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Goh Shufen

“Our work requires us to see past limitations and think outside the box”

You might remember the first copy-only advertisement in Singapore. It read in big, bold font “Clean Up Singapore.” and was created by Neil French at O&M for a local sewage cleaning company. The ad said that “Singapore is not as clean as we believe” and “Even Paris has cleaner drains. London has cleaner docks.”

Like all great advertising, the impact was two-fold: it inspired and angered.

The ad ushered in an era where Singapore held reign on copy-based ads, but also caused furor among fastidious Singaporeans who could not believe, that someone would even suggest that Singapore was a dirty city. The topic was so hot it was even debated in parliament.

I highlight this example from our history because it reminds us of the power of words when placed within a sensitive cultural context.

I bring this up because the creative industry must have a constructive conversation around Pink Dot’s “Supporting the Freedom to Love” ad at Cathay Cineleisure. We need to understand how this affects us and our community and decide how to respond in our future work.

I am not here to give a lecture on morals. My concern is that the statements recently made by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) in response to Pink Dot’s ad do not provide clear guidelines for our work. It also does not show an understanding of Singapore’s advertising industry, which ASAS is meant to be working in partnership.

Getting clear on “shared values”

The Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) states that advertising should not subvert the shared values in Singapore’s society and not subvert Singapore’s family values of love, care, and concern, mutual respect, filial responsibility, commitment and communication. Pink Dot’s ad does all the above by encouraging a diverse and accepting community.

It is not the same as promoting ISIS or pornography, which certain individuals have made the extreme comparison to.

The tagline “Supporting the Freedom to Love” is completely innocuous and will stand virtuously on its own in a lineup alongside “Just Do It,” “Think Different” and “I’m Lovin’ It.” There is no contentious copy or images, and anyone who has walked along Orchard Road will have seen promotions for food and luxury brands that push the envelope far more.

Even if you don’t agree with Pink Dot’s purpose, you should agree that the semantics of “shared” means, at the very least, recognising that there is more than one. More than one colour, more than one race, more than one religion, more than one way of living. If the parameters of advertising are followed, even down to its copy, imagery and message, then what makes the work problematic in the eyes of ASAS must be better argued.

Understanding who we are

Further reflecting on ASAS’s response, I do wonder how well the group knows the industry which it depends on. Our community consists of people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, ages, genders and sexual orientation. Arguably, our industry is one of the most diverse due to the nature of our jobs.

Our work requires us to see past limitations, think outside the box and challenge pre-conceptions.

We know that in Singapore, there are people who do not support Pink Dot, and as a truly global city, there will inevitably be groups with opposing and dissenting views. Learning how to respond to difference is a sign of civic maturity, and something we need to get better at.

We grapple with this in the creative industry all the time. We change hearts and minds through engaging with others; creating conversations, not shutting them down. Different views are our business. Our clients, both regionally and globally, rely on this ability. Any organisation who works with and on behalf of our industry should know that.

If Singapore is not able to navigate the complexities of communicating different points of view, we will have no chance of achieving our ambition of being a regional hub for the creative sector.

The writer is Goh ShuFen, president of industry association, IAS, co-founder and principal of R3.

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