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Top 5 PR controversies that created a buzz amongst our SG readers

Top 5 PR controversies that created a buzz amongst our SG readers

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In the era of cancel culture, a negative incident for a brand doesn’t just end with an apology, it can leave long-term detrimental impacts to a brand. In today’s world, bad PR can lead to financial losses for an organisation. As such, PR professionals today have to be proactive in how they help maintain a company’s image, and navigate through information coming from an array of platforms – from traditional print to the impacts of social media.

With consumers today caring more around the betterment of the world, future-ready brands are also fast aligning their values to the consumers. Nonetheless, as ready as a brand can be, incidents happen and bad press pops up. This year we saw many such instances. We made a compilation of the top five such incidents our readers were watching.

1. AirAsia apologises after video goes viral of paraplegic passenger crawling across cabin floor

AirAsia apologised for a paraplegic passenger having to crawl across the cabin to get to his wheelchair when the plane landed at Changi Airport. Citing a TikTok video which has since been deleted, media outlets reported that the man was struggling to crawl along the aisle. The video was accompanied by a caption which explained that the passenger landed at Changi Airport with AirAsia QZ268 from Jakarta on 29 September and was asked to pay SG$40 for an aisle wheelchair when the passenger's seat was only three metres away from the exit. Right after the incident, statistics by Meltwater showed that chatter surrounding this issue spiked on 30 September and the top keywords included "video of paraplegic", "down aisle", "passenger, "aisle wheelchair", and "disabled man aisle".

Kesavan Sivanandam, AirAsia's chief airport and customer experience officer, said that the safety and well-being of its guests are always its number one priority.  "We have procedures in place for the carriage of disabled or mobility impaired guests including the provision of an aisle wheelchair, which is highlighted during the booking process and can be booked in advance, at the time of booking to ensure a smooth experience. We have reached out to the guest to sincerely apologise and will ensure an incident of this nature does not occur again," he added. AirAsia is unable to reveal guest details due to privacy laws.

2. Dropped from paid campaign due to her race

The topic on race is a rather sensitive one in markets such as Singapore and Malaysia which has a genetic DNA made up of a number of ethnicities. Triggering a conversation on race was content creator Tina Amir, who goes by her handle Tinadestruit on TikTok in Singapore, who shared her experience of being dropped from a campaign because of her race. While Amir, who has worked with brands such as Shein, Swisse, Tagespresso, Vitalsheild, Similac Total Comfort, and many others refrained from sharing the name of the brand or the PR agency who put her in a rather uncomfortable position, she mentioned that the client was a Korean skincare brand. The brand, through its PR partner, reached out to her for a paid campaign, only to later pull back given her race didn't fit the target profile they were looking for.

The conversation also saw popular content creator Preeti Nair (Preetipls) sharing her own experience of being dropped off from cosmetics brand’ PR lists, despite these brands being known for “inclusive marketing”. According to Nair, it's "just a bad idea", especially when such cosmetic brands are known for inclusive marketing tactics and preach diversity in its product lines. The video also brought to the surface the role of PR agencies, and the power they hold to influence change. 

3. FairPrice’s mislabeling accusation

NTUC FairPrice was accused of foul play as a TikTok user called out the brand for incorrectly labelling the weight of the boneless chicken breast she bought from the store.  The brand quickly responded to the issue over the weekend, apologising for the error and said it will “honour a full refund or exchange for products that have been inaccurately labelled”.

The brand quickly updated its statement and shared that it has contacted the customer to address her concerns and investigated the cause of the alleged mislabelling. “We agree that such an error should not have occurred. Our staff at the frontline are working hard, and we ask for patience and understanding during this challenging time. All our weighing scales are also independently calibrated by authorised vendors certified by the authorities,” said the brand. It also acknowledged that the video with a price label pasted over an erroneously printed label was posted by the customer suggesting possible dishonest practices, and said the brand “does not condone any unethical business practices and takes such allegations very seriously”.

In a rather sternly worded statement, NTUC FairPrice added, “We will safeguard the integrity of our reputation against false allegations if necessary. We advise the public not to circulate unverified claims which may cause unnecessary public alarm.”

4. Damage control: ACM and local fashion Ong Shunmugam cop flak for race-related comments

Local fashion brand Ong Shunmugam’s founder and designer raised eyebrows after a video of her speaking on her designs caught the attention of Instagram page Kebaya.Societe. The video in which the founder was speaking was done in collaboration with Asian Civilisations Museum as part of the ACMtalks series titled “Designing Singapore’s contemporary fashion identity” was posted last year. However, it came to life in March this year when netizens began commenting and sharing their outrage on the snippet shared by the Kebaya.Societe where the founder and designer of the brand, Priscilla Shunmugam, shared why she chose to feature more Chinese ethnic wear.

In the two-minute snippet, Shunmugam said Chinese women have progressed significantly faster and further as compared to their Malay and Indian counterparts. As a designer, she says, this allows her for more room to play with the cheongsam, and she feels she can have more “fun" as "the simple reality" is that "Chinese women can be more receptive". The snippet saw many netizens sharing their shock her view, while others expressed disappointment at ACM for allowing such “racist remarks” and added there should have been more minorities on the panel.

The museum has also issued a statement on its Instagram Stories, acknowledging the posts and comments on the recent edition of ACMtalks. "We consider this feedback learning points for us for upcoming exhibitions on Asian fashion. Asian fashion is a new curatorial area ACM has recently embarked on for the long term. The subject of curating fashion from an Asian perspective, in general, is a new one for museums," ACM explained.

5. Anytime Fitness outlet garners backlash for TikTok videos featuring girls in revealing clothes

The Chai Chee branch of Anytime Fitness has received backlash for its marketing on TikTok, which mainly featured girls in revealing clothing dancing to popular TikTok tunes to promote its opening.

Several netizens said the content on Anytime Fitness Chai Chee's TikTok account is irrelevant to the gym. In response to the backlash, Anytime Fitness Chai Chee released another video of men dressed similarly to the girls, using the same advertising technique.

A check by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE on TikTok found that the gym began promoting its outlet on 11 April. The initial videos did not feature girls but instead focused on showcasing the gym's equipment, space, and transformations of people who visited other Anytime Fitness outlets. However, these videos only garnered less than 95,000 views at the time of writing. On 25 May, it posted a video of a girl getting off a car and subsequently entering its gym. The video garnered over 142,300 views. Leveraging on the views obtained from the previous video, Anytime Fitness Chai Chee began posting similar videos featuring females in revealing attire to promote its gym. One of its videos even garnered over 383,000 views.

Related articles: 

AirAsia pushes on with new subscription products under SUPER+
New World Development and HKGSA join hands to sponsor annual harbour race
FairPrice Group partners The Trade Desk to drive closed-loop measurement with retail data
New online platform of Anytime Fitness offers personalized coaching

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