Analysis: Cleaning ad featuring topless men goes viral in SG, raises pertinent gender and societal questions

Singapore-based renovation platform Vehs.com was thrusted into the spotlight, after it ran an ad for Singapore's first-ever hunky cleaning guy service. According to The Straits Times, the ad which was launched on 8 April 2021 featured four hunky men cleaning an apartment. To date, the post on the topless men cleaning raked in 5.3k reactions, 11k comments and 17k shares. The video itself got over 430 reactions largely positive in nature. According to The Straits Times data, in total it saw over 5.8 million views and more than 900,000 engagements, which include posts and shares.

The Straits Times also reported that the owner has been "getting serious inquiries from the public", and also inquiries at least 20 young men who expressed interest in joining the hunky cleaning crew. The ad was a collaboration with online lifestyle content creator SHOUT, and was accompanied with the caption: "Starting at a mere SG$420 for a one-bedroom apartment, this service will be available from 10th to 11th April 2021 - that's one weekend only!!" It is later revealed that the ad was part of Vehs.com's campaign, which was aimed to promote its current ongoing virtual renovation exhibition.  Jameson Koh, founder of Vehs.com told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the idea was first mooted by its marketing agency shout.sg, and after some deliberations and changes, the company decided to give it a shot and launch it.

“It was supposed to be a weekend promotion and we did not expect it to go viral. We thought if there were 300 shares, that would have been awesome for us.”

Since the initiative is gaining some headway, Koh said Vehs.com will be extending it "for a while". He added that after the post went viral, at least 70 cleaning services sent enquired about this service. Vehs.com has also tied up with cleaning company, GenieLab, for this specific hunky guys cleaning promotion.

hunky cleaning ad

The post tickled many netizens, who tagged their friends to cheekily ask if they need cleaning services. Some others also said this service has enticed them to move to Singapore, with one saying she will need to hire all of them once she moves over. One netizen even said the hunky cleaners should take off their pants as cleaning in jeans is uncomfortable. This particular comment has gotten 31 positive reactions at the time of writing. 

While comments for the ad were mostly positive, there were also netizens who raised questions around the double standards of the ad's success in the eyes of society. One netizen questioned what would have happened if it was females featured in the ad. Another questioned why the company has emphasising on the built instead of the skills of cleaners.

In response to the questions, Koh said while the campaign was meant to be fun, the company was aware that there might be a small backlash if it was to use females instead of males. "For guys, there is some tongue-in-cheek value. Fortunately a lot of our viewers so far were kind with their words. We realised there were not many people talking about us using hunks," he added. That said, Koh also acknowledged that Singapore is still a distance away from reaching the mark when it comes to gender equality and representation in ads, and he agreed that it might be hypocritical that people fine with when males are used in the ad, as compared to females.

In the ad industry, equality and gender representation has always been a point of conversation. Women being portrayed in domestic roles such as homemakers, or being hyper-sexualised is not an unfamiliar sight. Back in 2005, burger chain Carl's Jr's ignited chatter when it ran an ad that featured Paris Hilton washing a car wearing a bikini, which played up her sexuality as a woman. Clearly, this ad tries to subvert those traditional roles we are used to.

“Is it designed to get eyeballs and potentially go viral? Filled with gratuitous crotch and chest shots and suggestive broom handling, for a very unsexy category, of course,” said Charlotte Wilkinson, founder of hello sister. She added that naturally, if it the ad was reversed and it were semi-naked women in a campaign for a mainstream audience, there would be outrage.

“It is worth considering that in reality, many campaigns across many categories feature women in provocative poses, scantily clad using sex to sell - of which the fragrance, fashion and alcohol industry tend to be the guiltiest parties,” she said. What seems to stand out here is that this is the very budget version of a sexist ad albeit featuring men. She added:

Many advertisers get away with the same featuring of women but gloss the campaign up, bring in a top photographer, set it in an indulgent location and then it's seen as art, not sexism.

"We need to call out all sexism regardless of gender or how 'artistic it may seem for what it is - archaic and poorly judged," she said. 

Adding to the conversation, a network agency's chief creative officer, who commented under anonymity, said: "When men do it, it doesn’t seem as bad as they are not seen as subservient to house cleaning. I think if this was the other way round, it would definitely create more controversy."

Meanwhile, from a creative perspective, Farrokh Madon, chief creative officer of Pirate, said if this video was created to promote an upcoming virtual renovation exhibition as reported in The Straits Times, then it is ineffective as there is no mention of the event in the video. It doesn’t draw the viewer’s attention to the main communication objective. "If the objective however is to market the Hunky Guy Cleaning Service as a real service, as long as the service doesn’t cross any legal boundaries, the company can market whatever service it wants. Whether people take it up or not, is up to them to decide," he added. 

AWARE declined to comment on MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's queries. 


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