In their desperation to be noticed amid all the visual clutter, Hong Kong advertisers have for some years been using bigger and bigger hoardings, some of which are now too massive to see properly except, perhaps, from low earth orbit. Such is the fate of upstart underdog budget carrier Air Asia’s mega-poster hanging on the entire side of a building next to the Mid-Levels Escalator, largely obscured by the trundling commuter system’s roof. This is probably just as well, because anyone taking the trouble to lean over the side of the walkway to see the ad in its towering entirety could, if they are of a sensitive disposition, have a bit of a shock.
“Now taking reservations,” it says, showing the usual Asian airline image of aircraft interior and smiling, uniformed, babe-type cabin attendant with come-to-the-galley eyes. Then it adds, “The seat, not the girl”. Faster than you can say ‘Eewwww’, you see that on the nearest seat is a sign saying “I’m hot”.
Apparently, the ad first appeared in an English-language magazine in Bangkok, unfortunately near an article on child prostitution. It prompted a bit of righteous Facebook fury, to which the airline responded by saying how much they treasured their female crew. “We always use our own flight attendants ahead of models for advertising,” it said, as if a budget airline from Kuala Lumpur would normally hire Claudia Schiffer. Interestingly, the corporate spokesperson thanked the on-line protestors for their feedback and promised to “take it into account for our future advertisements.”
After having done so, they now launch the ad here in Hong Kong, intact. Presumably, in the best tradition of low-cost carriers, the idea is to see if they can provoke some Big Lychee-scale outrage among the local chattering classes and hence free viral publicity for the product in question (the now-common airline practice of charging passengers extra in those parts of the cabin with more legroom). It all depends on how desperate the South China Morning Post is for a story.
Hey – they could have had her thrusting her buttocks into the camera lens with the slogan “Welcome to grab one of our Hot Seats!!!”
A – maybe apocryphal – trendy western 1970s feminist story tells of a billboard advertising a flashy sports vehicle with the tagline “If this car was a woman it would have its bottom pinched”, on which someone had spray-painted “If this woman was a car she would run you over.”
The Air Asia ad could provoke – and I suspect is hoped to provoke – much politically correct mouth-frothing. My inclination, however, is that the forces of wrathful vengeance against the objectivization and degradation of women should back off. Air Asia is an airline that serves the oppressed and disadvantaged. Having flown on it once, I can fairly say that their motto should be ‘We never forget that you’re too poor to have a choice’. It is the nearest Asia has to an airborne shelter for the socio-economic underclass, such as welfare mothers and beaten spouses. A worthy cause, in short.
More to the point is that Air Asia apparently wants to position itself as a fun carrier with a ‘cheeky brand’…
Yet it operates in Southeast Asia, a multicultural environment where everyone from two-bit monarchs to rabid mullahs to racial supremacists to government censors to the Li dynasty has their own view on what ‘cheeky’ is – even before Hong Kong’s burgeoning equal rights industry wades in.
A tortuous flick through the lighter columns of the English-language press in Malaysia and Singapore shows the result: eagerness to amuse waylaid by a constant fear of causing offence, leading to embarrassing gaucheness instead of risque humour. Something like a bowdlerized Nury Vittachi article where the editor has left in only the least radical, edgy, dangerous and satirical wit. In other words, imagine the copy on the Air Asia ad being spoken in a Malaysian accent. All is forgiven.