Upcoming ad guideline to recommend that marketers pay special attention to race, ethnicity

The plan for the guideline comes after the furore over a recent "brownface" advertisement, which featured Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew (above). PHOTO: DENNIS CHEW/INSTAGRAM

SINGAPORE - The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas) plans to issue a recommendation that marketers take special care when their projects involve race and ethnicity, following the furore over a recent "brownface" advertisement.

The recommendation will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP), which is being reviewed, Asas chairman Ang Peng Hwa told The Straits Times on Friday (Aug 2).

Professor Ang said Asas made the decision at its regular council meeting on Wednesday.

It also deliberated on the controversial ad creative agency Havas Worldwide Singapore produced for e-payment firm Nets.

The ad featured Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew portraying characters such as a woman in a tudung and a man with visibly darker skin.

Nets, Mediacorp,and Havas have all apologised for the hurt caused by the ad.

While the ad was found to be in poor taste, it did not breach the SCAP, Asas' council found.

Moreover, the ad did not explicitly put down any ethnic groups or employ harmful stereotypes, and Havas had explained that this was not its intent, the council also found.

The SCAP has a section devoted to social values which stipulates that an ad should not jeopardise inter-ethnic understanding or discriminate against any ethnic group or religion, among others.

But, Prof Ang said, adding the new recommendation will help highlight to marketers the potential sensitivities involved if race and ethnicity are in their campaigns.

The wording of the new recommendation is still being worked out, Prof Ang added.

He said Asas had been reviewing the SCAP for a few months now and intends to complete it later this year. The last major revision was in 2008.

Prof Ang said the revised SCAP will adopt the best practices from international guidelines, found in the International Chamber of Commerce's Advertising and Marketing Communications Code, which itself was revised in September last year (2018).

He said the upcoming SCAP will include guidelines for advertising in the digital space, like on social media.

Police reports have been made against the "brownface" ad, and a rap video on racism, which was produced in response to it. The rap video, created by local YouTuber Preeti Nair and her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, is also under police investigation.

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

Prof Ang said companies stand to lose when they flout advertising guidelines.

"When companies run afoul of guidelines, they pay the price - either suffering reputation damage or potential financial losses. There is some real cost that the company will be paying themselves, without any external sanctions," he added.

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