28 Ogos 2009

Life: Rejoice, the taxman cometh! Petikan New Straits Time 27/08/2009

P. Selvarani.

The Inland Revenue Board attempts to discard years of bad press with a ‘softer’ approach, writes P. Selvarani.

IT’S an annual “invitation” that most people dread — when that large white envelope emblazoned with the words Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri (Inland Revenue Board) turns up in your mail box.

That ritual of filing your tax returns and paying your dues to the government has become such a chore for some of us that many opt to ignore the IRB’s presence until the taxman literally comes knocking on your door!

Realising the need to do away with the “hard-sell” kind of advertisements and use a more subtle approach instead to get Malaysians to file their tax returns, the IRB decided to use “reverse psychology” to remind Malaysians of their responsibility as taxpayers this year.

Datuk Hasmah Abdullah says the IRB is always portrayed as the bad guys when is not.

“This time around, we decided to show our taxpayers how their money has contributed to the development of our country and how fortunate we are to be born in Malaysia,” said IRB director-general Datuk Hasmah Abdullah.

The IRB’s Corporate Communications Division came up with a story idea depicting the friendly neighbour, the continuous upgrading of infrastructure, the skyline, busy traffic and Malaysians ever ready to lend a helping hand during an emergency.

After talking to people in the advertising industry, the IRB found that actor and producer Afdlin Shauki would be the best person to sell the idea effectively.

“A commercial is about selling emotions. People are not interested if someone tells them ‘go pay your taxes’. But a lot of government commercials are usually too ‘hard-sell’. So, it was a pleasant surprise when the IRB told me they wanted something different that would appeal to the emotions of the public. I thought it was very forward-thinking of them,” said Afdlin who produced, directed and acted in the commercial together with his Sepi co-star Vanida Imran.

During the meeting with Hasmah, Afdlin asked her what the IRB wanted to achieve.

Hasmah said they are always depicted as the bad guys although, in reality, they are helping Malaysians build a nation.

“When she said that, it hit a nerve. I realised it’s about being thankful for what we have. There is a direct correlation between paying our taxes and the development we benefit from.”

With only a minute to tell the story, Afdlin came up with the idea of a man rushing his pregnant wife, who has gone into labour, to the hospital and along the way, he realises how great his country is.

“The man needs to get to the hospital so that his child can be delivered safely. And he gets help along the way. It is like a ‘best-case’ scenario. We are trying to sell this feeling that there is hope and at the end of it, you feel proud to be Malaysian. You realise how lucky you are,” said Afdlin.

Hasmah stressed that the message of the commercial was not just to remind the people of their tax obligation but to also instil a sense of pride that they have contributed to the development of the country and are beneficiaries of it as well.

Afdlin was given a big hand.

“It’s a reminder that the development we enjoy today was made possible by the taxes our forefathers paid, and likewise, what we pay today will go towards providing more and better amenities for our future generation.

“It is a reminder that the independence that our forefathers fought for with blood and tears is protected so that our children can continue to enjoy the peace and prosperity of living in Malaysia. Together, we have made this great nation a place we proudly call home. We enjoy so many things, including peace and security, that many other countries lack.”

Hasmah said Afdlin was given a free hand in coming up with the storyboard. Shooting began soon after the IRB approved his idea.

“We were present during the shoot. It was an amazing experience to see that he could actually understand and deliver the messages the way we had hoped for,” Hasmah added.

Despite having only two weeks to come up with the idea and produce the commercial, Afdlin is thrilled that they were able to produce an IRB commercial “that did not look like an IRB commercial”.

“I really think the clincher was in the tagline — I told them that the message they should send to the people is ‘thank you for helping us build a nation’.

“It’s a very strong message that the rakyat have been a part of all this. That all the development, peace and security we enjoy is because of you. And it was big of the IRB, on behalf of the government, to say thank you to the people.”

The commercial, which was aired on television for 15 days in April, had such an impact upon viewers that about 1.26 million people filed their tax returns via e-filing this year compared with about 900,000 last year.

“It even became the topic of discussion among bloggers, with some reminding their friends of the tax deadline. Their positive response to the message was heartening,” added Hasmah.

The impact has been so good that the IRB’s Corporate Communications Division is already plotting up scenes for the sequel to Anak Bertuah (Lucky Child)!

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