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5 Controversial Ads That Didn’t Sit Well with Singaporeans

There are a whole lot of things that can go wrong in the marketing space. And over the last decade, Singapore’s marketing industry has unleashed some of the most interesting marketing campaigns. While some were impressionable, others were shocking and cringe-inducing, to say the least.

So, here we are with 5 controversial Singaporean advertisements that garnered diverse opinions and divided netizens into two camps.

1. Circles.Life: Data Deprivation

In 2017, Singapore-based multinational mobile virtual network operator Circles.Life came under a lot of flak for the visual style and the tone that it took for this commercial.

The language style closely resembled the campaigns by humanitarian aid organizations that raise awareness towards social causes like poverty. Many saw the ad as insensitive and dismissive of real global issues, especially when juxtaposed with what can clearly be considered a first-world problem.

This reminded me of this commercial by Miracle Mattress that tried to milk the 9/11 tragedy.

Dear marketers, such tactics seldom work!

2. Singapore Tourism Board: Surprise in Singapore

Singapore received global spotlights for this commercial in 2014, but definitely not in a good way.

The ad became a subject of ridicule across social media channels, which prompted the Singapore Tourism Board to pull the video from its YouTube channel. Fortunately, other users had managed to download it and reposted this ‘gem’ on their channels. The poor dubbing, banal soundtrack, and air-headed lines of this commercial should serve as a case study for what you shouldn’t be doing in your ads.

3. Burger King: Super Seven Incher

Back in 2009, Burger King came up with its new sandwich offering called the “Super Seven Incher”.

To promote the new product, a local ad agency produced an outdoor ad, which received a lot of attention but was accompanied by a barrage of criticism. The ad came under a lot of flak for its use of sexual codes to sell the product.

Honestly, it sounds like a porn title, so it’s no surprise why people acted this way.

4. I Love Children: Early Parenthood

The City Hall MRT was plastered with cartoons advocating early parenthood in 2016. The cartoons depicted sperm and eggs in activities together such as rowing a boat or playing darts.

The campaign used slogans like “Fertility is a gift with an expiry date” and “Women are born with a finite number of eggs”. Therefore, it was hardly a surprise that the campaign was called out for scaremongering and was accused of being insensitive towards infertile women and others who had experienced miscarriages.

5. E-Pay: Brown Face

In 2019, E-Pay found itself embroiled in a “brownface” controversy after an ethnically Chinese actor darkened his skin to portray characters of different races.

The ad, which is a part of the government’s initiative to promote electronic payments, features actor Dennis Chew dressed as four characters, including what appears like a Malay woman wearing a headscarf. The ad has since been taken down.

Wrapping Up

Singaporeans are some of the most pleasant people that I have come across. And if your ad still manages to piss them off, then it must be absolutely terrible, which is well-demonstrated by the advertisements mentioned in this blog.

If you are a budding marketer, make sure to keep these ads in your mind to ensure that your ad doesn’t disappoint your audience as these did.


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