It is not uncommon for brands to encounter marketing hiccups. While the marketing faux pas by global brands might immediately capture the attention of consumers, those by local brands can sometimes go unnoticed. Singapore-based coffeeshop chain Killiney Kopitiam was one brand which was called out by a netizen who had tagged MARKETING-INTERACTIVE on Instagram after spotting sexist jokes on the walls of its outlet on Killiney Road. While MARKETING-INTERACTIVE has reached out to the brand, it has not yet heard back with regards to the posts.
While possibly well intentioned, the jokes were unfortunately somewhat sexist. One of the jokes featured a boy telling a girl that he wants to share everything with her. In response, the girl said: "Darling, it's very sweet of you. Let's start from your bank account."
Another joke showed a woman telling her friend that she had made her husband a millionaire. When the friend asked what was the husband before he got married, the woman said: "A multi-millionaire."
While the brand hasn't copped much flak on social for the jokes, it does beg the question as to why these jokes still exist. Killiney has no doubt built up its own following after more than 100 years in the industry. However, such jokes can still put a dent in its brand reputation, regardless of whether the brand is an MNC or a local one, said industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to. This is especially since consumers today are unafraid to call out brands for inequality and discriminatory practices. In fact, studies have shown that brands today need to consider five areas of representation when planning a campaign: gender identity, sexuality, race, disability, and age. Meanwhile, a 2021 report by R3 titled "Diversity: From agency to ads" found that 38% of ads in Southeast Asia portrayed negative stereotypes of gender characteristics and 44% of ads portrayed negative stereotypes of gender roles.
Adrian Warr, co-chair of Male Allies and CEO Southeast Asia at Edelman, said that in the case of Killiney the jokes might have been "well-intentioned but harmful". "I’m sure this is well-intentioned and the good people at this business are not discriminatory themselves. Personally, I think the jokes are in bad taste and out of touch," he said. Warr added that there was a time when consumers used to tolerate racist and homophobic jokes and now they don't. Hence, it's time society stops tolerating sexist jokes.
Are the standards different for global brands versus local brands?
Consumers nowadays are becoming more aware and vocal about inequality and discriminatory practices in general, Freda Yuin, co-founder and CEO of White Label PR, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. Hence, the size of the brand itself does not hold much significance. According to her, social media offers a convenient platform for consumers to create discourse.
As long as the content is being created for public consumption, there is an expectation that the brand should be held accountable for the messages it is trying to convey and propagate.
That said, historically, big brands tend to be held to a stricter code of social norms in the online sphere than smaller brands. She listed two things that will impact the perceived culpability of a brand - reach and systemic issues. Bigger brands may seemingly rouse more ire than smaller brands because of their reach and perceived social impact.
"The bigger the campaign and reach, the more eyeballs and reactions brands would likely receive. Correspondingly, this would tend to cause people to believe that bigger brands, therefore, should have more moral responsibility to be, well, more socially responsible," she explained.
When it comes to systemic issues, there is a tacit understanding that bigger brands would have and should have the necessary checks in place to prevent the dissemination of inappropriate content, especially given the scale of their campaigns.
Yuin said that often, the main point of content is "How could it be that no one called this out?” This benefit of checks and balances, however, would be a luxury that most would assume would not be available to local brands with much smaller marketing budgets. "Any mistakes could be assumed to be the mistake of a single employee and not a systemic issue. It would be thus easier to disengage the brand from the mistake," she explained.
Similarly, SPRG's GM, Edwin Yeo, cited The Speech Academy's blunder as an example, when it dressed up its promoters as clowns for a roadshow last year. The promoters were then spotted lingering outside a school, sparking alarm among parents. "[The Speech Academy] wasn't a big brand but it was wildly inappropriate, so the size of the brand doesn't matter, only the size of the offence," he said.
However, Yeo said big brands tend to be held to a stricter code of social norms in the online sphere than smaller brands. "While consumers are likely to hold Killiney to the same standard as other big brands, smaller brands have lesser visibility and hence, face less scrutiny," he added.
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