Singapore advertising body to beef up policies on race and ethnicity after Havas' racist ad furore

Asas' council has previously said while the ad was found to be in poor taste, it did not breach the code.

Singapore’s Advertising Standards Authority (Asas) has announced it wants to introduce a recommendation on race and ethnicity to marketers when they are planning for campaigns.

This comes after an e-payment ad produced by Havas for Nets was accused of promoting racism and cultural appropriation after using a Chinese actor, who is employed by Mediacorp, to dress up as characters of other races, including darkening his skin.

The ad was intended to encourage the public to use electronic payment solutions in coffee shops, hawker centres, and industrial canteens across the country.

According to The Straits Times, the recommendation by Asas will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (Scap), a code that is being reviewed.

The code currently has a section devoted to social values, which stipulates that an ad should not jeopardise inter-ethnic understanding, or discriminate against any ethnic group or religion, among others.

However, Asas' council has previously said while the ad was found to be in poor taste, it did not breach the code as it did not explicitly put down any ethnic groups, employ harmful stereotypes, and Havas had explained that this was not its intent.

"The new recommendation will help highlight to marketers the potential sensitivities involved if race and ethnicity are in their campaigns. The wording of the new recommendation is still being worked out," said Ang Peng Hwa, the chairman of Asas.

"Asas has been reviewing the Scap for a few months now and intends to complete it later this year. The last major revision was in 2008. The upcoming Scap will also include guidelines for advertising in the digital space, like on social media".

In a joint statement released with Mediacorp previously, Havas had said: “The message behind this advertising campaign is that e-payment is for everyone. For that reason, Dennis Chew, well-known for his ability to portray multiple characters in a single production in a light-hearted way, was selected as the face of the campaign.”

“He appears as characters from different walks of life in Singapore, bringing home the point that everyone can e-pay.

"We’re sorry for any hurt that was unintentionally caused. Behind the ad is an initiative to provide greater convenience to consumers, merchants and small food businesses.”

Nets has also apologised for commissioning the ad. It said: “Our multicultural society defines us as a nation, and we regret if anyone has been offended by the campaign."

The outrage over the ad has seen the issue of race crop up in Singapore, which prides itself for its multi-racial and multi-cultural harmony between its majority races of Chinese, Malay and Indian. Chinese make up 76.2% of the citizen population.

That has seen police reports being made against the "brownface" ad, and a rap video on racism in response to the ad, created by local influencer Preeti Nair and her brother Subhas Nair, taken down by the government.

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