The Voice SG & MY organisers clarify need for Mandarin speaking candidates

Following a call for auditions last Friday, the organisers of the Singapore and Malaysia edition of The Voice faced some backlash over its language requirements. Organisers of the show have since come out and clarified the situation.

In a conversation with Marketing, a spokesperson from mm2 Entertainment explained that it had acquired the format licence to produce The Voice in Mandarin in Singapore and Malaysia. Because it acquired the rights to the Mandarin version, the ability of the contestants to communicate effectively in Mandarin becomes essential.

“Accordingly, the ability of the contestants to communicate effectively in Mandarin becomes a necessity for the execution of the production, as contestants are required to engage the judges extensively, including during the coaching sessions which are integral to the show format,” the spokesperson said. He also added that the team nonetheless,was "heartened by the enthusiastic response following the announcement."

Marketing understands the show will be broadcast on StarHub (Hub E City) and Astro (AEC) in Singapore and Malaysia respectively, both of which are channels catered to the Chinese-speaking audience.

The show initially copped flak for requiring candidates, regardless of race and nationalities, to be “fluent in Mandarin and able to perform songs in Mandarin.” This did not sit well with social media users and also local Mediacorp radio station 987 DJ Joakim Gomez, who called out the organisers for not being clear in its branding by calling it “The Voice SGMY”.

Was branding an issue?

Nick Foley, president, SEA and Japan, Landor Associates, said more needed to be done to draw attention to the unique, cultural aspects of both Singapore and Malaysia.

“The predilection by judges to converse in Mandarin does not bode well for audiences in Malaysia, particularly. It’s apathetic at best and insensitive at worst,” Foley said. He explained that the use of SGMY (the official website address being was always going to be fraught with risk. Meanwhile, a check by Marketing showed that the show's Facebook and Instagram handles also flaunt the SGMY branding.

"While acronyms can be highly effective in branding, the appropriate effort needs to be made to help the target audience to understand the brand/program on offer.  This is even more critical when using a sub-brand to attach to a well-known brand such as ‘The Voice’," Foley said.

"Given the reactions by viewers in both Singapore and Malaysia, it seems there has been a systemic failure to brand The Voice in a desirable and distinctive way in this part of the world,” Foley added.

Agreeing with Foley is Lau Kong Cheen, deputy CEO at A.S. Louken, who added that the branding could have been more clearly distinguished and communicated that it would be a Mandarin version meant for Mandarin-speaking audiences.

“This is especially important, from an international brand such as The Voice which gained fame globally through its English format," he said, adding

There is certain expectation in terms of identity and experience from the brand.

He explained that having a clear label in its branding such as “Chinese edition” or “English edition” could have also better clarified the situation. From a business standpoint, Lau added that the organisers could have considered the sensitivity of a multi-ethnic society that is unique in Singapore and Malaysia.

“Maybe it would have been a wiser strategy to licence the English (or rather the international) format first before going into different language formats to cater to the different ethnic groups. That way all audiences could have been more effectively engaged and any potentially sensitive sentiments of organisers choosing one ethnic group over the other could have been better mitigated,” Lau said.