One-on-one with Malaysia’s foremost lady of comedy

Jenn Chia 1
Credit – Jenn Chia

In a BMW video advertisement on YouTube, Jenn Chia, more fondly known as SOIMJENN, wears a peppermint coloured blazer, dusty pink pants, nude heels, and dons a shockingly bright wig in a hue I can only describe as traffic-stopping. Today, she takes on the persona of Auntie Siow, Malaysia’s No. 1 ‘Sell Car Person’, tasked with promoting the virtues of BMW’s 2 Gran Coupe.

In the same video, Jenn’s other persona also comes into play; Director Jennston, a masculine impersonation of a man who wears a grey hoodie, black cap put on backwards, and a set of headphones over the head in perpetual monitoring of the sounds on-set. Jennston and Auntie Siow then engage in an exasperating banter about how to pronounce the word ‘coupe’—Auntie Siow insisting it should be ‘cool peh’, which, of course, drives Director Jennston livid.

It is this quick-fire, rapid interaction between her two imagined personalities that showcases Jenn Chia’s admirable chameleonic qualities and puts her in good stead with her burgeoning fan base, which, although entirely aware that they’re watching a commercial, takes it in completely in their stride. It’s marketing at its most apparent and its best.

Major advertisers have also taken notice of Jenn’s infallible marketing prowess, with big corporations such as Clinique, Kit Kat, Samsung, Watsons, McDonald’s, and Somersby employing her talents for their advertising campaigns.

In this email interview, I ask Malaysia’s Lady of Comedy her thoughts on personal branding, what inspires her, and her approach to creating marketing videos that both entertain and educate.

Profile picture of Jenn Chia
Credit – Jenn Chia

Zat: Humour me a tad. Describe what you do for a living in exactly five words and elaborate on your thought process behind this choice.

Jenn Chia: Hi, I make videos online. “Hi” because I’m friendly, and the rest is how I’d explain my job to a three-year-old.

Zat: What was your childhood like growing up, and how has this affected the decisions you’ve made now in both your personal and professional life?

Jenn: Growing up, I was rarely allowed to attend parties or hang out at my friends’ place, so I spent a lot of time alone in my room, thinking, writing, and dreaming.

Eventually, I started to express myself through poems and subsequently music. It was then when I started writing songs on my piano. I mean, all these thoughts needed to go somewhere, or my head will explode. So, music became my outlet and companion. Everything I did subsequently relates to music in some ways.

After a breakup, for instance, there’d be a new emo song I wrote; or for a college project, I’d find a way to weave my music into it. Years later, in every video project I create, there would be elements of music. I was also a dreamer, and I get wrapped up in my thoughts quite a bit, always asking, “Why? What if? How?”

This trait followed me until adulthood, especially in college. I studied Psychology which gave me interesting answers to human tendencies. It also taught me a lot about self-awareness, being observant and, most importantly, the complex world of human behaviour: how one’s upbringing and hormone-based behavioural dispositions affect a person’s psyche. This helped me develop the characters I play in my videos—namely, Auntie Siow, Michelle Siow, and Director Jennston.

Jenn Chia 2
Credit – Jenn Chia

Zat: How would you describe your personal brand on social media, and how has this changed since the first day you started your social media account?

Jenn: For my social media, I aim for two things; one, to entertain through music, comedy or creativity, and two, to always, always be authentic.

Nothing has changed, as this is the ethos that has followed me throughout my career.

Content-wise, I used only to make music. Now I get to entertain my audience with my silly videos, sometimes shameless antics, and collaborations with brands I genuinely stand by

Zat: What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make in running SOIMJENN that you have never shared with anyone before?

Jenn: My mental health and relationships. Five years ago, when I started SOIMJENN with my partner, all I cared about was hustling to do more. Two years in, my mental health suffered. I won’t get too deep into it unless you want me to, but since you are not physically here with me, I’ll make the judgement call to stop not to bring the mood down.

My relationship also suffered since my partner is also my boyfriend. Work consumed us, and it affected our relationship quite terribly.

Jenn Chia's Where's My Hero album cover
Credit – Jenn Chia

Zat: With online orders and home deliveries at an all-time high and with more brands clamouring for a slice of the online marketplace, how has your approach to social media marketing changed as compared to a time before the pandemic?

Jenn: I’ve always approached content creation the same way; if I’m going to make an ad, it better damn well be worth my audience’s time, especially since there are now much more online content to drive sales.

My focus has always been to create memorable videos. I take a lot (A LOT, A LOT, A LOT) of time to research and ideate for a concept or story. It’s out of the norm—focusing on entertainment first and product second.

So, not much has changed in terms of my approach to social media marketing, but in terms of content, since the pandemic, I’ve been dabbling with live streams more frequently. I found that it’s the best and quickest way to connect with my audience, especially during the lockdown, where feelings of loneliness were more prevalent. It breathes meaning into my work when I get to connect with my audience.

Zat; Who or what inspires you the most, and what can we learn from your source of inspiration that would help us live a more fulfilled life?

Jenn: I get inspired through real connection with people. When we actively listen and observe, instead of always wanting to be heard, we can always learn something new, either about a new perspective, new ideas or about ourselves.

Taking time to connect genuinely can be fulfilling because for those who are always wrapped up in their thoughts (i.e. me), finding parallels through conversations and stories can make you feel less alone.

Jenn Chia and her partner, Ben
Credit – Jenn Chia

Zat: What are your current top three favourite cultural phenomena that you’re obsessed with and why?

Jenn: More realistic content—I notice there’s a shift towards more authentic content. Audiences now prefer less picture-perfect and more real, behind-the-scenes, slice of life content. Even Instagram algorithm has changed to prioritise more “realistic content.” It’s a nice change of scene considering how just a few years ago, content appeared to be more “surreal,” out of this world, and it felt unreachable.

The focus on self-love, although on the verge of being a little too overdone and commercialised. But in its purest form, I love that people are more aware of taking time off to care for and love themselves.

The stigma on mental health is decreasing slowly. It’s been a long time coming, but I noticed more and more influential people are opening up about their challenges with mental health and starting to normalise seeking help from a professional. I love that mental health is slowly creeping in to be seen as important as physical health.