How to ensure your brand doesn't make a faux pas this National Day

With National Day around the corner, the island state of Singapore has been flooded with ads showing patriotism. And while we are all for national pride, this year, we've seen a significant number of ads gaining the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

Among the brands that drew flak recently was Giordano, which got called out for the lack of ethnic representation in its ad featuring a family with two Caucasian adults, a Caucasian boy and an Asian girl. Netizens heavily criticized the ad for not only the lack of ethnic representation, but also the poor use of photoshop. Meanwhile, Japanese restaurant Maki-San was shoved into the limelight for naming its latest chicken char siew sushi roll, the “Maki-Kita” - which unfortunately means “Curse us” in Malay.

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Another ad that garnered mixed reactions and seemingly made netizens a little uncomfortable was Starhub's #RegardlessofColour spot which used Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Several ECD's Marketing spoke to anonymously, thought the speech was irrelevant to the Singapore and Malaysia context.

Meanwhile, a Today article said netizens took issue with that, saying that it was inappropriate given the different contexts of King’s speech and Singapore. This was because King’s speech came at a time of the Civil Rights Movement, which is less applicable to Singapore’s historical context.

So what should be kept in mind when creating patriotic ads? We asked industry experts.

When creating patriotic ads, Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director of Formul8, said marketers should not "rip off materials or quotes from a foreign luminary or icon". She said:

If you’re proud of your heritage, then show it in the work and don’t misappropriate a message/speech or visual that’s symbolic of another nation.

In order for the work to have a significant impact on consumers, authenticity is important, she added. When campaigns do not reflect a "true Singapore spirit" or "borrow" content from another country, it might seem as if companies do not have anything original to say for themselves, Bartholomeusz said. She added:

Companies should not produce patriotic ads for the sake of doing so.

Despite the fact that some patriotic ads have come under fire recently, tapping into national pride is still beneficial for brands.

Robert Gaxiola, creative director/co-founder of manghamgaxiola mcgarrybowen explained that people respond to companies if their messages are relevant enough to strike a chord. As such National Day should be the one time in the year Singaporeans can expect fresh content from advertisers, and it should ideally be relevant.

"National Day is the perfect opportunity for a brand to say something positive or inspiring about their role here in Singapore. It is also a chance to inspire change," he said, adding:

This is a brand’s one chance a year to really take a stand and say something intelligent about where they live, work and play.

Wong Mei Wai, business director of Aspial Corporation’s jewellery arm said that for occasions such as National Day, companies often tie the country's history or heritage to their campaigns or ads. Hence, it is important to be innovative.

"What we are selling has to be attractive for that year. If you are selling the same thing year on year, customers will see right through it," she said. When producing patriotic ads, Wong said companies should only do so if the brand has a point of view or connections to the country, for instance it is a national brand in the category. Otherwise, there is no need for it.

She also stressed the need to leverage on nationalistic insights that tug at the heartstrings of consumers and ensure the ad does not come off as disrespectful.

Recovering from controversy

When asked how companies can recover from ads that might have gotten harsh comments from members of the public for courting controversy, Bartholomeusz said:

There is nothing wrong with being honest and not having a popular opinion.

"Singapore has been successful because it has never pandered to accepting what others judge it to be, for example, dispelling the notion that just by being a small nation, we can’t be market leaders in key sectors. We don’t always do what’s popular, but I think we have always done what is right," Bartholomeusz added.

Adding on to this point Gaxiola said there is always a "very high chance" that someone will be offended by an ad. But what marketers should ideally take note of is to listen, and understand why people are actually offended. He said:

If you believe you were out of line, get in front of it and acknowledge their point of view and be responsible. Doing nothing will only make it worse.

Here are some of the other ongoing National Day campaigns:


Titled “Guardians of the Gates”, Deliveroo’s campaign encourages consumers to nominate their condominium or office guard and surprise them with a free National Day Meal from Deliveroo. This is to show their appreciation for the security guards who are always on the lookout for the residents’ safety. AKA Asia was involved in the conceptualisation and production of the campaign.

Burger King

To celebrate the occasion, Burger King launched its “Taste of Singapore” National Day meal, which comprises its new Hainanese Tendergrill Chicken Burger and the Rendang Beef/Tendergrill Chicken burger it recently reintroduced.


Uber, with the help of BBH, recently ran a social media campaign titled #NationalPoolDay to rally Singapore to come together in the spirit of this year’s national day theme #OneNationTogether and share rides for a greener National Day this August 9th.

The campaign was launched last week on Uber Singapore’s Facebook page, with an animated post calling out to all of Singapore, as well as to fellow transport service providers across the country to join forces and encourage pool rides to reduce traffic emissions for a greener National Day. This was picked up and supported by die-hard competitor Grab.


McDonald’s launched a new localised product line featuring items such as Nasi Lemak Burger, Chendol flavoured ice cream as well as the Bandung McFizz. This was also part of a campaign with NS50 with the Singapore Food Festival 2017.

Titled “Just for you, Singapore”, the campaign runs on print, TV and online channels. PR agency Golin Singapore, creative agency DDB Singapore and media agency OMD Singapore were the agencies behind the campaign. To promote the new items, McDonald’s launched an ad spot featuring a national serviceman buying the new McDonald’s localised products for his family using his first pay check following enlistment.

What do you think of this year's national day ads? Email us at