ShopBack's latest music video might have dropped on April 1, but not many took it as a joke.
The video, meant to promote its mega sale and cashback mechanisms, featured brand ambassador and local comedian Kumar and TikTok influencer Kevin Tristan dancing to an eclectic beat.
It included a segment where the pair and several backup dancers donned traditional Indian attire and repeated the campaign tagline over Bollywood-esque music.
While the full video garnered praise for its catchiness on Facebook and Instagram, a 15-second cut of Tristan's solo on TikTok struck a nerve with netizens.
They called the clip problematic and slammed the company, saying "just because they have one token Indian celebrity, they created this fake 'Bollywood' song?"
A quick check on ShopBack's marketing collaterals showed no themes related to Indian heritage, culture or upcoming festivals except being fronted by Kumar.
"That ad, that ain't it yall," a user wrote.
In response to the TikTok clip, a user pointed out the lack of Indian dancers and questioned the need to feature Indian elements if they weren't going to include Indian talents.
"You really need to do better."
In response to the growing backlash, ShopBack left a comment on Monday morning (April 5) urging netizens to watch the full music video on their Facebook, adding: "We have Indian dancers!"
The video was deleted hours later.
Tristan also posted an update the same morning, saying he suffered from a mental breakdown and would be taking a break from social media.
In response to AsiaOne's queries, the co-founder of ShopBack Joel Leong called it a misconception and clarified that the company supports diversity and works with a wide range of content creators.
"This particular video starred Kumar, however, only a small part of the video was featured on TikTok, which led to the misconception," Leong explained. "We believe that the full video provides a better representation."
ShopBack said it has since reached out to the affronted TikTokers to address their concerns, as well as to learn more about what to take note of during their future productions.
Kumar also told AsiaOne that he stands by the video, saying: “[I] am proud to be part of and creatively involved in it.”
“I feel strongly about promoting and being a part of an inclusive society,” he added. “I invite everyone to watch the video in full.”
Cultural appropriation, yet again?
Many netizens have drawn comparisons to the 2019 Brownface scandal involving E-payment firm Nets and Mediacorp, whereby local Chinese radio deejay Dennis Chew played characters of other races by darkening his skin and wearing a headdress.
Police reports were lodged over the video and it was lambasted by both ministers and members of parliament, who stressed the importance of maintaining racial harmony in Singapore.
Local influencers Preetipls and her brother Subhas Nair also called out the advertisement in a rap, asking: "Is it the app or the stereotypes you tryna promote?"
The parties involved in the video publicly apologised for their actions.