Updated with apology note
SINGAPORE – Circles.Life telco shared an apology post on their social media yesterday (10 June), apologising for the gaffe: "We messed up. We're sorry. Our posts were tone deaf. We made an error in judgment. We didn't give this topic the thoughtfulness it deserves. Our intention was to celebrate diversity in a light-hearted manner, but we didn't consider the gravity of the issue when executing this."
Known for their cheap data-centric phone plans, Circles.Life found itself in hot water when they attempted to trend-jack after the recent string of racist incidents in recent months.
Trend-jacking is a quick way to get clout on social media as companies and digital marketers optimise their posts with trending topics or trending hashtags. They piggy-backed on buzzwords and trends to drive clicks and eyeballs to the companies’ products in a bid to remain at the top of mind amongst its target audience.
In an attempt to show diversity in the company, Circles.Life posted a graphic post on 8 June across their social media platforms with the words, “This post was designed by a Filipino. Copywritten by a Malay. Approved by a Chinese. From a Singaporean brand that is 100 per cent for the people.”
However, judging from the comments under the post, Circles.Life incurred wrath amongst its customers and social media users.
Facebook user Alexander Ian Loh commented, “This is such a terrible attempt at being woke”, echoed by many others on Instagram. Other users reminded the telco company that the four main races in Singapore are Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Eurasian, reflecting on the writing “From a Singaporean brand that is 100% about its people” on the telco’s graphic.
The comments pointed out that the company included a non-Singaporean yet omitted two out of the four main races despite what they had written. Instagram user @dimitra.meghawaty also pointed out that “marketers who have done their own anti-racism work and understand stuff like wokewashing, tokenism etc.,” are needed for companies.
Following the uproar of its initial post, the company released a follow-up post in which, instead of displaying its staff’s race or nationality, the part was left blank.
The follow-up was, however, a little too late.
Facebook user Gregory Lu bluntly reminded the telco company that their subscribers are with them because it is likened to “Air Asia. Cheap but get the job done.” Eric Bachtiar suggested in the comments for the telco to “get a refund from your ad agency,” and added that “if it's done in-house, maybe time to get an agency.”
Speaking to Asiaone, Circles.Life's Head of Marketing Delbart Ty said that "we're giving power back to our customers by asking how they would have written the post if it was up to them. We aren't just anti-racist, we're pro-people. We simply don't see race, because we see people as people. We're going to continue the conversation as we always do, in an honest, sincere manner."
If anything, Instagram user @aimeesophiaa sums the whole Circle.Life’s woke saga perfectly in the comment on the follow-up post, “so many words and none of them was (sic) “sorry””.