June 20, 2024

Crystal Jade is facing backlash over a Mother and Father’s Day char siew promotion that called for parents to recite a Cantonese phrase, “saang gau caa siu hou gwo saang nei” (It’s better to give birth to a piece of char siew than to give birth to you), to their child in front of a staff member of the restaurant. 

Parents who did so would receive a free plate of roasted honey barbecue pork.

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In a promotional video for the deal, a mother is sitting with her daughter in a Crystal Jade restaurant and chiding her for not picking up her calls, coming home late and using the house “as a hotel”.  

“Giving birth to char siew [is] better than you,” the mother in the video says. “At least char siew is nice to eat.”

A server then places a plate of char siew on the table and the girl serves her mother, inviting her to dig in and to enjoy the food. The video then ends with a caption that reads: 

Be better than a char siew.

The video received mixed reactions by netizens online. Some said that it was a funny promotion as Cantonese families do say these things to their children and that it does not mean that they love them less. Some also said that it was not in bad taste and that they had a laugh out of it. Others took offense at the promotion, calling the promotion “disrespectful”, “tactless” and “distasteful”. Some even called it a “marketing disaster” 

The promotion started on 4 May and will run on 8, 9, 15 and 16 June at Crystal Jade Hong Kong Kitchen and La Mian Xiao Long Bao outlets. The restaurant reportedly does not plan to stop the promotion, according to The Straits Times

In a statement to MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, it said that its intention was to bring a touch of lightheartedness to the Mother’s and Father’s Day weekends with a campaign that references a common Cantonese saying parents use to express exasperation over their children.

“A post was put up on our socials on 29 April to share about this campaign and also to illustrate the use of this phrase. We intended this to be a way for us to connect with our Cantonese-speaking audience in a relatable and humorous manner,” a spokesperson said, adding:

However, we understand that humour can be subjective, and regret that this particular reference missed the mark and has caused unhappiness among some customers.”

Using humour right

Studies have shown that humour can add memorability and endear consumers to brands. In fact, 89% of consumers in Asia Pacific and Japan (JAPAC) are more likely to remember funny ads, according to a 2022 report by Oracle and Gretchen Rubin. Furthermore, 76% of respondents expressed that brand could do more to deliver happiness to customers, while 91% said that they preferred brands to be funny.

However, brands need to be able to engage with humour safely. 

“While brands need to stay true and consistent to their tone of voice, brands, like people, are more than one dimensional,” said Smith Leong, client service director at Havas Play Singapore during a previous interview with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE. He added that a brand needs to keep in mind whether breaking character would add value to its image, persona, product or service offerings. When the right opportunity arises, it can be appropriate to incorporate humour.

While a brand might be tempted to jump on the bandwagon of trending jokes and topics, Leong also cautioned against forcing humour, even if a brand has been successful once. “Continue to look into the data and understand what the audiences are seeking instead of trying too hard to upkeep a humourous image,” he said. 

Leong also highlighted that authenticity is an important factor when using humour in ads, especially on social media, adding:

Trying too hard will only push audiences away. Both trust and brand positioning take time to build.

Crafting an authentic brand personality with humour

In the same vein, Kunal Jeswani, group CEO for Singapore and Malaysia at Ogilvy, said that brand personalities are shaped over time, having been carefully curated. Sharing his view on using humour right, he said:

Use humour when it makes sense as a means to communicate better.

If engaging in humour helps consumers love the brand a little more, it is worth doing so. Meanwhile, if it does not add value to a brand’s personality, it should not force it, he said. 

“Don’t write anything you wouldn’t want your mother or your kids to read. Don’t write anything that you know is offensive to a particular group of people. Again, the brand is not a stand-up comic. Don’t use humour just to get a laugh. Use it, when it makes sense, as a means to communicate better,” said Jeswani, adding:

The focus is always on the message you want to get across. If humour helps the message land, that’s great.

Join us on 12 June 2024 for an exciting experience as Content360 makes its debut in Malaysia! Brace yourself to join the crème de la crème of the content marketing industry hailing from across the region. Immerse yourself in a dynamic atmosphere, and uncover the latest trends with thought leaders and solution providers from the realm of content.

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