SG advertising body says no breach in code for ‘brownface’ E-Pay ad

The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has clarified that while E-Pay’s advertisement was in “poor taste”, it did not explicitly put down any ethnic groups or employ harmful stereotypes. The ad authority also notes Havas’ explanation that this was not its intention and that it did not breach the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP).

In a statement to Marketing, Professor Ang Peng Hwa, chairman of ASAS said that the advertisement has been removed and Havas has issued a public apology. According to Ang, as the advertisement has ceased, no further action is currently required. The ASAS council came to this conclusion after considering SCAP’s general principle on social values that advertisements should be handled sensitively to minimise misinterpretation of intentions on ethnic issues.

The guidelines also note that advertisements should not jeopardise inter-ethnic understanding or discriminate against any ethnic group or religion, or downplay the importance of mutual dependence amongst all groups.

Sharing its second public apology with Marketing, a Havas spokesperson said Havas Worldwide Singapore apologises for any hurt caused by the recent campaign to communicate that e-payment is for everyone. In addition to its joint statement with Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm The Celebrity Agency, Havas further clarified that the message behind the ad is that e-payment is for people across all age groups and demographics. The spokesperson said:

Our multicultural society defines us as a nation, and we regret if anyone has been offended by the campaign.

This comes a day after NETS apologised for any hurt that the campaign has caused. Echoing its agency Havas and Mediacorp, the company said to Marketing, the intention behind the ad was to communicate that e-payment is for everyone. According to the spokesperson, the campaign was a multi-agency effort led by Enterprise Singapore as part of the unified e-payment initiative that was rolled out in September last year. Enterprise Singapore has yet to provide a comment on this matter.

Currently, a police complaint has been filed against E-Pay’s ad for causing “discomfort and dissatisfaction among the citizens and residents”. The Singapore police is also in the midst of investigating an online video by sibling duo Preeti Nair (better known as Preetipls) a social influencer and musician Subhas Nair that is directed against E-Pay “brownface” ad. The Singapore police and IMDA has jointly advised the public to refrain from circulating the sharing Preeti and Subhas’ rap video as it is a subject of police investigations.