Tensions remain high in Myanmar this week. Protests continue on the streets and through the civil disobedience movement, despite potential for violence, legal threats, massive business disruption, and frequent internet shutdowns.
To help support our clients, the business community, and the communications industry in Myanmar, we at Vero have gathered developments of the last week, as well as our updated recommendations for how brands should respond. We will continue to provide updates at least weekly, or more often if the situation demands.
Netizens report strong public support for withholding taxes as a means of protest. This includes employees urging employers not to deduct income tax and social security payments from their payroll, as well as consumers pressuring brands to stop paying commercial tax (aka CT, or national sales tax).
Netizens are urging a variety of companies to stop paying CT. Documented cases of this include an international fast-food franchise, an online transport platform, and a food delivery platform.
Netizens report that a fast-food chain is receiving negative backlash after one of their staff asked customers to pay CT. The customer posted about the incident on Facebook, and people are now urging the public to boycott the brand. One of the customers also sent a message about their unwillingness to pay tax, and the brand replied that they have already instructed all their branches in Myanmar to sell without including national sales tax.
The group of brands that have gained favor among protestors for their political stances grew this week. Netizens are carefully monitoring how brands react to the coup and new military directives. From banking to retail to tech to food, many brands are responding constructively, and netizens are sure to call out those that are not making their positions clear.
In the telecom sector, netizens express support for Telenor and encourage the purchase of Telenor SIM cards because the company has been transparent and forthright about sharing directives from the Military government.
Netizens are encouraging people to keep their money at CB Bank or AYA Banks. Neither bank has released a statement on the current situation or the protests, but there is widespread online content about both banks encouraging their employees to join the Civil Disobedience Movement.
Netizens are encouraging people to shop more at retail chain City Mart since they stopped selling brands linked to the military.
Both Grab and Food Panda announced free delivery for all orders to customers, discounts, vouchers, and coupons as well as free onboarding services, and a zero percent commission fee for the first month to all new vendors. For Grab Food bikers, the company said they will top up an additional 50% in earnings for every completed delivery. Grab also said the company remains committed to supporting Myanmar in creating income opportunities for partners and ensuring their platform provides safe, convenient, and reliable services. Meanwhile, Netizens are encouraging both brands to cease payments of the commercial tax.
Brands taking this approach may conclude that in the short term, while emotions are running high, it would be easier to absorb potential commercial tax liability themselves and deal with the consequences at a later date, rather than provoke customer anger and put their employees at risk.
Netizens are also criticizing other countries for the tone of their messaging. China and many Chinese brands are facing negative sentiment and threats of boycott based on what Myanmar netizens view as moves by China to support the Tatmadaw.
There is also a smaller wave of negative online sentiment towards Singapore, because, according to Myanmar netizens, Singapore did not strongly condemn the military coup during a special session of the UN Council on Human Rights. A photo leaked online purports to show a scorecard indicating weak anti-coup sentiment from Singapore. There is also a common belief among netizens that tech companies from Singapore are supplying equipment to the Tatmadaw. As a result, Netizens are calling for a boycott of Singaporean brands.
While brands from some countries may have limitations on how much support they can provide directly to Myanmar‘s protest movement, they can still try to make a positive difference by collaborating with Myanmar organizations that may need help, such as those dedicated to healthcare, youth education, and food assistance.
When COVID-19 first struck Southeast Asia, some Chinese brands excelled at diplomacy via mask and hand sanitizer distribution. Theirs is a lesson worth remembering in Myanmar today.
At least one brand we are aware of was falsely linked to the military. Their targeting could have been deliberate or a mistake, but it’s crucial that brands stay aware and monitor for misinformation and disinformation – and that they are ready to set the record straight. One good way to prevent disinformation is for brands and companies to use their communication capabilities to share information on a regular basis, thereby growing their audience’s trust. When brands stay silent for weeks or months, then try to counteract misinformation or disinformation in a crisis, the response is muted and it is difficult to correct the narrative.
Some influencers who took an anti-coup/pro-democracy stance early are now finding stronger support from consumers.
