The practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an important feature of organisations around the world. Companies engage in philanthropic activities with the aim of doing social good for the community while simultaneously reaping benefits that satisfy broader corporate goals and objectives. Government intervention in monitoring and regulating CSR practice has further increased social practices among companies. For some, CSR practice is at its best when government plays a proactive role in regulating altruistic activities. Others see government intervention as detrimental, owing to conflicts between corporate objectives and governmental aims such as nation building. Government-linked companies (GLCs) present an interesting case, because they are corporations that are also required to implement national policies. They must satisfy a range of shareholders, including the government and other private and corporate interests. The government is both an investor in the company and a regulator of the company’s activities. Governments may exercise close control of GLCs’ practices, including their socially oriented activities, which means that such GLCs need to balance their corporate objective of maximising accumulation of capital for the benefit of shareholders and stakeholders. Research into CSR practices indicates that GLCs that must satisfy various broader objectives of government may struggle to achieve their own corporate goals. However, this research reveals that Malaysia’s government-linked multinational petroleum company, Petroleum Nasional Berhad (otherwise known as Petronas), manages to satisfy its shareholders and stakeholders and achieve both capital accumulation and broader nation-building goals.
This study observes the complex interplay between the socio-cultural context and the political economy in Malaysia. Recognising these complexities, the research engages an interpretive approach with the intention of exploring and addressing the relationship between the Petronas festival advertisements, which represent one of Petronas’ CSR initiatives. With reference to the six CSR initiatives of Kotler and Lee (2005), I posit that the festival advertisements are a corporate social marketing (CSM) initiative. The festival advertisements are analysed, using interpretive content analysis, in context of the socio-cultural field and the political economy in Malaysia. By integrating Malaysia’s complex social forces to help study Petronas’ festival advertisements, this research reveals a unique form of CSM practice within Malaysia.
The festival advertisements are first critically analysed as media texts, and then serve as the basis for understanding how participants engage in multiple meaning-making processes. Using research techniques such as in-depth interviews, document review and focus groups, the study examines how professional communicators and Malaysians from diverse ethnic groups articulate their perceptions about Petronas festival advertisements as a CSM initiative. In doing so, these participants produce a unique notion of socially responsible practice in Malaysia, that is, one that draws together the political agenda, cultural production and capitalism.
Petronas’ position is a contentious matter for Malaysians. Recognising its sensitive position between the government and the diverse ethnic groups in Malaysia, the company embarked on festival advertisements as a strategy to connect to its stakeholders. The advertisements create economic value for Petronas by associating the brand with values and identities significant to Malaysians. This strategic brand-building effort is simultaneously interconnected with the company’s role as a GLC in the Malaysian socio-cultural and political economy system. Further, the production and reception of the advertisements depend on their capacity to establish complementary partnerships with cultural intermediaries and producers. As a successful CSR initiative by a government-linked multinational company, the festival advertisements illustrate how nation-building concerns and brand-building interests are conflated. By recognising the complex social realities in Malaysia, this research provides a solid empirical critique to understand how the government-linked multinational Petronas engages in contemporary CSR initiatives.