work is,

And that’s where the problems will be,

And that will be where your opportunities lie.”

(Khaidi Kamaruddin, 2017)  ***

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