2018's top 10 controversial marketing and PR stories that had readers hooked

2018 has been a somewhat interesting ride. As avid readers of all things marketing related, we saw a fair bit of controversy make headlines locally on numerous publications and also globally. Based on our analytics we have highlighted some of the moments most enjoyed by our readers here in Singapore. Here's a countdown.

#10 Internal audit shakes up POKKA’s management, puts marketing deal in limbo

After an internal audit, POKKA confirmed to Marketing that was indeed undergoing changes to its nanagement team.  The change sees Rieko Shofu coming on board as acting CEO for POKKA International. Shofu replaces former CEO Alain Ong, and takes over all his current roles and responsibilities while the audit is taking place.

Meanwhile, Ong’s spouse, Mediacorp actress Vivian Lai, was also known to be the face of the POKKA brand, working with the brand for over a decade. In 2012, she was reportedly paid SG$1 million in 2012 to continue representing the brand,  several media reported. According to Shin Min Daily News (SMDN), which first reported the news, the amount exceeded what was generally paid to Mediacorp artists. Mediacorp did not comment on the matter and said in a statement that there are no changes to Lai’s current contract with POKKA. POKKA has since confirmed it would not be renewing its endorsement contract with local actress and host Vivian Lai and the organisation said the change was being made as part of its “on-going marketing strategy”.

#9 Scoot pokes fun at social studies textbook, Holiday Inn follows suit

Never one to shy away from good fun and cheeky executions, Scoot garnered online praise for its witty post taking aim at the contents of a controversial social studies textbook making its rounds online. The book classified how Singaporeans of different socio-economic statuses (SES) behave; it also classified different behaviours as “higher SES” and “lower SES”. In the post, Scoot created a table to differentiate higher SES and lower SES travellers – only for the contents of each column to be exactly the same. This includes flying Scoot for great value, a love to escape the ordinary and a traveller who is always planning the next holiday.

#8 Did Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot just promote Huawei deal using iPhone?

Gal Gadot, known for her portrayal as DC’s Wonder Woman, was  mocked by netizens for promoting her collaboration with Huawei, through Apple’s iPhone Twitter app. This was to market the Huawei Mate10 Pro. Screenshots of the gaffe were shared online, with Gadot’s team posting the video on her Twitter page, home to 1.78 million followers. The post was subsequently taken down and re-posted via Android. In the spot, Gadot is seen in a photoshoot with the new Huawei phone, coupled with a voiceover praising the phone’s camera functions while she poses and demonstrates herself using the phone

In a statement to CNET, Gadot clarified through her publicist that she does not use an iPhone and “love[s] her Huawei P20 and Mate10Pro”. She added that her Huawei products are her lifelines wherever she is in the world. It was also reported that a member of Gadot’s PR team had posted the video on her behalf from his/her personal device without recognising the device used was visible to others.

#7 SgInstaBabes takes damage control steps, mulls permanent shutdown

Following the shutdown of its Instagram page, social platform SgInstaBabes founder Lai Wee Kiat has revealed that if the page were to go live once again – he would no longer be in charge. The move comes on the back of a recent controversial Patreon campaign the platform started to raise funds to improve its content, and stay “financially sustainable". In the event that the account does return, SgInstaBabes will also undergo changes in art direction and its rules, and implement stricter and higher age limits, Lai told Marketing. This comes after concerns were raised if the Patreon campaign was “selling sex”, along with concerns regarding the ages of the girls involved in the campaign (the answer is 16 and above for shoots, 18 and above for parties).

#6 Influencer caught in public spat with local jewellery brand owner

Influencers, don't we just love reading about them? In April this year, a local jewellery brand known as “By Invite Only” was caught in a public spat with an influencer it was looking to work with. This has resulted in other brand owners siding with By Invite Only, sharing their working experiences with the influencer named Elaine Heng (known as Elaine Jasmine online).

The saga unfolded when Trixie Khong, owner of online jewellery store By Invite Only, posted a series of screenshots detailing her experience working with Heng. Heng was called out for not delivering a social media post promoting Khong’s brand after multiple alleged chases, and eventually asked for a refund, which also faced delays. Heng decided to also publicly address the matter in an Instagram Live story and Instagram post to give her side of the story. Along with explaining what led to the delays, Heng also revealed that the products sent to her were also of “poor quality” and was not something she wanted to share with her followers.