- Eindra Kyaw Zin inspires support for any brand she works with, which are largely in the health, skincare, and cosmetics industries.
- There is broad support for celebrities Paing Phyo Thu and Na Gyi, both of whom have actively participated in protests. Na G is a film director and Paing Phyo Thu is an academy award-winning actress. They also encourage people to participate in CDM, and they donate to organizations that help staff who are doing CDM.
- In the beauty category, influencers including May Oo Maung, May Oo, Kyaw Ye Tun, Nyi Nyi Maung, Khin San Win are gaining support for sharing their views in support of the protest movement.
- Netizens are supporting the SG ice cream sandwich business of Paing Takhon, a well-known actor who has become a top supporter of the anti-coup movement and urges his international fans to support democracy in Myanmar. He is also currently the brand ambassador of OPPO, Sunkist Myanmar, and MG Myanmar.
Other influencers have been criticized on social media and lost followers for their slow or inadequate responses to the coup, though some of those have been able to recover via strong supportive statements.
Netizens are criticizing one major private news organization for their coverage, based on perceived bias in favor of the coup. The netizens are sharing negative sentiments about the tone of the coverage, as well as the fact that this news organization was the only one to share a live broadcast of the junta press conference.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar news media continues to operate, and they appear able to report most news related to the coup. News organizations are covering protests daily across the country, publishing interviews with NLD members, reporting on statements issued by the military, and documenting violence.
One of the many pressures that journalists are under is the legitimate fear of arrest during night raids by security forces. The military has also issued two statements to news media outlets that put them under legal threat. The first statement announces that media cannot use the phrases “military coup” or “illegal government” in their reporting, and the second states that they must not criticize only one party i.e., the military. Violations of both could result in imprisonment, but this threat does not seem to have been carried out thus far. Journalists and news media outlets continue to use these phrases and report on what has been happening daily.
Facebook, published a statement outlining its policies, which include to “significantly reduce the distribution of all content on Facebook Pages and profiles run by the Myanmar Military (“Tatmadaw”) that have continued to spread misinformation” and “indefinitely [suspend] the ability for Myanmar government agencies to send content removal requests to Facebook.”
However, many netizens – and journalists, in particular – say that they are worried that Facebook conversations are being tracked, so they are shifting to apps such as Telegram, Zello, and Signal for messaging while continuing to use Facebook and Twitter to access information and spread news.
Netizens are criticizing and threatening boycotts of brands that broadcast advertisements on state-owned channels MWD & MRTV. This includes some global brands that have responded on social media by denying advertising contracts with these channels.
Updating our recommendations made last week, we advise the following:
- Positive Contributions: Brand leaders look into how they can make a positive contribution to Myanmar’s future. There are myriad ways to ensure people’s basic needs are being met. There are also opportunities for brands and companies to contribute in areas such as healthcare, education, independent journalism, and support for small businesses. Rather than staying on the sidelines, consider taking a service-minded approach and seeking ways to be useful to the public.
- Monitor reputations closely: Misinformation and disinformation threats are persistent, and companies and brands must monitor their reputations closely for both unintentional inaccuracies and deliberate attacks. Risk areas include products and brands, market-related news, and personnel. Misinformation continues to circulate about brands with potential links to the military. Clarification of independence is crucial.
- Support local independent media: Another way for brands to help is to support independent local media by advertising with them.
- Advise brand ambassadors and influencers: Brands in partnerships with influencers should monitor sentiments around them and provide them with expertise on crafting their social media statements to avoid backlash.
- Support your local employees: Consider how to position yourself with regards to your employees demonstrating during business hours. There is a significant chance that many of your employees will want to participate in the massive demonstrations taking part in Myanmar, and they will expect you to support them. Failure to outline clearly how you will do so may lead to backlash.
- Means of support include providing paid time off, information on the best ways to protect oneself while protesting, and safety equipment for those who plan to protest – such as goggles, umbrellas, raincoats, and gloves, as well as face masks and sanitizers for virus protection.
- Share internal guidelines on where your brand stands and whether and how much your employees may leverage that stance in their political actions, both in-person and online.