Conversion therapy is one of the most controversial practices designed to “change” a person’s sexual orientation. This is why it came as a shock to many Singaporeans when a store called Neil Conversion Clinic appeared along Neil Road.
TikTok user @liveleaveleef first brought attention to the opening of the store, and the video has since been viewed over 250k times with plenty of commenters expressing their surprise and disgust at such an establishment.
u gotta be kidding me…
After days of speculation, one of the owners of Neil Conversion Clinic Jasper Goh revealed through a series of Instagram Stories that the storefront is just a farce. There is no conversion clinic opening in Singapore. Instead, the site at 43 Neil Road will be home to a new LGBTQ+-friendly restaurant/bar that’s designed to mimic the vibes of a speakeasy.
Guerilla marketing to draw attention to Neil Conversion Clinic
Touted as a “safe space for curious kids and adults,” Neil Conversion Clinic was founded by Jasper alongside Brandon Wee and Joey Tan. The name was picked as a “statement” to subvert the original definition of conversion therapy and clinics, turning them from a place of abuse into a “safe haven.”
Image credit: @jaspergoh42
In a statement made to TheSmartLocal on 4th August, Jasper felt that it would be apt to have a bar’s storefront resembling a conversion clinic “and for people to get that the only joke is that we think there is a cure for an illness that doesn’t exist.” He also added that he wanted to “shake things up” when he was asked to join the business as he felt that there was “no point in having yet another restaurant/bar just existing.”
“Personally, I feel that a brand is all about the experience and I wanted to make sure that we create a space that gets people excited and talking,” Jasper said about their unorthodox marketing strategy.
Prior to the clarifications made by the owners, some people found an Instagram account that went by the name @conversionclinic.sg. Its first post was on 23rd July 2022 with a graphic with the words “Pray The Gay Away.” Subsequent posts had the same tongue-in-cheek, satirical language that indicated its homophobic messages should not be taken seriously.
Image credit: @conversionclinic.sg
On 1st August 2022, the account posted a picture of a soap bar with the caption “Neil road’s new restaurant / bar,” which should have indicated to the public that this was not a literal conversion clinic. However, the post only received 47 likes as of writing, a meagre amount compared to the viral TikTok which has yet to provide any context about the actual business operations of Neil Conversion Clinic.
Content creator Titus Low also posted a TikTok of him “vandalising” the storefront. Unbeknownst to the majority of his followers and users who chanced upon his video, this was also part of the bar’s marketing strategy.
As vandalism is illegal in Singapore, this led to some members of the public reporting the incident to the police, and the owners of the bar were called down to the station to clarify the situation.
Members of the public split on whether guerilla marketing is effective
While the guerilla marketing tactics of Neil Conversion Clinic gave them an initial burst of attention, the public is divided on whether this was done in good faith or bad taste. Some commenters have called the campaign “genius” and a “clever move” while others have said that it was “not properly conceptualised and not well thought through.”
With the initial TikTok by @liveleaveleef blowing up without proper context, the owners of the bar had to come out and reveal that this was all a campaign designed to raise awareness of the bar and the dangers of conversion therapy.
Jasper shared that he was not expecting the initial marketing of Neil Conversion Clinic to have blown up, but he remains undeterred. “I personally feel that there are all kinds of people on the internet now and there’s definitely the keyboard warriors looking to spread their angst and unhappiness,” he said. “Everyone has their own opinion, and the key takeaway is to ensure that the majority of the target market is still in on the brand.”
However, members of the LGBTQ+ community have also expressed to TheSmartLocal privately that the publicity stunt might have taken things too far, especially in the wake of Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam’s comments on Section 377A.
“As much as you want to say that this is an LGBT-friendly bar, people of all sexual orientations will just find this marketing gimmick inappropriate,” a colleague said. “[The owners] should be more sensitive towards people who have experienced conversion therapy and found it a traumatic experience.”
In response to these concerns, Jasper added that he hopes “they can understand what the clinic stands for: a reminder of turning what is supposedly something horrible into a joke and owning it.”
Image credit: @joeytdy
In a Instagram post posted on the afternoon of 3rd August, Joey clarified that the name and Instagram account were marketing gimmicks designed to “raise awareness that conversion therapy is sick, dangerous, and ineffective.”
Joey also acknowledged that the way they went about promoting Neil Conversion Clinic “trivialises the trauma of people who have previously undergone conversion therapy” and apologised if “any victims of conversion therapy [felt] this way.”
The fact that there were reports of vandalism made calls into question the effectiveness of this guerilla marketing style. While there’s nothing wrong with creating shock value, it shouldn’t come at the expense of skirting the edges of the law and pretending to break it for attention.
Other guerilla marketing campaigns that were done well
Not all guerilla marketing campaigns had to end up with the promoters issuing apologies. One example of a great guerilla marketing campaign that went viral was Huawei’s iJack campaign executed in 2018.
Visited Dr Son S Hoe earlier
Ideated by dentsu X Singapore, the campaign saw Huawei representatives handing out free power banks to people who were queuing up at Apple Orchard Road the night before the launch of the iPhone XS.
The initial $14.1K investment – with none spent on media buys – generated over 5.26 billion media impressions, over 341k shares on social media, 11.9m views, and US$395m (~S$545m) in earned media. The iJack campaign went on to snag the silver award for “Best Use of Guerrilla Marketing” at AdFest 2019.
Is any press good press?
There’s the myth that “all press is good press.” But while those who flourish in controversy stand by this mantra, there should be a line that even advertisers shouldn’t cross. Sensitive subject matters like conversion therapy and capitalising on the trauma of the LGBTQ+ community should be treated with respect and tact.
Jasper also acknowledged to TheSmartLocal that the wording of his Instagram stories could have been better, with his phrasing of”curious kids” raising concern amongst parents. “The clinic is definitely not looking to convert or push anyone to whichever sexual areas they are not comfortable with.”
Either way, the word is out that Tanjong Pagar is set to welcome a new bar; the opening date of Neil Conversion Clinic is set for 6th August. Here’s to hoping that they can convert any naysayers of their guerilla marketing campaign into loyal patrons of their establishment during their premiere.