Expats' dinner invitations: 'Sweet' gesture hits sour note online

An Italian dinner hosted yesterday by friends – researcher Alessia Colone (second from left); accountant Antonio Scaramuzzino (centre, in green); and entrepreneur Vincenzo De Laurentiis (right, in black) – that was part of the FairPrice Finest Fe
An Italian dinner hosted yesterday by friends – researcher Alessia Colone (second from left); accountant Antonio Scaramuzzino (centre, in green); and entrepreneur Vincenzo De Laurentiis (right, in black) – that was part of the FairPrice Finest Festival saw just seven people sign up. -- ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

Netizens turn on campaign after link to FairPrice Finest is revealed

When German couple Dana and Stefan invited strangers to their Singapore home for dinner last month, the response was overwhelming.

Their online "open invitation" for six guests at an authentic German meal went viral, with 400 sign-ups. Netizens lauded the gesture as being "sweet" and "heartwarming".

But all was not as it seemed.

The dinner was the first of four hosted by expatriates as part of the sixth FairPrice Finest Festival, the supermarket's annual food celebration.

And the marketing ploy has left a sour taste for some, with sign-up rates plunging after the link with FairPrice was revealed about a week after the first invite.

The second dinner, hosted by a French chef, drew just 19 people. Only seven signed up for yesterday's meal, hosted by a trio of Italian friends.

Netizens speculated that the hosts were merely "paid actors" in a "staged marketing gimmick", prompting organisers to clarify that they had "volunteered after hearing about the idea through word of mouth".

The first video invite was a "teaser" and deliberately left unbranded to "generate interest", said Mr Victor Ng, chief creative officer for Havas Worldwide Singapore, the marketing agency in charge of the festival. The brand association was made clear for subsequent dinners.

Marketing campaign or not, several guests to the dinners were won over by their hosts' sincerity.

Mrs Celes Fernandez, 34, who attended the first dinner, had no idea FairPrice Finest was behind it until it was "briefly mentioned" by her hosts over beef roulade and whipped cream pudding.

"But the couple were really very genuine - throughout dinner we were just sharing our cultures and where we like to hang out," the personal assistant said.

Said retiree Chris Koh, 60, who attended the second dinner: "It was a very relaxed and homely environment... It felt like having a meal in a good friend's house."

Last night, the third dinner was hosted by researcher Alessia Colone, 34, accountant Antonio Scaramuzzino, 30, and entrepreneur Vincenzo De Laurentiis, 29, at their Chinatown apartment.

The four-course Italian meal featured a salad, lasagna, beef stew in a red wine sauce and rounded off with tiramisu. "We're doing this because we want to share our food," said Mr De Laurentiis.

For scientists Dana, 27, and Stefan, 30, who have been living here for the past two years, the dinner was a chance to give back to their host country.

"We fell in love with this country," the couple, who declined to give their last names, told The Straits Times.

"Everyone here has been great to us, and the idea just felt right."

In 2010, another publicity campaign backfired when a "bear" spotted at an Ulu Pandan bus stop led to an actual search by Singapore Zoo officials and animal welfare activists. But it was later revealed to be a mascot that was part of a stunt by electronics firm Philips to launch a new shaver.

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waltsim@sph.com.sg