Business, Economics and Jobs

Myanmar’s new art genre: power tools and slinky babes (PHOTOS)



Patrick Winn

YANGON, Myanmar — The model’s back is arched. Hair cascades over her shoulders. Her bedroom eyes beckon you to buy the product she’s showcasing in a full-page color ad.

What’s she selling? Designer jeans? Perfume?

Try syringes, produced by the Myanmar Economic Corporation, a subsidiary of the military, which only recently relinquished totalitarian rule.

Myanmar’s consumer market is unlike any other in Asia. Thanks in large part to decades of American sanctions and a censor-happy military government, the nation remains largely untouched by globalization. 

But all that is changing fast. As of 2011, the army has ceded control to a nominally civilian parliament. Foreign economic blockades have all but fizzled and, for the first time in decades, Western conglomerates are free to sell their wares here.

As a headline in the trade publication AdAge recently proclaimed: “Myanmar is Ripe to Be Marketing’s New Frontier.” The world’s largest ad agency, London-based WPP, has set up shop in country. So has heavyweight marketer Ogilvy, with others expected to follow.

So just how does an advertiser turn heads in this long-isolated nation of 60 million?

According to the local formula, it’s simple: you superimpose a photo of a sultry model next to your product. Even if that product happens to be industrial-grade metal sheeting.

But cover the cleavage: Myanmar’s social mores still skew conservative.

This tried-and-true formula is deployed to sell products that, in the West at least, are seldom associated with glamour girls. Construction equipment. Painkillers. Hospital supplies. Copper wiring. Chainsaws. Steel scaffolding. 

In other words, the goods that move units in an impoverished, agrarian-based economy rebuilding itself after decades of misrule. Sex may sell sports cars and sunglasses in the West. But Myanmar’s market shows it can sell tractors just as well.

All photos by Patrick Winn for GlobalPost

An ad for "Ken" brand power tools.

Wutt Hmone Shwe Yee, among the most prominent models in Myanmar ads, promotes barbed wire.

A Myanmar model promotes a domestic brand of PVC piping.

A Myanmar model promotes TriStar sheet metal.

A Myanmar model promotes syringes produced by the Myanmar Economic Corporation, a subsidiary of the military.

An ad for Flying Hawk, a Myanmar-based scaffolding and construction firm.