Singapore Kindness Movement explains race-related cleaning ad called out on social

A recent ad created by Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) has been thrusted into the spotlight. The ad in question features a dark-skinned character named Siva wearing gloves, pointing at pieces of paper on the floor. It is accompanied with the caption "Is it people think the floor is rubbish bin?", followed by a call-to-action for the public to throw their litter into the bin. At the bottom of the poster showed that the ad is by the Singapore Kindness Movement, and supported by Public Hygiene Council and SG Clean. 

In a Facebook post, politician Jose Raymond called the "racial stereotyping and prejudice" portrayed in the poster as shocking, and asked why a particular race was chosen for the character, depicted as a toilet cleaner, and given a name. Additionally, Raymond also questioned why the profiled race in the poster showed "poor language skills", adding that the choices of the creative work are "baffling".

In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson from SKM explained that the poster featured is part of a series of "Clean Toilet Project" posters. It is added that the series of posters were part of a pilot project in June 2020, and are displayed at various locations at Sengkang General Hospital. Through the series of posters, SKM looks to support the Public Hygiene Council and the SG Clean movement in reminding Singaporeans to keep common areas clean and be kind to the cleaners.

As part of the series, four posters featuring different races in the same frontline occupation were featured. The spokesperson said that the posters were intended to be viewed as a series and not individually. 

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"At SKM, we honour the work of our frontline workers and cleaners. They play an important and essential role in our society, especially in the forefront of our fight against COVID-19," she said, adding that in Singapore's multiracial and multicultural society, every one needs to play their part in protecting the harmony the country has built. The spokesperson also told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the series of posts is currently undergoing review.

Mixed reaction from netizens

At the time of writing, Raymond's post has garnered 262 reactions (consisting of likes, angry, and shocked), as well as 45 shares. Some netizens were displeased with the racial portrayal of the character and questioned why a character has to be used instead of displaying just the message, or using a human ambassador. However, there were also netizens who did not see a problem with the ad, claiming that it is a "tough sensitive world we live in today". 

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Raymond told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE in a conversation that he found the poster insensitive and to be perpetuating racist depictions of a particular race. SKM also did not need to assign a name to the character. By doing so, it perpetuates racial biasness, and may also implicate others with the same name.

"It is not right to use race - any race for that matter - in advertisements which may be regarded as racially insensitive, if the intent of the poster or campaign was to provide a voice for cleaners in Singapore, there are many other ways to get a message across without having to turn to race," he added.

Alternative ideas that SKM could have explored are would be the use of text-only posters, graphic designs, voice overs, or animation which are not racial, gender or age biased, Raymond said. Additionally, he said SKM should have done an engagement exercise to gather the sentiments and reactions of the public towards the posters before putting them up. 

In its earlier efforts to promote kindness, SKM recently launched its film titled "The Big Day", as part of its wider "Be Greater" campaign. The short film looked to remind Singaporeans to treat others with kindness, and live a legacy of greatness that will last for generations to come. It also aimed to bring hope with the message that gracious and considerate acts can uplift the community and that kindness will prevail. 

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