Propnex reminds agents of social responsibility in marketing after agents’ cultural appropriation misstep

A couple of PropNex Realty property agents, who go by the brand name "Jasen and Shiqi", have copped flak for a video they made to promote its sale of five-room unit at Jalan Bukit Merah. The video seen by Marketing featured two property agents dressed in traditional Indian attire, where they then proceeded to execute dance moves which seemingly mimics the moves of a traditional Indian dance. This was done to a Chinese song playing in the background. 

Although Jasen and Shiqi have since taken the video down, the video garnered a slew of negative comments from netizens, with one saying the video is "wrong on so many levels", and another speculating that the duo did not think through before uploading the video. "Tamil isn't just some gibberish language used to make a rubbish YouTube video," the netizen said. Meanwhile on their Facebook account, netizens also commented that the video was a "cultural appropriation". "Stop resorting to such lame tactics to promote the units. There are many other 'creative' ways to do this," the netizen added. A quick check by Marketing showed that the reposted video has since been privatised.  

In a statement to Marketing, a spokesperson from PropNex Realty said the company has a set of social media policies for all its salespersons to conform to and has reminded its agents to use social media in a responsible manner. The spokesperson added that PropNex continuously reminds all its salespersons to be sensitive in their creative marketing, specially to avoid ethnic, racial and religious remarks or political opinions.

Upon reaching out to the duo, Jasen and Shiqi apologised to those who were offended and said there was no intention to mock, offend or disrespect any races or cultural minority. "We sincerely apologise for sparking the unpleasant online sentiments." They added that the reason they tried to speak in a different language was to appeal to the non-Chinese races. The two further elaborated that the HBD flat they were marketing has a racial quota and Chinese consumers are not eligible to purchase it. "We apologise that we have not considered thoroughly on the topic of cultural appropriation and it is indeed insensitive of us to allow such an inappropriate event to happen."

The duo also said the marketing plan was only set in motion after gaining the owner's approval and consent. "We have put in a considerable amount of time to search for costumes, come up with a small dance routine to our best capabilities, and practiced the Tamil and Malay phrases repeatedly to make sure we don't mispronounce it," they said, adding that the Tamil and Malay phrases in the video were taken from google translate, and they also had help from the owner to help improve their pronunciations.

"Our idea was to create a very fun and free ambiance (which is our understanding of the Indian culture) to showcase the integration of races and cultural differences in our HDB estates, and to show that all races can mix and get along within the community."

Jasen and Shiqi said they are in the process of coming up with a more appropriate way of bringing its property tours for their viewers. "We admit that we have done wrong in our approach in this matter and vow to constantly look at things critically and from all possible angles from now on to avoid such events in the future. Do give us some time to correct our mistakes and become a better version of ourselves," they added. Addressing the larger team at PropNex, the duo said: "We hope that our team will not be affected and discouraged by this incident and continue to come up with creative ideas for home tours to market our properties."

Last month, another property ad was put under the spotlight. Construction and development company Low Keng Huat released an ad which showcases its Uptown at Farrer residence. The ad, which was created with the intention of injecting humour and standing out from other property ads, received both praise and criticism. While some netizens were tickled by the ad, industry players pointed out the stereotypical portrayal of gender roles in the video. This came as the ad featured the male actor to be the main narrator and decision-maker, while the female actress did not have much lines. 

Inappropriate racial portrayal has been a prevalent topic in recent years in Singapore. Earlier in July, the National Library Board copped flak for one of its books published in 2018 titled "Who Wins?" by author Wu Xing Hua. This comes after a netizen took to Facebook to voice unhappiness over one of its characters portrayed in the book where a school bully was characterised as a "dark-skinned" individual, with a head of "oily curls". The netizen then said the "the author basically channels the old-school Chinese parent threat" and perpetuates fear of other races.

Separately last year in July, an advertisement by e-payment company E-Pay also got netizens riled up on social media for being insensitive for featuring Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races - with darkened skin tones. Chew, who is known for cross-dressing and Channel 8 character Auntie Lucy, was seen dressing as a Malay women in a head scarf and an Indian man with darkened skin. He also played the role of a Chinese woman in the same ad.