Unfortunate and awkward ad placements – we’re sure you’ve seen them before. Whether or not they were a result of just pure coincidence or editorial oversight, unfortunate ad placements leave us facepalming and shaking our heads and thinking: why didn’t they see that?!

Here are four unfortunate examples that we have seen that proves it’s all about location and timing, when it comes to ad placements.

1. Axe Brand Oil

Back in July 2021, we read the very tragic news about how a Sec 4 River Valley High School student had attacked and killed a Sec 1 student in a school toilet, by striking him with an axe that he had allegedly bought online.

Axe Brand Oil
Image adapted from: The Straits Times, 20 July 2021

In the Straits Times coverage of the incident, the story was run on the front page the following day, alongside a COVID-related article on the Jurong Port and KTV clusters. However, what caught the eye of many readers was the unfortunate ad placement at the bottom of the front page: an advertisement for Axe Brand medicated oil.

The irony was that on any other given day, people wouldn’t have thought twice about it. However, what was most unfortunate was the medicated oil being advertised was Axe Brand, which seemed to appear sardonic as the weapon associated with the attack was also an axe.

After many Singaporeans called out both Straits Times and Axe Brand for the ad placement, the latter responded by clarifying that the placement was not intentional but rather a very sad coincidence, and that the ad space was booked over half a year prior. The Straits Times also responded shortly after, apologising for the distress caused and calling the juxtaposition “inadvertent and unfortunate”.

Axe Brand Oil
Image adapted from:
Axe Brand Facebook

Perhaps the onus was on Straits Times, and how they should’ve had more rigour in their proofreading process, especially right before the paper was scheduled for print and circulation.

2. BMW

Another victim of unfortunate ad placement (or rather, wording) was car manufacturer BMW.

During the Chinese New Year period of 2021, the media reported a tragic car crash that happened along Tanjong Pagar Road in the early hours of the morning. Videos circulated online showed a car speeding down a narrow road, and eventually crashing into the front of a shophouse and bursting into flames. The accident claimed the lives of five victims who were in the car.

And yes, the car involved was a BMW. A BMW M4 Coupe, to be exact.


Image credit:
r/Singapore subreddit

First appearing on Reddit, user u/worldcitizensg was quick to notice the somewhat awkward wording of BMW’s advertisement of the M4 Coupe on its official website. And yes, this was the exact same car model that was involved in the fatal accident. You could not make this up!

Using some edgy phrases outlining the M4’s character rather than highlighting the actual descriptions of the car itself, BMW described the car as having ‘sympathy for the rebel’, ‘can’t stop’, ‘play with fire’ and ‘chasing new levels’. What BMW was probably trying to convey was that the car was designed for passionate thrillseekers who dared to be different, and that it was a clear cut above other cars.

However, in light of the fatal crash that involved the very same model of car, the copy that was used in describing the M4 was eerily applicable to what actually transpired in the accident. This sparked discussions on how coincidental and unfortunate the ad was, almost to the point where BMW was somewhat foreshadowing the accident. Reddit users such as u/famoter broke down each of the phrases, and how its implied meaning applied to the actual accident:

Image credit:
r/Singapore subreddit

After a couple of days, BMW had perhaps caught wind of the uproar on the choice of words, and promptly changed the copy used for the M4 Coupe to more generic phrases that described the highlights of the car.

Image credit: The Independent Singapore

On the whole, this episode was probably no one’s fault per se, and just a matter of unfortunate coincidence.

3. Tiger Brokers

Going down our list, another relatively funny ad placement that we came across was first brought up by Reddit user u/djmpence. 

In a now-deleted post, a Reddit user had started a discussion thread to ask for advice, after they had allegedly lost over US$60,000 because of a technical glitch on the Tiger Brokers investment platform.

Tiger Brokers
Image credit:
r/Singapore subreddit

What was funny was that right next to the thread, u/djmpence was shown an ad by none other than Tiger Brokers themselves, alongside buzzwords such as ‘safe and secure’ which of course was contrary to what the other user claimed. Quite qiao indeed.

On the whole, it was probably just pure coincidence that a Tiger Brokers promotion ad ran side by side with a Reddit post alleging that the platform is buggy. Nonetheless, it was still quite a funny and somewhat ironic ad placement, and we hope that the original user managed to get his money back!

4. Chubb Insurance

Earlier this year, we read about the tragic case where a father was arrested and charged with the murder of his two sons, after their bodies were found in a canal in Upper Bukit Timah.

Image credit: Marketing Interactive

In a Straits Times article reporting on the topic, some readers may have seen an advertisement by insurance company Chubb. The relatively small banner ads carried soundbites from what we assume are clients of Chubb, attesting to how they were grateful to be a Chubb client, and that their family benefitted from Chubb’s insurance products.

Of course, this is quite the unfortunate placement, given how the ad’s position was juxtaposed against the topic of the news article, which was a family tragedy that involved the deaths of two children.

In a statement, SPH Media Trust confirmed that the ad did run. However, because the ad was bought through programmatic ad buys, it was not seen by all readers of that article, but rather only a select audience based on targeting criteria and browsing behaviour of users. So think of it as a generic placeholder for ads – and different audiences would see different ads based on their tracked profile.

On the whole, it seems that the incident was relatively contained because the article and ad were digital, and so only a handful of readers would’ve come across it. This is, of course, vastly different from the Axe Brand Oil incident that involved the very same Straits Times, as that involved the actual print edition that everyone in Singapore would have seen.

Unfortunate ad placements in Singapore’s marketing history

From the four examples in our list, the lesson that we can all perhaps learn is that when it comes to advertising, it pays to have general awareness as well as timely precursory checks before publication, a la Axe Brand oil. This would save a whole lot of embarrassment and apologies after.

However, for others like Tiger Brokers and Chubb, the mistake was probably pure coincidence, and so there wouldn’t have been the opportunity to vet the placement of the ad prior. In this case, perhaps having backend white/blacklisting of the ad – specifying keywords in the surrounding context of the ad – would help in this instance, as the ads would then not be placed with certain content types.


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