Staff Reporters
17 hours ago

Stranger things: A reporters' notebook of WTF items

As journalists, we encounter two kinds of information: The kind that demands serious treatment, and the kind that makes us go…'Wait, what?' These are their stories.

Stranger things: A reporters' notebook of WTF items

Welcome to our growing collection of amusements, stupidities, and things that we just can't explain. If you see a 'stranger thing'and it's at least sort of related to marketingplease share it with us via Twitter, Facebook or our anonymous comment form.

18 August 2017

The Chinese government apparently thinks the astonishing video below—featuring a sarcastic presenter and an actor portraying a person from India in the most offensive way possible—is a good way to advance its point of view about a border dispute with India among an English-speaking, western audience (in addition to YouTube, Xinhua released the clip on Twitter and Facebook). BBC News has some background and reaction.     

9 August 2017

Credit: Qianjiang Evening Post

File this under marketing ideas that anyone who's not a neanderthal should know not to consider.

A shrimp restaurant in Hangzhou advertised a painfully objectifying discount scheme that offered women discounts ranging from 5 percent to 65 percent based on their bra size, according to a BBC News report based on a story by the Qianjiang Evening Post.

There is hope for humanity, however, as local people complained and the restaurant removed the posters, which had, by the way, carried the heading, "The whole city is looking for BREASTS".

If you want to cringe at more shamefully sexist (and racist!) advertising, our video journalist, Rick Boost, recently put together a compilation of "politically incorrect" mainland advertising.

3 August 2017

Australian retailer Big W is getting ridiculed for a new ad that heralds a rebranding effort. Is it because the brand's new logo, which was no doubt obtained at great expense, looks like it literally took about 14 seconds to create? No. As reports, it's because the ad displays the new logo only in blurred background positions (until the very end) but does show the old logo several times, including on the shirt of the spokesperson. An amusing snafu that's likely to be blamed on an agency underling, sure. But it also may have dire consequences, as the retailer's new growth plan is seen as its "last chance for survival".

20 July 2017

Exhibit A: Courtesy of Facebook - We're used to press releases that hide scant information among great globs of drivel, but this release from Facebook sets a new low. We found a single, lonely fact (Facebook is introducing something called Groups for Pages), but then we had to dig through 180 words of annoying nonsense—about bringing the world closer together, and how we all get support from our families and friends and communities—only to discover that the release did not bother to explain what Groups for Pages actually is, how it works, or how it might benefit users and/or advertisers. In other words, this release is absolutely useless to us—except for making fun of!     

Exhibit B: Courtesy of We Are Social - We always enjoy it when people send us releases that have a history of edits intact. We're confident that one day we will find a truly juicy story in the margins—maybe abusive comments or an attempt at a coverup. Until then, we'll content ourselves with pedantic gripes. For example, in the exhibit below, we can see that someone:

  • Introduced an error of noun-verb agreement, in that "their strengths...are coupled" was correct, but "their coupled" is not. (Our opinion is that it actually should be "its strengths...are coupled", but that's another issue.)
  • Missed not one but two instances of "it's" that should have been "its".
  • For some reason felt that we shouldn't be entitled to "see a brighter, smarter, future". 

We all make typos and grammar mistakes from time to time, but that last change? It really hurts, you guys. Why do you wish to deny us a brighter, smarter future, We Are Social? 


3 July 2017

The Toilet Tourism Awards are an attention-getting ploy by Travel Research Agency (and look, it's working). The winners of the inaugural awards were just announced, and you can read all about it here. We're ever so slightly outraged that five of the six winners of this supposedly global contest are in Australia and New Zealand. But we grant that the topic is worthy of attention for tourism authorities, and it's nice that the research company is making a donation of A$2,000 to UN Toilet Day in the name of the winning entry (the 'Dunnies with difference' line by Toowoomba Portable Toilets, which includes a loo that looks like a rustic cabin and another that looks like a London phone box).

See, we made it all the way to the very bottom of this item without a cheeky pun. Oh, crap.   

