Nets and creative agency apologise for hurt caused by 'brownface' ad

The apologies came a day after a police report was made against the ad - the subject of a controversial rap video on racism by local YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair.
The apologies came a day after a police report was made against the ad - the subject of a controversial rap video on racism by local YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair. PHOTOS: PREETIPLS, SUBHASMUSIC/INSTAGRAM

E-payment firm Nets and creative agency Havas Worldwide Singapore yesterday apologised over a recent advertising campaign which featured a Chinese actor in "brownface".

The ad to promote cashless payments, which politicians and Web users described as offensive and insensitive, featured Mediacorp celebrity Dennis Chew portraying characters such as a woman in a tudung and a man with visibly darker skin.

The apologies came a day after a police report was made against the ad - the subject of a controversial rap video on racism by local YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair. Police are investigating the rap video.

In their statements yesterday, Nets and Havas said the campaign intended to communicate that e-payment is for everyone, and apologised for any hurt caused.

Havas said: "Our multicultural society defines us as a nation, and we regret if anyone has been offended by the campaign."

The "brownface" ad campaign was for a unified e-payment solution being deployed at hawker centres, canteens and coffee shops.

It comes under a multi-agency effort led by Enterprise Singapore to promote cashless payments. Nets was appointed as the "master acquirer" to handle payment transactions and drive adoption of e-payment in small food businesses.

The other agencies involved are the Housing Board, National Environment Agency and JTC Corp.

The Straits Times contacted Enterprise Singapore on Wednesday for comment. It has yet to respond.

 
 
 

Politicians have criticised both the e-payment ad and the rap video, and stressed the importance of maintaining racial harmony in Singapore.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Tuesday that the rap video aimed to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans, and had crossed the line.

The video, uploaded on social media on Monday, was taken down a day later by the siblings. But others have re-uploaded and shared the clip on social media.

The authorities have advised people to refrain from circulating the video.

News broadcaster CNA removed Mr Nair from its upcoming music documentary, saying it will not associate with individuals who intentionally create offensive content threatening racial harmony.

Mr Nair had worked with Migrants Band Singapore, a band made up of foreign workers, for the documentary.

A petition has been started on the change.org website asking CNA to reconsider its position to drop Mr Nair, saying that the band and its message should be heard. More than 1,400 people had signed the petition as of 9pm yesterday.

Meanwhile, marketing and media website Mumbrella Asia highlighted the recent resignation of Havas South-east Asia's chief creative officer Valerie Madon in a report on Wednesday. Citing sources, it said she had oversight of the "brownface" ad campaign.

Asked about this, Havas said Ms Madon is moving on to pursue other opportunities.

A source in Havas yesterday rubbished the Mumbrella report, saying Ms Madon's resignation was unrelated to the recent debacle.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the project involving Nets and Mediacorp was fully handled by a creative director, and Ms Madon was not involved.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2019, with the headline 'Nets and creative agency apologise for hurt caused by 'brownface' ad'. Print Edition | Subscribe