This is an appreciation post to say well done to Simply Asia advertising and their branding team.
Simply Asia is South Africa’s biggest Thai food franchise and I must say, I do enjoy having a take away from them when I’m feeling too lazy to cook. A few years ago, I walked over to their Shortmarket Street branch and ordered my usual 505 with beef. When I got back to my desk and started munching away with my desk chopsticks, I noticed a very taboo icon on their packaging. Now, being Taiwanese and having grown up in a home with strong customs, my parents taught me proper Taiwanese chopsticks etiquette (see this post for proper Chinese etiquette) I was quite taken aback as the icon was the most taboo of all ‘don’ts’ when it came to food etiquette – the kind of crap my mama would not tolerate and taught me and my siblings to respect.
Chopsticks sticking out of bowl
Now, in Taiwanese, Chinese and Japanese food culture, sticking your chopsticks in a bowl is not cool. It symbolises food offerings that are provided to the deceased – incense would be stuck upright in the bowl. I do understand that Simply Asia is Thai food, cuisine from Thailand – a country that doesn’t exercise this chopsticks etiquette… however point 1: a friend who’d been to Thailand before told me that Thai food doesn’t really require the use of chopsticks, they mostly use a spoon and fork. Point 2: the brand is called Simply Asia, not Simply Thai… the comparison is like calling a Croatian foods franchise ‘Simply Europe’ and using an icon that offended the entire UK culture.
I work in advertising and food, and from what I can see, the designers didn’t research chopsticks before using the icon. If you Google ‘chopsticks’ there are many many links that talk about ‘how to use’ and ‘what not to do’ with these utensils. This design was signed off because Simply Asia is managed and run by Thai nationals so to be fair they might not be aware of the symbolism behind the taboo icon.
Three years ago…
I tweeted and emailed Simply Asia and they responded to me saying that once the packaging ran out, they’d discontinue its use. But three years later, the icon (though just slightly different) was repeated on new packaging. This was extremely disappointing and I decided to persevere with my mission. From what I could gather from our communications, the current brand team is a new team and weren’t aware of the first time I reached out to them, however the PR scripted response didn’t seem like they understood the negative impact of the taboo icon and what it meant for those who practiced proper chopsticks etiquette. But after this past weekend, almost three months later, I received this email.
Kudos to Simply Asia’s team, this is firstly a win for Asian South Africans – the fact that a large brand will listen to the voice of someone from our minority group. And secondly (as my friend Garrett pointed out on my FB post) a win for understanding – that just because you’re a large company doesn’t mean you can’t be held for your actions. Even if it’s something considered ‘minor’.