Construction and development company Low Keng Huat has released an ad to showcase its Uptown at Farrer residence. In a two-minute long video posted on its official Facebook page, the company showed the benefits of staying in the residence, including its close proximity to a shopping centre, a hospital, the MRT station, and City Hall. It also repeatedly mentioned the name of the residence (in case you missed it...which shouldn't be the case) Uptown At Farrer.
In a statement to Marketing, Low Chin Han, director, hospitality at Low Keng Huat, said the concept of the ad came about as the company wanted to create something different from a typical real estate ad. "We wanted to inject humour and make the ad more memorable," Low said, adding that most real estate ads featured pan-asian models or everyone laughing "as a soothing classical music is played in the background". With this ad, the developers were looking to stand out. Low said its objective is to generate awareness of the residence, as well as drive traffic to its website where viewers can find out more about the property.
Since its release, the ad has garnered 9,300 views and 152 positive reactions (consisting of likes and laughs) on Facebook. It has also gotten 35 comments and 116 shares at the time of writing. Some netizens have expressed fondness for the ad, with one saying it is a "refreshing change", and another saying he loved it.
A few other netizens had mixed reactions as they commented that they did not know how they felt. One netizen said she did not know if she should love the ad or hate the ad, while another said "it hurts, but it hurts good".
Although the general netizen impression on Facebook seemed positive, industry players begged to differ. Anna Haotanto, CMO and managing director at Gourmet Food Holdings, said in a LinkedIn post that the ad is "demeaning, misogynistic and annoying" which had others in her community agreeing with her sentiment. In a conversation with Marketing, Haotanto said the ad felt "contrived and reductive" in which Singaporeans and gender roles were stereotyped in a silly way.
"I actually have more issue with the unfavourable portrayal of Singaporeans. Even if I accept that this is a parody, it is everything it shouldn’t be. A parody is one that’s funny or strikes a chord, or 'so bad that it’s good', this is plain insulting," she said. As a viewer, she added that rather than learning about the condo benefits, she was also left distracted by the "cocky" protagonist smirking. What could be a silver lining in the ad, she explained, was that the name was repeated over and over again allowing for some memorability.
Meanwhile, Fiona Bartholomeusz managing director of ad agency Formul8 who has worked on numerous property launches with clients such as Wing Tai, said while she gets the local sense of humour, it could be elevated to something a little less “cringeworthy”.
“I’m probably not the target audience but I think it’s rather sad if this is the state of humour and taste in Singapore. It was misogynistic and rather tone-deaf,” she said. Like Haotanto she added that most viewers would be so focused on how “off-putting” the protagonist is that the facilities will go somewhat unnoticed.
She added that effort to study the intended audience and market conditions to create a brand persona and positioning that will work, is crucial to marketing a property.
“The common rule in real estate marketing is – never piss off the wife because she makes the call on where the family lives and I can’t see any intelligent female agreeing with the tonality of the video or the brand behind it,” she said.
The portrayal of the male character also did not get much love. Farrokh Madon, chief creative officer at Pirate, said: "The personification of men as self-indulgent louts is far from the truth and particularly distasteful," he said. According to Madon, it is highly unlikely that a man would want to continue playing a video game when his wife is about to deliver their baby, as the ad has showed. Calling the ad a "cheesy lowbrow humour", Madon said there are many ways to be creative, and he wished the company had pushed harder to find other ways to make the ad memorable and entertaining.
"The kindest thing I can say about it is that it is at least trying to be creative, unlike most property ads that blandly stick an artist's impression of the property, or a couple of pictures of a showflat," Madon added.
Adding on to the conversation on stereotypes, and more specifically to the gender-based one, was Goh Shu Fen, co-founder of R3. In a conversation with Marketing, Goh said the male figure in the ad is seen as "the decision marker" who is knowledgeable about home loans and other finance issues. She added that references to ‘man cave’ and ‘getting away from the wife to watch football’ indulge in propagating stereotypes.
"The girlfriend or wife is reduced to a prop. She barely has any lines. The scene that was particularly alarming was the indifferent response the man has to his pregnant wife when he asks her to take the train ‘for only four stops’ and the scene where he continues to be immersed in video games while her water breaks. It was probably meant to be an over-the-top-not-to-be-taken-seriously response, but it is delivered in extremely poor taste," Goh said.
Although Goh acknowledged that the ad is trying to break through the real estate clutter by using over-the-top slapstick humour in the message, she added that it comes across "cringeworthy and not at all aspirational". "Brands need to make more efforts to mirror the reality of women in Singapore. This would help them to reach out to a larger target audience and also stand out from the competition that may still be stuck in portraying traditional stereotypes in their advertising," Goh added.
When asked about what he made of the comments, Low Keng Huat's Low said the company apologises if anyone is offended by the ad. "It was never our intention to offend anyone," he said, adding that the company was looking to create awareness for the development of Uptown at Farrer, while injecting some fun, humour and entertainment for viewers. Low also added that there was no specific target audience in mind, and the ad was meant to spread general awareness to anyone who enjoys watching videos online.
"It is our hope that most people will get the humour and enjoy the video for what it is. Comments received have generally been positive with people finding the ad humourous," Low added.
Ads in shaping gender bias in society
R3's Goh also said that such work forces us to view unbalance gender stereotypes. As per a 2015 Nielsen survey, roughly 80% of Singapore women between 25 to 44 years old work either full-time or part-time, with more half of them holding PMEB roles. The study also found that women’s income further contributes to household incomes, and with this rise in affluence, women inform family purchasing decisions. They are also more inclined towards research before making major purchases to stay informed.
Furthermore, female millennials are the most confident and ambitious of any female generation with 31% of female Singapore millennials starting their careers believe they can reach the very top levels with their current employer.
"While 66% of respondents globally earn the same or more than their partner or spouse, the number is 69% in Singapore," Goh said with reference to the study. "Brands need to make more efforts to mirror the reality of women in Singapore. This would help them to reach out to a larger target audience and also stand out from the competition that may still be stuck in portraying traditional stereotypes in their advertising."
Haotanto added that gender stereotypes can lead to narrowing of roles or sense of selves. "How we are supposed to behave, achieve, who we are meant to be and affect the opportunities and decisions we can make. Stereotypes can amplify the degree to which people are or are not aware of having such evaluative attitudes about gender roles, and the effect that such attitudes have on people's thoughts and actions regarding the roles of different genders," she added.
Madon echoed Haotanto's sentiments. "Negative stereotypes can unfortunately come across as this is the way life should be. If my daughter sees ads with women always vacuuming the house while men drink a beer on the couch, she may grow up thinking that's the way life should be," he said. Madon also said that just showing a negative stereotype will not help society. Rather, playing off a negative stereotype to signal a change for the better can be a step towards positive change.