Last weekend, Singapore Day, a carnival that was exclusive only to Singaporeans took place at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney on 12 October.
Singapore Day is organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) as part of the National Population and Talent Division, Prime Minister’s Office to engage overseas Singaporeans. An annual ticketed event, it is held each year in a different country.
However, the event ran into controversy as it reportedly turned away Caucasians, according to the Straits Times. According to global reports, a Sydney local called James said he had been turned away from the event because he was white, and called a local radio station, accusing the event of discriminatory behaviour.
"We were just stunned and angry that this had happened to us in a public space in the middle of Sydney," said James, according to The Daily Telegraph.
"If it was a private event it should have been held in a hotel and not in a public park funded with taxpayers' money," he added.
The incident has been reported on several other publications and been criticised on social media.
Many major Singapore brands such as Singapore Airlines, BreadTalk, Charles and Keith, MediaCorp, Neptune Orient Lines, ComfortDelgro, Yeo’s and Singapore Sports Council and have also been associated with the event.
For example, Nicholas Ionides, vice president of public affairs, Singapore Airlines, told Marketing Events that it supported the event through providing complimentary and rebated air tickets to participants of the event.
Ionides said that the brand’s support of the event was mainly to make a positive contribution to the local communities as it was a meaningful event. The event sponsorship was also part of the brand’s shared synergies with the event objective to engage Singaporeans residing overseas and bring aspects of home to them.
Were these brands affected by the negative attention? While none of the brands would comment, branding experts feel there was little effect on them.
Kenneth Lee, senior manager for social strategy, Consulus said that that the comment by the event attendee merely reflected the opinion of the public and hence, the attention and controversy shone the headlight on the public attendees, not the brand.
The event put the event organisers, the Overseas Singapore Unit in a bad light as the event was only exclusive to Singaporeans and their families, Lee opined, which would seem xenophobic for the Singapore psyche.
He added that this could be a matter of bad planning for the Singapore Day brand, particularly OSU.
"Brands may not be aware that this is happening until the event day itself, but for the brands, it has very low damage done, if any."
While Angelina Ong, regional managing director, Asia pacific, Burson Marstellar, concurred with Lee, adding that the event's objective was misunderstood by stakeholders, i.e the foreign citizens in the host country, which was Australia, she said the event could be better marketed to Australian locals.
"There is no permanent damage to brands in the long term as the event is not an ongoing campaign nor a long standing event," she said.