14 June 2017

A company called Dr Who Waterworks in Singapore is marketing "oxygenated water", which it refers to as "living water"—as opposed to the dead stuff we've been drinking all our lives. The company claims that the "key health benefits of fresh oxygenated water are increased energy, an uplifting sense of alertness, clarity of mind, boosting of stamina and immune system activation."

That's all utter nonsense, of course. Because as any grade-school student can tell you, we don't get oxygen through our digestive systems. In fact, we have a pair of organs that evolved specifically to obtain oxygen from the air. They're called lungs, and they do a bang-up job in most cases. According to reputable sources (see below) oxygenated water is a "scam" that's akin to "snake oil without the snake or the oil", and the claims of any health benefits (above and beyond those provided by, you know, water) "cannot be taken seriously".

The company's website proudly proclaims that it's a "Product of Singapore" alongside a red lion icon. But apparently, pretty much anyone can use that icon.


13 June 2017

The hazards of machine translation. A human translator would have gone with "Buddha jumps over the wall". 

19 May 2017

We get a lot of incomprehensible press releases, but this one goes into the hall of fame/shame.

From: Vishal Reddy
Date: Thursday, 18 May, 2017 21:50
Subject: Press Release / My Virgin Diary Movie_Flash Mob
Flash..!! Here Comes the Dance…My Virgin Diary

A usual weekend at India Gate with the bevies of cheerful families and friends having their time. And amongst all the chattering, chirping, giggling… suddenly the time stops … everyone gets stunned, saying… What the hell is this? The mission of a FLASH MOB is now successful.

Nalin Singh, a Hindu College pass-out, was himself a part of “Nukkad Nataks” formed by few passionate Hindu College hostellers who used to perform on Delhi streets. “Ours was a struggling drama society, we danced, sung and acted, surprised and entertained the passersby, collected some money and absconded from the scene before the police could shoo us away” reminisces Nalin.

In his upcoming ambitious celluloid directorial project “My Virgin Diary”, Nalin has featured his group of roomies, the college days and hostel-life without any circumlocution. “Many known as well as unsung bands of Delhi have contributed for “My Virgin Diary” in the form of music, lyrics or voice. While shooting for Flash Mob scene, we actually went on streets, performed, collected money from passersby and flew the scene before the entry of actual policemen” said Nalin.

Flash Mobs, a group of crazy people abruptly gets in action among routine public activities, stuns the mob with a crackpot performance and then suddenly vanishes in the air. Residents of metros are now getting accustomed to such impulsive, ‘hit-and-run’ performances. Several malls in Bangalore, CST Mumbai and few popular public places in Delhi have been stormed and stunned by such Flash Mobs in last few years.

“The basic idea behind such Flash Mobs is to surprise and delight random strangers through positive pranks, especially music and dance” says Nalin Singh, an influential actor and kickass director whose upcoming movie features Flash Mob prominently and interestingly.

Flash Mobs takes us for a huge surprise and are rapidly gaining a reputation as a popular and innovative promotion tool of advertising agencies for BTL activities. So, when next time you see a guy or a girl passing by suddenly starts dancing or singing and then surprisingly joined by other equally lunatic persons, don’t just watch with jaw dropped…join it. You’ll actually feel better.

The release also came with several pictures of the coquettish imp below, but of course they were not labeled.

Needless to say we figured out by careful reading and Googling that the release is discussing an upcoming movie, and the shameless flirt is Nalin Singh, the director. And we finally spotted the key phrase that explained why a release about a movie spent three paragraphs explaining what flash mobs are.

But the only reason we put in that work was so we could post this and make fun of it. So a word to the wise: No journalist enjoys having to puzzle something out, and in general we value plain language and clear information. Put another way, if we have to read more than one sentence to understand what you're on about, you're getting deleted. Perhaps your client is a household name to everyone but us, but the job of a press release is not to show you are clever or to entertain us. (Also, please try to put some news in your news release, and perhaps consider sending it only to publications that are likely to give a hoot.)