Since the story unfolded, multiple brand owners have also come out with their own screenshots which detail similar working experiences with Heng.

#5 STB disappointed with Crazy Rich Asians mishap, acknowledges Warner’s apology

Crazy Rich Asians took Singapore and the world by storm earlier this year. Riding on the great publicity was the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) - but not without a tiny little booboo. As part of its partnership with Warner Bros, STB was given onsite recognition at the Hollywood red carpet and premiere, an event organised and set up by WB. Prior to the official start of the event, STB had inspected and ensured the accuracy of the Passion Made Possible logo on the numerous event backdrop panels.

Unfortunately, due to extreme heat that day, some of the lettering on the red carpet wall melted after the event commenced and, in some photography, “Singapore” appeared to be misspelled.  Graciously, STB said that while it was disappointed with the recent episode of the spelling mishaps of “Singapore” and “Passion Made Possible” during the movie premiere of Crazy Rich Asians held in Los Angeles, it acknowledges Warner Bros’ (WB) apology.

#4: Neelofa under fire (again) for launching hijab collection at Zouk

Malaysian actress and social media influencer Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor came under fire for launching her new Naelofar Hijab collection at the Zouk Malaysia club. A video showed a few ladies donned in hijabs dancing in a night club with Naelofar Hijab’s logo in the background. Netizens voiced their disapproval of her launching something as religious as the hijab, in a night club. Some even said that the lost respect for Neelofa and encouraged others to boycott her brand. Not long after, Neelofa apologised for the controversy, adding that all cultural and religious sensitivities will be considered for future events, according to the New Straits Times.

#3: Singaporean global creative chief at Ogilvy Tham Khai Meng fired for misconduct

Earlier this year, Ogilvy worldwide chief creative officer and fellow Singaporean Tham Khai Meng was let go from the role after the company conducted several internal investigations. In an internal memo seen by Marketing, Ogilvy worldwide chief executive John Seifert added that the complaints were major enough to employ legal counsel for investigation. After reviewing the findings of said investigation, Seifert and agency partners found Tham’s behaviour to be “a clear breach of [its] company values and code of conduct”. Earlier this month, Ogilvy appointed chairman of India, Piyush Pandey, to replace him in the role. Pandey has been with Ogilvy for over 39 years, rising through the ranks of the organisation and becoming executive chairman and creative director of Ogilvy South Asia.

#2: Tony Fernandes’ explicit political stance runs AirAsia brand into turbulence

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes (pictured) is known for being one of the most PR savvy CEOs in the region. Unfortunately, in May this year, leading up to the 14th Malaysian General Election, Fernandes copped flak for openly showing his support for politics on a professional level. An article on the New Straits Times quoted Fernandes saying in a video that the company “owes its success to the government” led by the former PM Najib Razak. This led to netizens calling for the boycott of AirAsia, calling Fernandes a “disappointment” and “disgrace” for supporting a the former PM’s party.

This led to Fernandes later releasing a heartfelt video post apologising for what came across as support for politics at a professional level. Fernandes, who was previously quoted to owing the company’s success “to the government” led by the former PM Najib Razak, and having an AirAsia aircraft sport the livery “Hebatkan Negaraku” (Make My Country Greater),  said the steps were done so under pressure, forcing him to cave.

#1: Sony Singapore and Uniqlo issue statements over Daryl Aiden Yow saga

Coming in at number 1 as the most controversial story of 2018 is none other than the fiasco created by influencer-photographer Daryl Aiden Yow.  Unfortunately, Sony and Uniqlo both became involved unwillingly and had to issue statements over the debacle where Yow claimed that stock images and other people’s work were his own.

In a statement to Marketing, a Sony Singapore spokesperson confirmed that the brand had work with Yow. “We are surprised and disappointed with what has been reported and are currently looking into this matter. Sony strongly encourages the art of creativity, however we do not condone any action such as plagiarism and take a serious stance on it,” a Sony Singapore spokesperson said. Meanwhile, Uniqlo confirmed it worked with Yow last year for its travel campaign, comprising a one-off engagement where he talked about his travels at Uniqlo’s Orchard Central store.