Marketing podcast: 'I wasted so much emotional labour'

Influencer Preeti Nair, also famously known as Preetipls, landed in hot soup in 2019 following a rap video attacking a brownface ad done by e-payment company E-Pay. The ad had Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonate different races, dressing up as a Malay woman in a head scarf and an Indian man with darkened skin. 

After creating the rap reaction to the ad, Preeti and her brother, musician Subhas Nair, were investigated by the Singapore Police Force for "offensive content". Singapore's Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam also said previously that the brownface rap video by the siblings crosses the “line of criminality”, and that allowing the video to remain online would be equivalent to permitting other videos with “racially offensive speech”.

The siblings witnessed a mix of backlash and support following the rap video and more than a year later, Preeti shares her takeaways from the incident and how it has impacted her emotionally.

Listen to the episode here.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Are you now wary of the content that you were producing? Do you do a double take before pushing out your content?

Nair: The moment it happened, it was a very long drawn process and we spent many days watching the news and seeing our faces everywhere and waiting for an outcome. We also felt the timing was insane, because it was during the National Day weekend and because this was making the news everyday, we knew we weren’t going to get an outcome before National Day, because National Day had to be the biggest thing everyone was talking about. We knew we had to wait that long weekend. 

Because it took so long, it was just so taxing. Every year, I try to make a National Day video. I don’t make regular content but I make very topical stuff. So I had to do something that National Day because not doing something meant I was silenced or scared. The last thing I want to come across as is safe, because since day one of making my videos, I have been all about "Let’s laugh at this first and then realise that maybe we should talk about this".

I think the intention for me was very clear. I never felt bad about the video because a lot of people were sending me so much love saying "I get your intentions" or "I know why you did this". Only in the first two weeks or maybe the first month was I very wary [...] We did have legal help while everything was playing out, so I just reached out to the same lawyers and asked them to take a look at my National Day script.

It was too real back then for me to constantly make jokes. I knew the severity of this so I wanted to get a lawyer to check . In the first few weeks I was very wary but now I don’t think I think twice about something anymore. I’m very critical about myself and about my content so I ask my team and the people who are closest to me whether the content comes across the way I want it to. I don’t have to reach out to lawyers anymore.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: You got a warning letter from the Singapore government and then you were brave enough to do a parody of the apology, which then landed you in more hot water. What were you thinking? 

Nair: With the reaction and the news, everything happened so fast. Of course there was so much anger, like are you kidding? Did my point just fly over everyone’s head? Is everyone calling me the racist when I’m calling out racism? I was speechless.

For a long time I was mad but the last thing I wanted to do was be quiet or disappear because I feel like a lot of times, in  the influencer industry, when there is any kind of scandal or big drama, everyone puts out a statement and they disappear for months, and they comeback years later to do random stuff. This is not me.

I have worked too hard and I talk about too many things that are  important and I’m not going to stop because of this. The agency involved in the brown face ad put up what I thought was a curated apology, worded so right to hit all the things that they were supposed to hit. When I saw it, I rolled my eyes so hard. Of course everyone is going to accept this, it came from a reputable agency and they had a million lawyers look over it . If we put out an apology like this will this fly? Would we be forgiven?

It was just to show the double standard. It was just to put this out there, reword it so it made sense for our rap video. As a standalone apology if we were going to read this, it makes sense. I was obviously going to do something satirical because that’s me, that's my brand. I really wanted to show the double standards and clearly that was another thing we managed to prove. I’m glad a lot of people thought about that and said how can you not accept this but accept the agency's apology?

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Did you feel you lost clients because this kind of pushed the needle too far?

Nair: I definitely lost clients. I was engaged for a bunch of National Day campaigns and for one of them, I was supposed to be in the middle of Orchard Road giving out ice cream. There was no way I was going to put myself in a situation where I’m in the middle of Orchard Road on National Day weekend after my face had been on every news outlet I can think of. I was also working with a skincare brand and I was about to shoot stuff for a campaign but that fell through on the spot. 

Then again, it also made me realise that there are people who chose to work with me right after this happened. As fast as in September 2019, it made me realise that these are so much more valuable relationships because you know me, you know what I stand for, and you still want me to represent your brand.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was the emotional impact this had on you and how does it spur you on to be fearless and keep bringing up sensitive topics?

Nair: Of course my mental health has been a rollercoaster and when I was on the news everyday, I was really speechless. I was not the only person involved in it, my own family member was also involved. My brother was like “If we go to jail, we go to jail." He was saying stuff like that and I said no, we have our mother to take care of, bills to pay, this cannot be it. There was a lot of convincing on my end and having to talk to him and also manage his emotions, as much as he was doing that for me as well. 

It was a very scary time but now looking back at the amount of times I let a comment affect me, I cannot believe I wasted so much emotional labour on these things. Today I’m trying hard to force myself to look at the positives.

In my DMs, the amount of people who take the time of the day to leave you a nice comment; they’re not even replying to a story, they went to your profile to message you. When I see comments like that I'm like I really owe it to the people who follow me to appreciate them more and focus on this. That 10% of hate is nothing compared to 90% of these amazing comments.

I think I just need to actively keep looking at these comments and responding to these people, letting them know I’m here. If you need a laugh I will be here and I hope things get better.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Content 360 Week is back from 6 to 8 April this year! Super charge your content production, distribution and monetisation strategies by learning from brands such as NBA Asia, P&G, Malaysia Airlines, and Marriott International, among others. Sign uptoday!

Related articles:
IMDA concludes NETS' brownface ad didn't breach code of practice
SG police investigate Preetipls and Subhas' video response to 'brownface' ad
Minister Shanmugam: ‘Brownface’ rap reaction to ad crosses the line of criminality
SG advertising body says no breach in code for ‘brownface’ E-Pay ad
Marketing podcast: Are SMEs in need of PR guidance?
Marketing podcast: Boundaries matter, even in comedy
Marketing podcast: How do you give your internal communications a face-lift?
Marketing podcast: 'Don't tell journalists to drop a story'
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Jose Raymond
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Anne Ridwan
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Carolyn Kan
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Jeffrey Seah
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Matthew Godfrey
Marketing podcast: Life after advertising with Linda Locke
Marketing podcast: A media veteran's creative journey
Marketing podcast: How an independent agency is coping with COVID-19
Marketing podcast: A jolly good ROMP with Joseph Tan
Marketing podcast: Hustle to the top with Manulife SG's Cheryl Lim
Marketing podcast: Dancing with the wolves of 1MDB
Marketing podcast: Working with Sorrell (again) and S4’s acquisition spirit with Scott Spirit
Marketing podcast: Sanity on social with Denise Keller