Their slogan being ‘Malaysia, Truly Asia’, speaks for itself. Malaysia is a country rich in culture, a one-stop destination for experiencing multiple cultures in one location. From a marketing perspective, to fully understand how we communicate with the audience in Malaysia through social media, we need to know that this fascinating country is composed of a unique mix of cultures that has, over the years, influenced the formation of their own national culture as one nation.
Malaysia is a hybrid of the developed and developing worlds. It has become one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia due to its investments in high-tech companies and moderate oil resources. The diverse cultures influence Malaysian culture, as evidenced by its arts, music, and cuisines. It has been acknowledged as one of the world’s best gastronomic travel destinations.
Digital Business Lab decided to team up with Dr. Crystal Abidin to expand our knowledge about Malaysia’s culture to run more robust campaigns for our clients. Dr. Abidin, Ph.D. in Anthropology/Sociology/Media studies, is a researcher and educator who focuses on Asia Pacific Internet cultures. Her academic research specializes in influencer cultures, online visibility, and social media pop culture, is available at https://wishcrys.com/academic-publications/. With Dr. Crystal Abidin’s study and further analysis, some vital cultural facts are essential to note and understand Malaysian culture.
Cultural Malaysia social media insights: Key facts
1. Multi-Cultural Society
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country. The native Malays and considerable concentrations of Chinese and Indians are the predominant ethnic groupings. When traveling through the country, it is evident that the ethnic groups have maintained their beliefs, customs, and way of life. Public holidays are the most important celebrations for each tribe.
Although Malaysians attend the same schools and eventually work in the same offices as they grow up, few marry outside their ethnic group. Families tend to socialize within their ethnic groups to preserve their unique customs and lifestyles.
Key population statistics:
- In January 2021, Malaysia’s population was 32.57 million.
- Malaysia has a female population of 48.6% and a male population of 51.4% [note: the United Nations does not publish data for genders other than ‘female’ and ‘male’].
- In Malaysia, metropolitan areas account for 77.4% of the population, while rural areas account for 22.6%.
- The Malaysian government officially recognizes the Malays, Chinese, and Indians as the three primary races in the country. They also identify Orang Asli as the natives in Peninsular Malaysia, comprising the three major groups of Negrito, Senoi, and Proto-Malay (Malaysia 2016 Department of Information 2019a).
- Malaysian citizens consist of the ethnic groups Bumiputera (67.4%), Chinese (24.6%), Indians (7.3%), and Others (0.7%). (Source: department of statistics Malaysia)
💡 Takeaway: Racial and religious harmony is a common subject among social media content creators and Influencers in Malaysia. We recommend brands to celebrate the unity of various races in the country when creating communication campaigns.
For instance, veteran Malaysian Youtubers JinnyBoy TV celebrates the unity of Malaysia.
For instance, Malaysian Chinese rapper and director Namewee raises the patriotic spirit by picking singers from different races in Malaysia.
2. Millennials & GenZs are Experiencing a Huge Awakening
In Malaysia, Generation Z and Millennials are undergoing a massive awakening. Over the last decade, a healthy dose of intellectual reflection, skepticism, and cultural hyperawareness have replaced the pleasure of rapid technological innovation. They demand more from the brands they buy from, anticipate participating in these discussions and taking a stand.
They are rethinking their connection with social media, effectively manipulating pervasive algorithms to connect and build micro-communities across geographic divides via digital platforms in Malaysia. This socially conscious generation is unafraid to show courage and the vulnerability that they believe comes with honesty and meaningful change.
How should marketers approach this culturally diverse country and mainly speak to the Millennials and GenZs?
- USE CULTURE TO SPEAK TO THEM – Younger generations seek their tribes online since cultural markers have evolved. Brands that want to stay relevant must learn how to interact with these groups on new terms. More than half have friends from another nation online, and 67% believe their generation is dictating what’s going on in today’s culture (Spotify Trends Survey among 500 MY respondents 18-37, May 2020, YouGov).
