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Date: 1/15/99

Publication: The Nation

Section: Business

Dhammakaya's marketing guru shows his merit again

The Business Desk profiles Manit Ratanasuwan, a veteran marketing expert, who put his mark on the controversial Wat Dhammakaya, a Buddhist temple, by devising some sophisticated fund-raising techniques for the cash-rich monastery.

When Wat Dhammakaya wanted to create something of a supra-national landmark like a Buddhist shrine made of expensive titanium and gold, and large enough to accommodate a simultaneous sitting of 10,000 monks near Bangkok, Manit came to help.

Despite severe criticism of Wat Dhammakaya, the man, a co-founder of MGA Co which is the distributing arm of music giant Grammy Entertainment, carried out an outstanding marketing campaign that helped the monastery attract a large pool of funds to finance the construction of the shrine, the foundation of which has been completed.

The exact amount of money raised so far is not known but it would have to be large enough, at least enough for the foundation work. The entire project is estimated to cost Bt70 billion, according to some followers.

With decades of experience in the private sector, Manit approached the Dhammakaya project somewhat like a commercial enterprise and boldly used advanced marketing techniques to woo the monastery's followers.

His targets were mostly well-educated, well-to-do worshippers sharing a common belief in the project. Manit sent out a powerful message to the target groups from teenagers to adults or anyone who wanted to make merit by contributing to the shrine's construction. The shrine was described as a ''miraculous'' edifice for Buddhists that will help them achieve a better life.

Like commercial firms, Wat Dhammakaya mailed brochures and leaflets as well as erecting huge billboards at prime business areas in Bangkok, such as Sukhumvit, Silom, and on expressways to advertise and promote the landmark stupa in which people were also asked to build their personal Dhammakaya statues.

By personalising the merit-making in the campaign, Wat Dhammakaya convinced merit-makers that they would get something ''tangible'' in return for donating large sums of money to build the stupa.

Meanwhile, posters and billboards used in the campaign were of professional advertising quality.

Manit's impressive campaign track record include the ''Red Elephant'' logo of Siam Cement plc and the national milk-drinking campaign (''Did you drink milk today?''). He has also been managing director of Premier Marketing Co and president of AM/PM (Thailand) Co.

Manit's rules for marketing are: first, vision and an insight into future trends; second, dare to do; third, good teamwork; fourth, good network.

His success in marketing, advertising and public relations has led him to take up perhaps his most challenging position as marketing executive for the Dhammakaya temple, an involvement that started 10 years ago when he was a so-called ''pilgrim''.

''I saw a lot of young people, both men and women, come to this temple to meditate despite the large number of temples available. This established my faith in this temple and prompted me to invite other people to make merit here. After many days, I felt I knew the temple and wanted to help,'' he said.

It is Dhammakaya's good fortune that Manit has been helping its marketing activities.

''The project is going be the centre for Buddhism. It will make Thailand known as the capital of Buddhism and not just for Patpong or Pattaya, which are our country's shame,'' he said.

The Nation

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