How to avoid repeating 'brownface' ad saga
Having diversity and consulting with different segments of society are ways creative agencies and other organisations can avoid a repeat of the racially insensitive "brownface" advertising campaign, experts say.
The Infocomm Media Development Authority yesterday issued a stern reminder to those involved in the controversial E-Pay ad on the importance of paying attention to racial and religious sensitivities.
Featuring Mediacorp actor Dennis Chew portraying other races by wearing a tudung and darkening his skin, it was slammed for being offensive.
In the wake of the backlash, Havas Worldwide, the agency behind the ad, Mediacorp's celebrity management arm, The Celebrity Agency, financial services firm Nets, and Chew himself have apologised.
And while there is no criminal offence, Ms Wong Pei Wen, a public relations lecturer at Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (NTU WKWSCI), said brands can learn from this and improve their practices.
Ms Wong said brands need to be aware of unconscious discrimination, which can lead to them targeting a majority race in their ads thinking it will resonate more, or forgetting the disadvantages faced by minorities.
Involving a diversified team during the ideation process is a good start, and many organisations have adopted social compliance standards to be more accountable, Ms Wong added.
Mr Lars Voedisch, managing director of PRecious Communications, said companies must know what is or is not socially acceptable.
"If you call out a specific segment of society, best to check with people from that group. Because sometimes you want to cause controversy if it steers discussion. But at the end of the day, we should not get away with things that are not acceptable," he said.
NTU WKWSCI's Assistant Professor Saifuddin Ahmed, who researches social media and minority issues, said a lack of everyday conversation around race could also be a reason for incidents like the E-Pay ad.
Urging for more openness on race and racism, Prof Saifuddin said: "Offence stems not from imitating people or parody sketches, but a selective targeting, mockery or lack of equal representation."