Would an ad like StarHub’s #RegardlessofColour work in MY?

StarHub’s recent “#RegardlessofColour” video has garnered mixed reactions online. The spot is part of a series of annual National Day campaigns the telco has been running in lead up to the national event, intending to celebrate Singapore’s “unity in diversity” and encourage racial harmony.

While many lauded the spot, several netizens took issue with the use of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, saying that it was inappropriate given the different contexts of King’s speech and Singapore. This was because King’s speech came at a time of the Civil Rights Movement, which is less applicable to Singapore’s historical context.

The spot recalled the day-to-day realities which are familiar to Singaporeans, by juxtaposing parts of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech with monochromatic snippets of people enjoying the bond of racial and religious harmony. Agencies Blk J DDB and Freeflow Productions were involved in the making of the ad.

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In a conversation with Marketing, Howie Lau, CMO of StarHub, explained that the speech by Martin Luthur King, Jr. was used as it “denotes a universal ideal of racial harmony”. To illustrate the progress made as a nation, the film includes snippets of the realities experienced in Singapore.

“But we know this is still a work in progress and believe everyone will continue to work tirelessly together to safeguard our way of life amid potential threats to harmony,” Lau said. Addressing questions over the copyright of the speech, Lau added that the company thanks the Estate of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. for licensing the speech and supporting the production of the film. To illustrate the progress made as a nation, the film includes snippets of the realities experienced in Singapore.

“We’re heartened that #RegardlessofColour resonates with many Singaporeans, and we’re thankful for the encouraging response to our film as well as the real-life stories,” Lau said.

Would it work in Malaysia?

Given the similarities in racial mix in Singapore and with Merdeka coming up, we asked Malaysian creatives if a spot such as this would resonate with Malaysian audiences. Speaking with Marketing on the topic, Casey Loh, creative chief of The Clan (formerly GOVT KL), felt that it was an inappropriate use of Martin Luthur King's speech, and probably won't resonate with most Singaporeans, or Malaysians if the same speech is used in Merdeka ads. He said:

We are a multiracial country with even more colours and range to the kind of stories that we can tell. To borrow from someone else is either a lack of context or inspiration.

"But I'm sure there's so many great stories to be found, if one just looked hard enough," Loh said. However, he added that the spot is still a beautiful piece of commercial that shows the true people of Singapore.

"Wonderfully shot and incredibly well paced. The speech however probably wasn't the best option for such a gorgeous film," Loh added.

When asked if the same StarHub ad would work in Malaysia, Ong Shi Ping, chief creative officer at FCB KL, said that the ad would not likely work. This was because the social context is completely different. He said,  "It's a different brief altogether for Malaysia. The objective for a racial harmony ad in Malaysia would be calling for people to unite."

Weighing on the ad itself, Ong was of the view that StarHub did produce a great piece of work. However, many people missed the point of what the commercial was saying.

I feel like a lot of these negative comments came from people who didn’t really watch the whole spot. It’s like walking out on a movie half-way, and saying ‘I don’t get it’.

"If one followed the ad to the end, they would realise how clever and apt it was using King’s speech,” Ong said.

Meanwhile, Didi Pirinyuang, creative director at Ensemble Worldwide, said that the ad is testament to how powerful and timeless King’s dream for humanity is. She added that for the common man, the desire for a life that is free from strife, regardless of creed and colour, is an idealistic yet universal one.

"Will this work in Malaysia? An ad like this, while inspiring in tone and manner, may be accused of merely promoting ideals, and might be taken as less relatable as it is voiced by Martin Luther King, a leader that has no connection or ties to our nation’s story," Pirinyuang said.

In Malaysia, brands look to more creative ways to tell the story of racial harmony, usually stories based upon reality.

"We all have rich personal experiences of racial harmony that we can draw from for inspiration that would resonate more in a local context," Pirinyuang added.

Sean Sim, CEO of McCann Worldgroup Malaysia, formerly from an ECD background, said the ad was beautifully shot and with an emotive soundtrack which showcase touching moments of ordinary people.

"The spot was well crafted and if you listen to the words used, they are powerful, passionate and meaningful and also matched the scenes depicted well," he said.

However, there is a problem because you cannot divorce the words from the context. That’s the issue when borrowing from history – and there is always responsibility for the brand to look at the context.

He added that the brand needs to ensure it stays true to the original intent. For the case of King’s speech during the Civil Rights Movement, he was talking from a point in American history where his people came from a time of slavery and oppression. As such, when one looks at the context, it’s really powerful and passionate.

But when you take that out and put it in an ad, those who understand history and where it came from might feel uncomfortable, even though it addresses the same topic of race.

Respect for the context and the words spoken needs to be there, he added.

For the case of Malaysia, festive ads often cover the recurring themes of racial harmony and societies are not alien. The brands locally understand this, as well as the social responsibility of promoting the harmony and reminding everyone of the need to get along, he explained.