10 May 2017

We're a bit worried that Colonel Sanders may be suffering from an identity crisis. One minute he's making dire warnings about hacking and getting involved in kidnapping plots in Hong Kong (see "The Colonel gets creepy" below), the next he's an irresistable fiance-stealing hunk in a we-are-not-making-this-up romance novel that carries the following description on Amazon:

When Lady Madeline Parker runs away from Parker Manor and a loveless betrothal, she finally feels like she is in control of her life. But what happens when she realizes she can’t control how she feels? When she finds herself swept into the arms of Harland, a handsome sailor with a mysterious past, Madeline realizes she must choose between a life of order and a man of passion. Can love overcome lies? What happens in the embrace of destiny, on the Tender Wings of Desire?

Overall we still have to salute the brand for trying lots of off-the-wall ideas to get attention (among them, edible, chicken-flavoured nail polish and non-edible but delicious-smelling sunscreen). Most of its ploys work, although it did seriously miss the mark in APAC recently (see "Poor residents of a flooded Philippines village need...KFC?"). But we wonder, if the Colonel is asked to stand for so many things, will he end up standing for nothing at some point? When does a multiple-personality mascot become madness? 

28 April 2017

Come to think of it, "in" would not have been any better.

25 April 2017

The above took place at a KFC press event last week introducing a fancy ordering kiosk and an ordering app in Hong Kong (see "Virtual Colonel: KFC targets 'trendier' clientele with voice-activated AI booth"). The clip is in Cantonese, but even the fluent among us walked away puzzled as to why the beloved, friendly Colonel (or a guy in a Colonol mask) was laughing in supervillain fashion and making ominous threats about hacking and identity theft. Here's a partial translation of his diabolical monologue:

Hong Kong citizens beware, we will hack into KFC’s system and Facebook page whenever we like. We can be anybody, speaking in any voice...our people are could be anyone right beside you.

He's introducing a Facebook contest that involves some decoding challenges. The mask alludes to the hacking group Anonymous, and the Colonel explicitly mentions the TV show Mr Robot, which is all about hacking and corporate espionage. We suppose the intent was to appeal to young people by showing the brand is knowledgable about technology and culture. But while we understand (and appreciate) that KFC is not averse to odd promotional ideas, we're not sure a hacker theme is a great idea when you're trying to get people to download a new app.

Oh, and we haven't even mentioned the point about 1 minute into the video, where another character in a Colonel mask comes up on stage and 'kidnaps' the brand's Hong Kong CEO, Alan Chan. Don't worry though—he returns apparently unharmed at about the 3:15 mark.  

The moment of the 'kidnapping' 

18 April 2017

Ah, the eternal appeal of being the "first" to achieve something—no matter how dubious that achievement might be. The people at Guinness World Records have built a whole empire on it, for example. Needless to say, our inboxes are quite often blessed with delightful examples of 'first everism'. (By the way, it's never ever enough to simply say "first": the redundant "ever" is required.)

Scroll down this page and you'll find the first ever instance of a robot guiding a meditation session, not to mention the first ever hotel with robotic dinosaurs staffing its reception desk. Now comes Norwegian Cruise Lines, with what it calls the first ever racetrack at sea.  

Why? Because it's the first ever! Weren't you listening?

Anyway, the press release came with the lovely and very realistic artist's rendering above, because the ship itself is still under construction and due to set sail this summer, targeting Chinese cruise-goers.

Ferrari, which apparently has never encountered a licensing/merchandising opportunity it didn't like, will have a store selling watches near the racetrack exit. Sorry, we meant to say it will have a store selling "timepieces" that evoke "the sculpted forms and signature design details found on Scuderia Ferrari racing cars" and are "powered by precise quartz and automatic engines to deliver uncompromising performance".

The watchestimepieces are also water resistant to a depth of 30 metres, which seems an odd detail to stress as a selling point for buyers who are on a cruise ship, but we're no marketing geniuses. 

As an added bonus, this press release introduced us to the stunning fact that modern cruise ships (at least some of those in the Norwegian line) include something called a virtual balcony. It's exactly as pathetic as it sounds: an interior cabin with a large TV screen showing a view of the sea outside the ship. 

