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Why US Embassy Singapore's trendjacking attempt went so wrong

Why US Embassy Singapore's trendjacking attempt went so wrong

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"We're American, of course our national parks are the best in the world."

Recently, the US Embassy Singapore tried to trendjack a popular trend on Instagram that unfortunately, didn't land too well with its followers. 

In the reel, the US Embassy Singapore talked about how it has the world's best universities, how they play the "more exciting" version of football and how they mispronounce words such as "Tampines".

Checks by MARKETING-INTERACTIVE saw that netizens were quite unhappy with the reel. Many took the opportunity to criticise America for policies and decisions it has made regarding the ongoing Israel and Gaza war while others attacked specific things mentioned in the video. One netizen said, "But this is Singapore, not your country." The commenter added that they should learn to say the names of places properly. 

Others took the opportunity to make a jab at how universities in the US are too expensive to afford, how their gun laws are ineffective and how the post made it seem like they "hate people from other countries".

So why exactly did an organisation's seemingly harmless attempt to trendjack go so wrong? According to Kimberley Olsen, co-founder at Yatta Workshop, it could likely be because there is a "fine line" between celebrating your culture and belittling others', especially when you're a guest in another country, she said, adding:

This move was practically begging for backlash. The video's tone-deafness was not just insensitive but downright offensive, judging from the sentiments in the comments section.

She added that coming from an embassy that represents a country that is respected as a beacon of inclusivity and progress, the video was "particularly jarring".

It wasn't just a faux pas; it was a complete face-palm moment.

Olsen explained that as an organisation, it could have approached the trendjacking attempt with "more sensitivity and smarts". 

"Take a leaf out of the book of some expat Singapore TikTok creators - they nail cultural comparisons without stepping on toes. The embassy started off on a light note with their caption acknowledging they're late to the party, which was clever. But then, it just nosedived," said Olsen. 

She added that an embassy's job is to bridge cultures, to foster understanding and cooperation, not to parade an air of superiority.

"They're there to represent their country positively, working on strengthening ties, not flaunting an 'our way or the highway' attitude. It's about diplomacy, after all, not dominance," said Olsen, adding:

Nailing trendjacking is more about common sense and respect than following a social media playbook.

A lost PR opportunity

Additionally, the post could have been a missed PR opportunity according to Edwin Yeo, general manager at Strategic Public Relations Group. 

"Given the talent the US actually has in comedy, and they do, they could have engaged some of their own experts if they want to be more nuanced while delivering their mission as ambassadors of the US," he said, noting that humour can be very difficult to negotiate. 

"At a meta level, their video is actually pretty on point in amplifying American stereotypes. Americans pride themselves as being fiercely patriotic and often have a world view that they are the best in the world at everything," added Yeo. "The question you have to ask is whether the US embassy should further entrench that perception of Americans or use the trend to show the rest of the world that they are not one dimensional."

He explained that while most other content creators trendjack by mixing in some self-deprecation with humble bragging, this one doesn't seem to have the former, except for the first bit where they don't know how to pronounce Tampines.

Yeo suggests that the organisation could have used the trend to show that Americas can laugh at themselves and highlight their achievements at the same time without coming across as bragging. 

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