KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysians believe brands have an important role to play in promoting a sense of Malaysian national unity, according to a new study.

A survey by BBDO investigated consumer behaviour and the idea of a national Malaysian identity among 18-35 year olds in Kuala Lumpur, Klang and Kuching and found that young Malaysians wanted to see their favourite brands reflect the country's multiculturalism and also promote resilience and tolerance.

Malaysia's diverse racial and religious mix have all contributed to the work-in-progress of Malaysian identity – often seen as more of a 'mosaic' than a 'melting pot'. Though two thirds of participants identified themselves as Malaysians before a particular ethnic group, respondents were still conscious of how religion and ethnicity create a fragmented sense of national identity.

But 76% of respondents believed brands can play an important role by appealing to common Malaysian traits, and are enthusiastic about ads and brands that emphasize this.

"In Malaysia, brands not only have the opportunity to support a common national identity but actually help build, solidify and cement one," said Anirban Ganguly, Head of Innovation and Strategy at BBDO Malaysia.

It was also revealed that religious and ethnic sentiments influence buying habits. Young Muslim women in particular are becoming a powerful demographic in Malaysia, offering brands lucrative opportunities in halal-certified food, fashion and more esoteric areas such as breathable nail polish.

The low-hanging fruit for brands to communicate on a national level is to leverage common assets that appeal across various demographics. Sports and food can garner national appeal, but film, celebrities and music can be more subjective, with data suggesting Malaysians are more likely to prefer entertainment targeted at their own ethnic group.

Data sourced from Marketing, Campaign Brief Asia; additional content by Warc staff