New Emissary

ASEAN: Hot New Brand?

Should the 43-year-old organization be made a household brand name in Asia?

Yesterday was ASEAN’s 43rd ‘birthday,’ and to mark the occasion, celebrations are being held around the South-east Asian region, including a flag-hoisting ceremony and an ASEAN Day Dinner in Malaysia today, a youth essay competition in Singapore and a big seminar in Hanoi on the topic: ‘Vietnam-ASEAN: past, present, future.’

The Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) was born in Thailand, back in August of 1967. But its now 10 member states only started commemorating it with an ASEAN Day in 2007, with the objective of promoting the geo-political and economic organization to more people—especially younger generations.

I found a thought-provoking article in the Jakarta Post published over the weekend on this idea of promoting, or marketing, ASEAN.

The writer, Venilla Rajaguru-Pushpanathan, is in fact the chairperson of ASEAN Secretariat Women’s Wing, who starts off her piece by asking: ‘What is ASEAN Consciousness? Is it Brand Marketing, a foreign policy or beyond that, a vision of community integration?’

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Rajaguru-Pushpanathan goes on to measure the promotion of her organization against the more standard business models, ‘commercial or charitable,’ for which she attests successful advertising is determined by the idea that a ‘larger single market is worthier than a fragmented one.’

She also suggests where ASEAN might draw its strength in appealing to its target market, (which I imagine are the people of the ten member nations)—through their commonalities, their, ‘homogeneity in culture based habitual needs for rice, soya, woven textiles; and a common demand for all services that cater to the survival and dignity of life in general, such as health services, clean water services, educational facilities and standards, food supplies and essential financial services.’

The chairperson goes on to note that the active homogenization and fusing of culture and society across the South-east Asian region is already happening, with things like ‘cross cultural fashion shows, inter-university exchange programs, organized tourism and holiday travels, and indeed through region-wide marketing of various business brands and music icons.’

However, she also asserts that ASEAN ought never to lose sight of its human-centric essence, that ‘the brand ASEAN carries within it all the intangible sentiments and histories of its people, the goals of a much larger community of dialogue partners and business councils, dreams, hopes, aspirations and the livelihoods of communities of people in the arts, science & innovative technology, governments and business.’

I’m not sure what exactly to make of this—especially when Rajaguru-Pushpanathan finishes off her piece asking, ‘Will ASEAN ever become a household name? Or as a label of reference, will ASEAN ever be discussed within households, widespread across the region, for food choices, fashion and art trends, educational standards and business brands?’

While I’m all for cross-cultural relations and regional harmony, I’ve never known a major household brand that doesn’t have its own agenda, whether it’s for profit or power, and which truly wants only to serve the ‘dreams, hopes, aspirations’ of its clients.

Rajaguru-Pushpanathan ends her piece with the kind of enthusiasm best fit for a slogan: ‘Yes, if the women and children are actively engaged in building One ASEAN: one home! The ASEAN consciousness!’

It’s all a little strange.