Nets apologises for hurt caused by controversial E-Pay advertisement; netizens fume in anger

After days of non-stop issues revolving the ‘brownface’ advertisement for E-Pay, financial service firm Nets has now come out to issue an apology for any hurt caused by the advertising campaign.

“Nets would like to apologise for any hurt that its campaign has caused. The intent of the campaign was to communicate that e-payment is for everyone,” the company explained in a statement.

The ad was created for epaysg.com, an e-payment website, which featured Mediacorp actor and DJ Dennis Chew impersonating different races.

In the ad, one can see Chew dressed up as different races in Singapore such as a Malay woman in a headscarf as well as an Indian man with darkened skin. He also portrayed the role of a Chinese woman in a pink jacket and a Chinese man with a moustache in the advertisement.

The Nets campaign was done for a unified e-payment solution, and was displayed online, as well as at hawker centres, canteens and coffee shops.

It was created under a multi-agency effort spearheaded by Enterprise Singapore to promote cashless payment. Nets was hired as the “master acquirer” to be in-charge of payment transactions and drive adoption of e-payment in small food businesses.

Other agencies that are part of this campaign include National Environment Agency, the Housing Board and JTC Corporation.

Earlier on 28 July (Sunday), Mediacorp in a statement given to The Sunday Times apologised for the advertisement.

The creative agency appointed for the advertisement, Havas Worldwide, and The Celebrity Agency (TCA), Mediacorp’s celebrity management arm said, “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 business.”

The epaysg.com website later removed the controversial advertisement.

However, as expected the E-Pay ad did not go down too well with the public, with many criticising the need to use one person to play different roles instead of hiring people of the actual races to play the characters.

As such, Singaporean influencer and comedian Preeti Nair, famously known as Preetipls, along with her brother, rapper Subhas Nair, released a rap video calling out epaysg.com for being racist on Facebook and YouTube on Monday (29 June).

The video titled “K. Muthusamy” contains offensive content where the siblings can be heard repeatedly uttering “Chinese people always out here f***ing it up”, while condemning Chinese Singaporeans who they claim are racist and exploit minorities for money.

Upon the release of the video, the police acknowledged that they’re aware of it and a report has been lodged against it. “The police will not tolerate any offensive content that causes ill will between races,” the police said while highlighting that they are investigating the matter.

Even the Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam slams the rap video and says that it “crosses the line” and is not acceptable.

“This rap video insults Chinese Singaporeans, uses four-letter words on Chinese Singaporeans, vulgar gestures, pointing of middle finger, to make minorities angry with Chinese Singaporeans,” the Minister said.

He added, “When you use four-letter words, vulgar language, attack another race, put it out in public, we have to draw the line and say not acceptable.”

The siblings later took down the video from Facebook and other social media channels, but others reuploaded the clip on different online sites.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) also revealed on Wednesday (31 July) that it had requested individuals and Internet platforms to remove the video. The police and IMDA also urged people to stop circulating the rap video.

After reading Nets’ apology, many netizens blamed the company for causing such a problem and their apology did not seem sincere. They also said in the Facebook pages of ST and CNA that the company should have vetted through the ad before actually releasing it. Others pointed out that marketing campaigns these days are being “insensitive and socially irresponsible” as they fail to consider social norms, racial harmony and ethics.

Others explained that it is not right for the campaign to pick one person to play all four roles, just for the sake of saving them some money. They added that the move was foolish and stupid, and if they have actually hired four people to play all the characters, then this controversy could have been avoided altogether.

Some said that Singaporeans have spent decades trying to get rid of racism, so a simply apology from these organisations is not enough. This is because they said that “this advertisement is a direct insult on us and those who sacrificed so much for the harmony we have where other countries can only see in envy”. As such, they want the person who approved the ad to be sacked for bringing racial disharmony in the country.

Facebook user Robert Lim suggests the Ministers and CEOs overseeing and responsible for all the organisations that headed the campaign to “come together to apologise to the nation for hurting the race and feelings of citizens”.