- BE AUTHENTIC AND SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS – Values like social responsibility and authenticity are essential to these two generations, demanding the same from brands. 86% of respondents said they expect brands to participate in the conversation, support progressive ideals, and play a more significant role in society. If you don’t walk the talk, you are going to get called out.
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3. Still a Modest Society
Despite its seeming openness to global influences and the urbanity of Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Kuching, Malaysian society remains conservative and conformist. It avoids any behavior that deviates from established cultural and behavioral norms — in other words, anything that draws attention to the people involved. Though there are exceptions for foreigners, it is wise to err on the side of caution until you’ve got a sense of where the limits are. If you strike the appropriate balance, you will discover that locals are friendly and helpful while respecting your desire for privacy.
- An academic study found that Malaysian media professionals identified three main reasons for advertising restrictions: Nudity, Indecent language, and Sexist images (Waller & Kim).
The five mainframes for advertising guidelines and codes:
- In a 2018 study, a scholar found at least five frames that seem to govern the various advertising guidelines and regulations used in the local television advertising industry; the following table summarized the five mainframes (Mokhtar 2018):
|FIVE MAINFRAMES||THEMES WITHIN FRAMES|
|“Use of people in television advertising must be dignified.”|
“Women and men must be portrayed in a proper manner” (e.g., no trans-acting, Muslims cannot act as non-Muslims)“Special care must be given to children in television advertisements” (e.g., safety, supervision, no physical or mental, or moral harm)“Women must be depicted in a dignified manner.”“Portrayals of (men and women) professionals in advertising must be according to the regulations of professional institutions.”
|“Unacceptable products and scenes in Malaysian TV advertisements”||“Selected goods are not allowed or should be carefully depicted in television advertising” (e.g., slimming products, pork, cigarettes, tobacco, alcoholic drinks)“Selected services are not allowed or must be carefully depicted in television advertising” (e.g., unlicensed employment agencies, marriage agencies and friendship clubs, gambling, financial speculation)|
“Selected scenes are not allowed in television advertisements” (e.g., sexual scenes, magic and divination, fireworks, disco scenes, inappropriate clothing with bad messages.”
|“Practice of fair competition is required in television advertisements.”||“No deriding other companies”|
“Truthful information important to give when competing.”
|“Truthful and honest messages are imperative in television advertisements.”||“Price, safety, guarantees, and free gifts” must be conveyed clearly.”|
“Truthful and honest information must be used in television advertisements.”
|“Standards guide television advertising in Malaysia.”||“Obvious Islamic orientation”|
“General Malaysian standards”
Reference: The complete chart elaborating on the examples of each theme is available here.
Reference: Full list guidelines are available here.
4. The Influence of Art & Music
Malaysia’s multi-ethnic and multi-cultural makeup has affected its art and culture. Music and dance are two essential parts of the culture and are common elements on social media in Malaysia. Both of these grew from more necessities to become the enthralling, intricate art forms today. Malaysian music arose out of necessity. In an age before phones, computers, and fax machines, people used musical instruments like the saxophone to get by.
- Traditional drums come in at least 14 different varieties. The rebab (a bowed string instrument), the serunai (a double-reed oboe-like instrument), the seruling (flute), and trumpets are among the other instruments (some of which are constructed of shells).
- Malaysians have been telling stories and commemorating life events such as harvests through music for long.
- Malaysians of all age groups highly embrace local pop music.
- Mak Yong, a traditional style of Malay play in which actors sing, dance, and act out heroic narratives about sultans and princesses, is one of Malaysia’s most well-known art forms.
- Some other prominent art forms in Malaysia include silat, puppet shows, weaving, and batik art, to name a few.
5. World-Renowned Food Destination
Malaysia is a well-known food destination around the world. Its cuisine is characterized by its diversity and reflects the multi-ethnic mix of its population. Various cultures from Malaysia and the neighboring areas heavily affect Malaysian food, with significant influences from Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Javanese, and Sumatran cuisines. Malaysia’s location along the historic spice route accounts for most of this. The cuisine is quite close to Singaporean and Bruneian cuisines, as well as Filipino cuisine. Malaysian cuisine varies by state, and Malaysian cuisine is frequently distinct from that of other countries.
