The racist advertisement on e-payment in Singapore continues to stay in the spotlight even after it was taken down.
The ad was put out by E-Pay, a Singapore government agency that encourages the public to use electronic payment solutions in coffee shops, hawker centres, and industrial canteens across the country.
It featured Dennis Chew, a Mediacorp actor, dressed in various forms of garb to represent the main races of Singapore – Chinese, Malay, Indian. His skin was darkened and he also dressed up as a woman.
It was created by Havas for E-Pay, who hired Chew from the talent arm of local broadcaster Mediacorp.
Local influencer Preetipls, whose real name is Preeti Nair, then released an expletive-laden rap video with her brother Subhas Nair, in response to the ad.
The video, which is a remix of Iggy Azaela’s song ‘Fuck It Up’, saw Preetipls and Nair take aim at Chinese Singaporeans for being racist and exploiting minorities for money.
The video was shared over 600 times before it was taken down after a police report was filed.
The Ministry of Communications and Information then asked Facebook and Preetipls to take down the videos. The videos on Preetipls’ Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram accounts were then taken down before 6pm.
K. Shanmugam, Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister, said the government takes a zero-tolerance approach to songs like this even though the e-payment ad was put out in ‘poor taste’.
“This rap video insults Chinese Singaporeans and use four-letter words on them. Vulgar gestures, pointing of the middle finger to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans,” said Shanmugam.
“When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say not acceptable.”
He added: “If its something you didn't like, you ask for an apology. If you think it is criminal, you make a police report. You don't cross the line. In any event, I find that if such an explanation is given, I will find it very odd, because I have seen an earlier video by her for Chinese New Year, doing the very same thing that the ad was criticised for.”
“She's wearing a cheongsam and speaking sometimes in Mandarin, making fun of Chinese New Year, attacking Chinese. What was that in response to? Talking about Chinese gambling, talking about Chinese, you know, and money? Talking about Chinese and eating? What was that about? What was that in response to?”
When asked about his opinion on the offending ad, Shanmugam said he believed it crossed a line and urged those who believed it did to file a police report.
However, he noted that lawyers who looked at it did not deem it to be an offence.
“I think it requires everyone to reflect carefully on how much they understand our society, how sensitive they are and how sensitive they need to be. I think there are lessons to be drawn by everyone who was involved,” he said.
In a joint statement after the ad was taken down, Havas and Mediacorp said: “The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone. For that reason, Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign.”
“He appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay.
"We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused. Behind the ad is an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses.”
Brands who make the mistake of producing racist ads are not uncommon in Asia Pacific. In November 2018, Dolce & Gabbana was slammed for depicting an Asian model trying to eat Italian food with chopsticks in an ad.
Chinese consumers called the ad racist and accused the brand of trivialising its culture. Its products were then dropped by e-commerce giants Alibaba, JD and Yoox Net-A-Porter and its Shanghai fashion show was cancelled.