5 April 2017

Trying to make sense of this ad, spotted in Hong Kong MTR stations, is breaking our brains.

Here's what we know: The brand is Hicomi, a Malaysia-based purveyor of instant coffee. The products being advertised? A conventional cream-and-sugar variety and a durian-flavoured offering. The person wearing makeup identical to Gene Simmons of Kiss, and sticking his tongue out in an identical manner? Hong Kong martial artist and actor Lo Mang, though he's hardly recognisable. The copy, roughly translated? "Stimulate your taste buds: Richly fragrant white coffee with a sweet finish. Try it, and you’ll know how great it is."

How any of those things fit together? Well, we've done a rather embarrassing amount of research on this, and if anything we are now stupider than when we started. One of Lo Mang's most famous roles was The Five Deadly Venoms, where he appeared in a painted mask. So perhaps... Nope, his character was that of a toad, and Gene Simmons was meant to be a demon (and was known for breathing fire and spitting up blood in Kiss concerts in the 1970s).

So, we guess we're meant to connect that extended tongue with taste buds. But if in fact it was Hicomi's intent to associate its instant coffee with the tongue of a greasepaint-covered 1970s rocker, we have to question the wisdom of that approach. Because Simmons' famously lengthy tongue, not to put too fine a point on it, was more closely associated with the man's sexual escapades than it was with discerning the flavours of delicious beverages. And even if you accept that Lo Mang as Gene Simmons as super-taster is a solid strategy (which we do not), then you have to face the fact that precious few Hong Kong people would know Simmons, or Kiss, and that therefore, if they noticed this ad at all, they would probably only wonder why that weird, scary clown appears to be gagging.

One thing we do know, however, is that the famously business-minded Simmons wouldn't take kindly to appropriation of his likeness. Moreover, as one of us has experienced personally (no kidding), he has no problem yelling at people who interfere with his interests.  

5 April 2017

You know what, don't answer that. Some things are best left mysterious.


Life has been hard on Britney. #WKFD35 #WKSHFD12 #TheKennedys_SH #Graduation

A post shared by Rob Campbell (@robertc1970) on

30 March 2017

In announcing some new Instagram features, an email and blog post from Facebook made the following incredible statement (emphasis added):

The Instagram community has shown us that it can be fun to share things that disappear after a day, so in the main Facebook app we're also introducing Facebook Stories, which lets you share multiple photos and videos as part of a visual collection atop News Feed. Your friends can view photos or videos your story for 24 hours, and stories won’t appear on your Timeline or in News Feed unless you post them there, too.

We understand that gaslighting is all the rage these days, but we're still impressed by this level of chutzpah. 

27 March 2017

Are these four gentlemen about to travel back in time to prevent some sort of disaster? Are they launching a doomsday weapon? Are they about to be electrocuted? Are they making first contact with an alien species? Have they invented a device that can generate bursts of confetti? All of the above seem possible, and a press release sent to us by Singtel doesn't explain, even though it talks at length about a mobile-money partnership the company launched yesterday with Telkomsel. The release even remembers to tell us who is in the photo (for the record, from left to right we have Ngurah Swajaya, Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore; Yuen Kuan Moon, CEO, consumer Singapore, Singtel; Pak Ririek Adriansyah, CEO, Telkomsel; and Pak Gilarsi Wahju Setijono, president director, PT POS Indonesia). But no explanation of the mysterious globe. (If it does turn out to be a confetti generator, we want one!) 


24 March 2017

The Henn na Hotel, located near Tokyo Disney, claims to be a "world-first hotel staffed by robots", including multilingual human and dinosaur reception robots, a robotic cloakroom attendant, window-cleaning and vacuuming robots and extremely slow porter robots (judging by the video below). "Mechanic yet somehow human, those fun moments with the robots will warm your heart", the hotel assures us. Still, seven humans are on duty to provide assistance and in case of emergency. We actually have no qualms about robots, so long as they don't ask us to meditate (see item below from 14 March).

