Netizen and influencer Preetipls call out ShopBack's 'Indian dance' TikTok ad, founder responds

Social platform TikTok has removed a netizen's reaction video towards a ShopBack Bollywood-themed ad which he deemed somewhat culturally inappropriate. According to the user, his reaction video was flagged as it violated TikTok's community guidelines, and categorised the content under "harassment and bullying". His initial reaction video called out ShopBack for using an Indian-themed ad to promote its services. The ad saw a group of dancers led by social media influencer Kevin Tristan wearing Indian ethnic outfits, dancing to Bollywood-inspired music while singing the lyrics "ShopBack pays me to shop". 

In the reaction video to the ad, the user @krazzysingh said as an Indian himself, he was offended by the ad. "They made this ad with an Indian tune, with no Indian dancers and they are all wearing Indian traditional outfits. They are not even doing a traditional Indian dance; they are just doing a westernised dance." The user then questioned ShopBack's intent behind the ad, citing that there are no Indian events coming up. "What's the point of this video? What are you using my ethnicity and my culture for?" He also called out ShopBack for not hiring Indian traditional dancers who reside in Singapore. " At the very least, ShopBack could have consulted the traditional dancers and come up with something more ethnically accurate, he said. 

Separately, social media personality Preeti Nair (better known as Preetipls) has also voiced out about the TikTok ad. In a 10-minute video uploaded on her YouTube and Instagram channels, Nair said she was confused about the intent of having an Indian-inspired ad, especially when the dancers were wearing traditional Indian attire but not doing an Indian dance.
"I don't look at this advertisement and feel that my race is represented. It just looks like you took all the nice parts of my race and used it for commercial purposes," Nair said, adding that it isn't very difficult to hire brown people, given that the ad is very heavily Indian-influenced. Additionally, Nair commented on the promoted lyrics "ShopBack pays me to shop", and said the phrase is not accurate as the app helps users save money when they shop, and not get paid.

In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Joel Leong, co-founder at ShopBack said there was a misconception as the ad on TikTok was a smaller part of its promotional video, which was done in collaboration with local comedian and ShopBack's brand ambassador Kumar. "At ShopBack, we support diversity and work with a wide range of content creators. We believe that the full video provides a better representation. We value the feedback from the public and have reached out to the affronted TikTok-ers so that we may better address their concerns and take note for our future productions," Leong added.

The full video, which runs for two minutes, featured Kumar lamenting about the high cost of living in Singapore. The main protagonist, Tristan, then appears to introduce the ShopBack app to Kumar to get cashback for his spending. The ad is then followed by a song and a Bollywood-inspired dance scene at the end. 

Commenting on the incident, Kumar said: "I have closely monitored the comments coming from social media regarding my latest music video with ShopBack. I feel strongly about promoting and being a part of an inclusive society. I stand by the video, and am proud to be part of and creatively involved in it. I invite everyone to watch the video in full."

Meanwhile, Tristan also posted a video on his TikTok and Instagram account, apologising to those he have offended. "I didn't realise that what I was participating in may be seen as offensive and I take full ownership and apologise for my lack of awareness," he said, adding that he had no say in the casting, costumes, and direction of the ad. "I just want to apologise for even being part of the ad and not realising it could be offensive. I feel really bad because when I make content online, all I want to do is spread good vibes and my love for dance, Tristan added. 

Since the incident, TikTok has removed @krazzysingh's reaction video as it violated TikTok's community guidelines. Explaining the situation to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a TikTok spokesperson said the reaction video was initially removed for a short time, because it was perceived to be in violation of community guidelines on harassment and bullying, but has since been deleted by the user.

"At TikTok, we prioritise safety, diversity, inclusion, and authenticity. We believe that a safe environment helps everyone express themselves openly, and we strive to maintain a supportive space for our community," the statement added.

According to its current guidelines under "harassment and bullying", TikTok said it removes all expressions of abuse, including threats or degrading statements intended to mock, humiliate, embarrass, intimidate, or hurt an individual. While critical comments of public figures may be allowed, the platform said serious abusive behavior against public figures is prohibited. Such content include insulting another individual, or disparages an individual on the basis of attributes such as intellect, appearance, personality traits, or hygiene. The prohibition also extends to content that encourages coordinated harassment, or depict willful harm or intimidation such as cyberbullying or trolling. 

This is not the first time a brand faced backlash due to an incomplete version of its ad. Earlier last month, Burger King copped flak due to its Twitter post of an ad it was running in line with International Women's Day. The fast food joint ran print and social media ads with a large headline "Women belong in the kitchen", followed by a smaller font stating that only 20% of chefs are women, and Burger King looks to change the gender ratio by empowering its female employers. However, when adapted onto Twitter, the company tweeted the phrase "Women belong in the kitchen" in isolation first, before adding in a second tweet its real intention of promoting its scholarships that aimed to help women interested in culinary to become chefs. This risked many netizens only seeing the first tweet in the thread, and misconstruing Burger King's message. 

In a reply to netizens, Burger King's then global CMO, Fernando Machado, said the intention behind Burger King's activity is actually good, but the format in which it was portrayed on Twitter was not ideal. "I take full responsibility. I don't think we should have tweeted that headline in isolation. Because no one read threads on Twitter. The intent behind this activity was [different]. And it is a shame it didn't go the way we wanted in UK," he added. Machado has since left Burger King to join gaming company Activision Blizzard, as CMO.

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