- Food from one culture is sometimes incorporated into another; for example, Chinese restaurants in Malaysia frequently serve Malaysian cuisine. Food from one culture is occasionally prepared in a way borrowed from another.
- Although other cultures influence many Malaysian foods, they maintain their distinct characteristics.
6. Concept of Saving Face
Just as with most Southeast Asian cultures and also explored in our article about the culture in Thailand, in both public and private, Malays, Chinese, and Indians in Malaysia seek to keep their faces and avoid disgrace. ‘Face’ is a notion that encompasses traits such as a good name, excellent character, and peers’ respect.
Malaysians aim for peaceful relationships out of a desire to keep their ‘face’ away from embarrassment. Doing anything that brings disgrace to the family, publicly questioning someone in authority, not honoring a commitment, or publicly disagreeing with someone can all ‘cost you face.’
💡 Takeaway: We recommend brands consider this essential cultural value when communicating to local audiences on social media in Malaysia. ‘Face’ may be saved by remaining calm and respectful, discussing mistakes or transgressions privately, speaking about problems without blaming anyone, and allowing the other person to go away with their pride intact, according to Malaysians.
7. Family is Everything
The social structure sees the family as the center. As a result, the Malaysians highly value solidarity, loyalty, and respect for the old. A person’s family is the only area where they may be confident receiving emotional and financial support.
For instance, When one family member experiences a financial loss, the rest will pitch in with whatever they can. Families are typically extended, though this varies depending on the size of the city.
Important dates & celebrations in Malaysia
*Indicates federal holidays as several holidays in Malaysia are state-based; we indicated applicable states for state-based holidays after arrows and only included significant holidays as there are several smaller state-based ceremonial holidays.
- 1 January: Tahun Baru, or New Year → Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, Federal Territory (Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan)
- 1 February: Hari Wilayah Persekutuan, or Federal Territory Day, to commemorate when Kuala Lumpur was transferred to federal control in 1974 → Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Labuan & Putrajaya
- *1 May: Hari Pekerja, or Labour Day
- *31 August: Hari Kebangsaan, or National Day, to commemorate the independence of Malaya in 1957
- *16 September: Hari Malaysia, or Malaysia Day, to commemorate the formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963
- *12-13 February: Tahun Baru Cina, or Chinese New Year
- 15 April: Hari Perisytiharan Melaka Sebagai Namdaraya Bersejarah, or Declaration of Malacca as a Historical City → Melaka
- 7 July: Hari Ulang Tahun Perisytiharan Tapak Warisan Dunia, or Georgetown World Heritage City Day → Penang
- *25 December: Hari Krismas, or Chrismas
- 28 January: Thaipusam → Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Penang & Selangor
- 2 April: Good Friday → Sabah, Sarawak
- 13 April: Awal Ramadan, to commemorate the first day of Ramadan → Johor, Kedah, Melaka
- *13-14 May: Hari Raya Puasa (date subject to change)
- *26 May: Hari Wesak, or Vesak Day
- *20-21 July: Hari Raya Haji (date subject to change)
- *10 August: Awal Muharram, to commemorate the beginning of the Islamic New Year
- *19 October: Hari Keputeraan Nabi Muhammad S.A.W, or Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
- *4 November: Deepavali (date subject to change) → Federal except Sarawak
Explore our other Market Researches in Asia
🇹🇭 Thailand Social Media Insights:
- ① Cultural social media insights in Thailand [ Research ]
- ② Social media penetration in Thailand [ Research ]
- ③ The popular Social Media trends in Thailand [ Research ]
🇸🇬 Singapore Social Media Insights:
- ① Cultural social media insights in Singapore [ Research ]
- ② Social media marketing in Singapore [ Research ]
- ③ Online marketing in Singapore [ Research ]
🇻🇳 Vietnam Social Media Insights:
- ① Cultural social media insights in Vietnam [Research]
- ② Social Media Penetration in Vietnam [ Research ]
- ③ The popular Social Media in Vietnam [ Research ]
🇮🇩 Indonesia Social Media Insights:
- ① Cultural social media insights in Indonesia [Research]
- ② Social Media Penetration in Indonesia [Research]