16 March 2017

"Extivation"? Sorry, Mediacorp, you cannot just make up a word. Especially when it's a clumsy portmanteau that sounds more like a frightening dental procedure than a mildly interesting brand-activation experience. And anyway, isn't "brand-activation experience" already pretentious enough? (For anyone who may be interested, here is more information and a photo of the Dove extivation promotion in question.)

14 March 2017

There are many interesting things happening at the SXSW conference in the US this week. And one of them is certainly this "world’s first mindfulness meditation led by a robot". We know, it's hard to believe it's the world's first meditation led by a robot, but we'll trust the kind folks at McCann on that. The big-eyed device, “Shiromaru” is a project of the McCann Millennials, a team of young people that previously developed an AI creative director.

We encourage you to zoom in on the picture above. We can't argue that the people there aren't having "an experience of looking inward and conversing with oneself". Below, you'll find more information from McCann about the bot. We particularly enjoy imagining the suggested passive-aggressive role the robot could play in meetings, which in our mind does not always lead to peaceful outcomes for the people involved—or for Shiromaru.

14 March 2017

This makeup ad spotted in the Hong Kong MTR takes photo retouching not to another level, but to another planet. And if all the natives there have the same creepy eyes and oddly warped facial structures as these two, it is not a planet we would care to visit.

10 March 2017

HBO is making its best effort at slaying Asian productivity, by announcing the return of Games of Thrones' 7th season in Asia, premiering at 9 am (8 am Thai/Jkt) on 17 July, simultaneous to US prime time, which should only encourage more sick days in this part of the world as workers stay home in their bathrobes and turn on the telly.

9 March 2017

We won't spank the folks at Osim for the hilarious product name 'uBumBum'; it's kind of cute, and it gets right to the bottom of what this massage chair is offering. And if you want to have your ass...ets squeezed and stretched, we won't judge. But we do think someone should get a swift kick in the backside for the litany of ludicrous "well-being" selling points found in the online product literature, such as that the chair "keeps the bum in shape", "improves circulation" and "detoxification", and "prevents cellulite build up and water retention".

3 March 2017

This is an actual email we received from a media-relations person for a major agency network, who seems unclear about the function journalists perform. It's not the first (or hundredth) time we've received pushback on a story, but this one is special.

1 March 2017

Star Cruises is offering a special cruise experience "for ladies" in connection with International Women's Day. All we can say is, we sincerely hope the ship itself isn't as antiquated as the company's idea of what lady-hood entails.


23 February 2017

The headline on this Tata press release may be a slight overstatement.

24 February 2017

The people at Lux are quite excited about a partnership with notebook maker Moleskine. So much so that they sent us, sorry, "cascaded" to us, a couple of "Fragrance Note" notebooks, along with a florid statement about the "mysterious world of perfumery".

Here's the inside of a Lux Fragrance Note notebook. "Inspired by the closely guarded secrets of a Master Perfumer’s notebook", it's got pages (and pages) "for fragrance lovers to record their observations". About perfumes. Yes, we'll get right on that. (Thanks for the shower gel you sent, though!)

22 February 2017

A wonderful AP story made us aware of the Japan Ninja Council, a group devoted to developing interest and tourism. We urge you to check the group's website for its inspiring mission statement, which concludes, "We unite in the name of Ninja, simply because we are all falling in love with them."

22 February 2017

Thailand's Impact Speed Park, according to a press release, is a "world-class go-kart facility...designed without compromise to maximize the ultimate experience". We imagine it looks absolutely amazing. And since this drab image of a company outing was the only picture provided, "imagine" is the operative word.

18 February 2017

We get it—it’s a product you shove up your nose. Whether seeing it in action really helps to sell it is debatable at best. But this outdoor display ad in a Hong Kong storefront throws out the rulebook (thou shalt not display models with items in their nose) and goes 'all in'.


1 February 2017

We're not against a little wordplay. But with a title like 'Bangkok Hooker', we did not expect this press release from Discovery Networks to be describing a TV show about fishing. (We thought it was talking about a reboot of the old William Shatner detective show, TJ Hooker, but in a new setting. What were YOU picturing?)

22 January 2017 



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