When you think of electronics brands, Panasonic may likely be one of the first that come to mind – after all, it’s one of those established brands that have been in Malaysia for years like Sony or Philips, right?
But what if we told you that the Panasonic brand has (technically) only been in Malaysia for just over 20 years, since 2000?
Yup, real OGs will likely remember an electronics brand called National while TRUE OGs will remember another name in electronics called Matsushita. And yes, National and Panasonic were 2 brands under the same Japanese company that became the Panasonic that we know today, and a richer history in Malaysia than you’d expect.
So let’s start with a little tidbit of information that gives Panasonic some local bragging rights…
Panasonic’s founder was made a Tan Sri by Tun Hussein Onn
While working at the Osaka Electric Light Company, 15-year old Konosuke Matsushita got a lightbulb idea that electricity would be super important in the future. This was in the 1910’s where people were still trying to figure out how to use this new fangled electricity thing, so that kind of technological foresight is pretty impressive for a teenager, considering we can’t even predict what the next iPhone is going to be like.
Matsushita eventually formed Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works in 1918, making light sockets. However, the company’s breakthrough product only came in 1923, where they introduced a more efficient battery-powered bicycle lamp to replace the candles and oil lamps used at the time. These were eventually sold under a brand name most Malaysians are familiar with: National.
The success of the bicycle lamp gave Matsushita the momentum to develop other successful products over the years – numbering about 200 in 1933 according to Panasonic Malaysia – including the National Super Iron that was 36% cheaper than competitor products, and the first 3-tube radio that wouldn’t break down; as radios back in the day would break down easier than a romantic character in a Korean drama.
Matsushita (the person) developed a philosophy of setting up ‘mini Matsushitas’ (the company) around the world to manufacture products based on local demand. Malaysia became home to the company’s first factory outside of Japan in 1965, chosen because we were a developing country that had the population size, infrastructure, and manpower needed at the time.
Over the years, the company’s investments and technological developments in Malaysia prompted Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn to award Konosuke Matsushita with the Panglima Mangku Negara, which carries the title of Tan Sri in 1979.
Sooo… how did National become Panasonic?
The story is actually a little more interesting than a simple name change. Y’see, between the 50’s and 60’s, Matsushita’s products started to get sold around the world under the National brand except in one country… the United States. As it turns out, an American company was already using the National name, so they had to come up with a new brand name for the North American market: Panasonic. At the same time, the company also ventured into audio equipment which was sold under the Technics brand.
Over time though, the Panasonic brand name started to become recognized outside the US, and started replacing National-branded products in Europe. While good ol’ National was still a household name in Malaysia, the brand itself started to evolve from National to National Technics in the 80’s, and National Technics Panasonic in the 90’s. And finally, a decision was made in the 2000’s to consolidate the National and Matsushita names under the Panasonic name worldwide.
Oh, and a super fun fact on the side – Konosuke Matsushita lent his brother-in-law Toshio Iue an unused factory to start a new business in 1947. That business was Sanyo, which was later bought by Panasonic in 2009.
At this point in the article, those of you who grew up watching TV in the 80’s and 90’s might have automatically arranged these brand names and read them out as
National. Panasonic. Technics.
If you did, you’re welcome for that small trip down memory lane. If not, here’s a bit of a refresher:
This particular ad came from Panasonic’s sponsorship of the 1989 SEA games which took place in Malaysia. As it turns out, this isn’t their only time supporting sports in Malaysia since they also sponsored the 1977 SEA games (which also took place in Malaysia) and donated the RM34 million Panasonic Sports Center in Shah Alam to the government.
And Panasonic continues the legacy of being a Malaysian household brand
Panasonic has kept up the ‘mini Matsushita’ philosophy by appointing its first Malaysian Managing Director in 2010 and introducing what they say is the widest range of products since the 1960’s that cater specifically to Malaysian needs.
As these needs evolve, so have their products. Panasonic has made technological advances such as nanoe X, which inhibits 99.99% of viruses and bacteria – which is pretty nice to have in a pandemic – and is built into selected air conditioner models, along with a portable version that fits into cupholders as well. As we start eating healthier, Panasonic has the Cubie oven-air fryer. The list goes on with personal beauty, TVs, etc., so you might just wanna pop into their site to check out the full range
… all while keeping the same reputation for affordability and reliability that came with the National brand, of course.
It’s a little hard to talk about Panasonic without mentioning National because even though the brand isn’t around anymore, you’d likely still have a National rice cooker or washing machine that’s still working after all these years. Panasonic Malaysia tells us there are still households that have been using the same item since the 70’s, which means that the National brand will likely still be recognizable for at least another generation. But hey, now you can tell your kids the story behind the brand!
P.S.: Big thanks to our friends at Naga DDB Tribal for putting us in touch with Panasonic, who provided most of the info used in this article. Naga DDB Tribal are Panasonic Malaysia’s long-term communication advisor, with many successful campaigns over the years.