Sunday February 10, 2013
App-t greetings for the season
By HARIATI AZIZAN
This Chinese New Year, some politicians are using creative ways with social media, tinged with a dash of election flavour, to send their festive greetings.
EVEN 86-year-old Queen Elizabeth has jumped on the technology wagon. Last Christmas, the Queen decided to spice up her annual festive greetings with 3D visual effects. Also made available on the Internet, it was a stark contrast to her first-ever public message in 1952, which was done only in audio and broadcast over the radio.
To no one’s surprise, her recent experimentation with technology garnered the Queen new fans, especially the young.
With technology so much a part of our lives, some of our politicians have decided to explore technology for more innovative and exciting ways to make their festival greetings this Chinese New Year. And with the elections just around the corner, this also gives them the opportunity to try and stand out.
As Deputy Sports Minister Senator Gan Ping Sieu puts it, people now expect it of their politicians.
“The young, especially, now want to see videos or something that is social media related, fun and cool from their leaders.
“They don’t want to see leaders who are old-fashioned or a dinosaur. They want leaders who are relevant to the times,” he says.
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong is one who is trying to be different with his interactive greeting cards that are embedded with augmented reality (AR) technology.
The cards may look conventional to the naked eye, but those with smartphones can receive a video greeting from a 3D-animated Dr Wee or a recorded “live-action” version of the Ayer Hitam MP and MCA Youth Chief. All they have to do is to download a special app and scan the greeting card.
He says the idea came from two young IT entrepreneurs, Chew Choon Yet, 29, and Tai Leong Wee, also 29, who run Internet advertising and web design company Teknologi AR in Johor.
They wanted to try it out in greeting cards after they came across the South Korean app, he says.
“They came up with the mock design and proposed it to me. I was impressed because we can put any video up while keeping the tradition of sending a greeting card, so I decided to take it up.”
While it is an innovation, Dr Wee feels that he has not gone overboard.
“It is no different from what I have been doing over the years. Just this time I am able to use the latest technology.
“I still ordered the same number of cards, 20,000, and even with the 3D-element that we have incorporated, the cost is kept minimal,” he says, adding that his ang pow packets are also animated.
Chew, one of the people behind the multifunctional card, says they approached Dr Wee because they wanted to introduce the app to the public.
“We took a month to develop it – from the concept to the execution. We also wrote the script and created the animation character ourselves.”
According to Chew, this is similar to the AR technology used by Google to develop their futuristic Google Glasses, a hands-free, head-mounted augmented reality device that would display information in smartphone-like format and could interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.
The cutting-edge technology will make people curious about the “sender” of the card, he says, adding that they are now trying to persuade Dr Wee, who is the first politician in the country to use this technology this way, to also use it on his election campaign materials later.
Still, Dr Wee believes that all the special-effects will not mean a thing if the candidate does not do any work for the constituency.
“To me, the day-to-day effort is more important regardless of whether it is election year or not. I don’t believe in doing the last-minute push.”
Message still prime
Currently, you can see many politicians online and using social media, says digital culture commentator Niki Cheong, but they are not maximising the use.
“To maximise their social media presence, they need to commit to social network. It’s not enough to just be on it, you need to be constantly engaging with people,” says Cheong.
Conceding that while this is where the younger politicians have the edge over their seniors – they grew up with the technology so they are more savvy – there are those who know how to generate the numbers and get followers, like our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
“Many politicians think it’s enough to use Twitter. Sure it is fast, easy and instant but there are so many other networks or ‘new’ mobile apps like Vine (video on Twitter) and Instagram with bigger potential.
“Some are not even maximising Facebook to do promotions and campaigning. And even YouTube – like what the PM is doing. Many don’t realise that it is also a social network,” Cheong points out.
Ultimately, it is also about what you want to say and how you say it, not just where you say it.
Take, for instance, the PM’s inspired CNY greetings on radio and television, which are also available on YouTube; they may be conventional but they have wowed old fans and new alike.
Revealing his “regular” side, the PM is shown learning Mandarin from his youngest son Nor Ashman, who has previously studied Mandarin at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.
They both discuss the meaning of their names in Chinese – Na Ji (luck) and Si Ji Ping An (Peace for all seasons) – before combining them to extend a festive greeting to listeners.
“We wanted to show that there is more to him, there is a personal side where he is a family man – he is a husband and a father. He is not a machine, he is just an ordinary human like us; he can be your neighbour – like any father bantering with his son. He does not talk about GDP or ETP,” says Najib’s political secretary Wong Nai Chee who worked on the concept with his team.
Wong says they decided to do something different this year instead of sending out the conventional greeting cards to present the PM in a more dynamic way.
“The usual greeting cards are static, so we wanted a livelier way to celebrate the festival.”
With the elections drawing near, they also saw it as a good opportunity to project the 1Malaysia idea to the public, says Wong.
This is captured in the TV advertisement which shows the PM accepting the invitation of a little girl to play the Chinese drums for her and lead the dragon dance at her house.
“The Lion Dance is a must during the Chinese New Year and traditionally for the Chinese, the drum player is the leader in the dance because the lion listens to the drums and dances to the beat. The ad shows the PM not just talking about multiculturalism but also playing a leading role in it.”
Wong believes that the advent of social media has allowed leaders to reach out to more people in a diverse and direct way.
“It is also playing its role as a communication bridge – to see how people see and respond to the Government policies, and a way to find out about people’s problems and issues and try to help them.”
Fahmi Fadzil, social media observer and political secretary to Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar, agrees that social media is an effective communication bridge for politicians.
“Social media is about having a clear identity and getting people to engage with that identity on these platforms.
“Actually, a lot of older people are very active on Facebook, so social media is not just about or for the youth,” he says.
As they have a far “smaller purse”, says Fahmi, “the online and social media is what we leverage on. For the festive seasons, we post banners and cards on Twitter and Facebook page.”
Like Wong, Fahmi believes it is important for politicians to show their personal facet to the public, especially during this election season.
“Let people see the lighter side of you, but it must be your lighter side and not one chosen by your public relations consultants.”
As he sees it, Malaysian readers and listeners are by now very sceptical of all things political.
“They’ll not only judge your message based on the creativity or its hipness, but will also look at who is saying it – is this person truthful, honest, believable?”
Many will agree, though, that humour is the best way to get any message across or touch people.
For DAP’s Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, it has even made her a “surprise” YouTube star, especially after she decided to act in her two CNY-cum-Election parody videos: Dare to try and Dare to Change.
The idea for the videos came from a friend who designed her greeting cards in previous years, Kok says. “He suggested that I give my CNY greetings in cyberspace as this can spread to more people and reach out to greater audience.”
Noting that eating new dishes in a restaurant and getting a new haircut are part and parcel of the CNY, Kok feels the concept resonates with many revellers.
“The content and issues which are close to their hearts are also creatively presented.”
Kok shares that the biggest challenge for her personally when doing the video was memorising the script and getting into character.
“It is my first experience acting before a camera crew together with professional actors/actresses. I had to repeat my act many times while doing the filming,” she says.
Still, when it comes to the crunch, nothing is stronger than face-to-face meetings, opines Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industries Minister Chua Tee Yong.
“While it is good to be creative to make CNY greetings more interesting, direct interactions with the people are still the most effective,” he says.
Chua says he prefers to hold small gatherings where he can meet and mingle with the voters while listening to their problems.
“I find that voters always like the personal touch, where they can meet the leaders and highlight their issues.”