HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM (Oct. 26, 3:25 p.m. ET) — Korean dance-pop wouldn’t seem to have much in common with the decidedly un-cool plastic shopping bag, but Malaysia’s industry is hoping a little “Gangnam” style can help it subtly spread a pro-plastic-bag message.
Taking a cue from the viral Internet video hit “Gangnam Style” by Korean rapper Psy, Malaysia’s plastic associations have produced a video parody to promote recycling and encourage the public not to litter.
It’s also a subtle part of the industry’s broad campaign to oppose the bans on free plastic shopping bags in the country.
The Malaysian Plastic Manufacturers Association showed the ad at a gathering of Asian plastics industry associations Oct. 23 in Vietnam, and described it as part of a broader effort to use YouTube and other new media tools to reach the country’s young population.
“Seventy percent of Malaysians are 35 or younger,” said C.C. Cheah, secretary general of the MPMA. “We know we have to go into multimedia and Facebook and Twitter. Whatever we do we put it on Facebook.”
The 45-second video is designed for YouTube and similar sites and is one of dozens of parodies of the original, which has become the most “liked” music video in YouTube history, with 4.4 million users giving it a thumbs up. That’s nearly three times more than the number two video.
The plastics parody mimics the dance moves and infectious beat of the original, which is named for a trendy neighborhood in Seoul, and plays off a segment where the nerdy-chic Psy and two dancers move through a haze of confetti and newspapers in an empty building.
In the plastics version, however, as they begin moving through the haze of plastic bags and other litter, they’re quickly interrupted by a cleaning woman. She stops the dancing, sternly makes them sweep up the mess and tells them to recycle and not litter.
It ends with some tag lines for the Malaysian plastics industry’s “Don’t be a Litterbug” campaign and its Facebook pages.
The plastics version hasn’t attracted quite the attention of Psy’s version: 26 likes since it was introduced a month ago, and 2,300 views. The original has had more than 531 million views since uploading in mid-July, the third most of any music video in YouTube history.
Cheah said the main purpose for MPMA was to make a video to raise awareness of littering, an area where they believe there’s not enough attention.
It says nothing specific about bag bans or the industry’s arguments against them, and that’s exactly the point, said Cheah, who is also deputy managing director of Kuala Lumpur-based Malaysian plastics maker See Hau Global Sdn. Bhd. But they hope for a more indirect benefit.
“If we say that plastics bags are not the issue, the public will tend to perceive that the industry is defensive and is trying to defend plastics bags, so that we have changed the tactics of communicating or articulating the environmental issues to the public,” he said.
“By doing anti-littering campaigns and putting in the fine print saying it’s sponsored by [industry groups], then the public will get to know that the plastics industry is very conscious about the environment,” Cheah said.
The video cost the MPMA and its partner group the Malaysian Plastics Forum about US $5,000, and took two weeks to make.
The industry groups had hired a media consulting firm as part of a US $200,000 campaign to talk about the positives of plastics. The PR firm looks for events in the news and popular culture and then tries to get some media tie-in for the MPMA.
The video was borne out of industry frustration that the plastics groups were not succeeding in getting their message out through traditional channels, Cheah said.
The Malaysian state of Penang adopted a ban on free bags in 2011, and the national government in the country of 27 million people followed up with a one-day a week ban last year. Environmental groups and some government officials are pushing to expand the national ban.
“We realize that as plastics manufacturers we were not very successful – we are not very good in communicating and articulating the benefits of plastics,” he said. “We know we have the facts but it is very difficult to change the negative perception of the public.”
Malaysia is not alone in putting the onus on plastic bags.
It was a hot topic Oct. 23 at the Ho Chi Minh City conference of the Asia Plastics Forum, an umbrella group made up of trade associations from 12 Asian countries.
Delegates heard how dozens of local governments in the Philippines have put bans in place, and how Vietnam earlier this year began taxing manufacturers of plastic films and bags.
Malaysia’s industry said it hoped that other associations in the region would also find value in its approach, which it said is a cost-effective way to try to get its message out.
“This is a very unconventional way of communicating with the public,” Cheah said. “With the limited budget that we have using YouTube is much more cost effective [than traditional media]. There is a reason why we go this way.”