Sunday 17 July 2016

Here today, Pokémon Gone tomorrow: Digital marketing VP digitally markets himself out of digital marketing job

I once ate 10 Taco Bell tacos in one sitting. It was a rather serious case of the munchies.

That is neither a boast nor a cry for help. I mention this only to illustrate how much I used to like Taco Bell tacos. This was years ago when I was living and studying in America.

Returning to Singapore after graduation, I was hoping to recreate my 10-taco feat but was distraught to find out that my favourite faux Mexican fast food place hadn’t opened here yet.

We had McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut but no Taco Bell? What kind of world were we living in?

There was no social media back then too. If there were, I would’ve probably gone on Facebook and posted something like: “You can’t fucking get tacos in this piece of fucking shit country.”

My guess is Mr Sonny Truyen must have felt as passionately about Pokémon Go as I did about Taco Bell.

That’s the Australian guy who was fired from property portal last week after posting on Facebook: “You can’t fucking catch pokemon in this piece of fucking shit country.”

The unavailability of Pokémon Go is probably also the reason that Standard Chartered bank robbery suspect David James Roach, who was arrested in Thailand, doesn’t want to be sent back to Singapore.

Mr Truyen’s job title was vice-president of digital marketing, which is ironic since he essentially digitally marketed himself out of a job.

You would think that someone who described himself as a “battle-tested digital marketer with 10 years’ experience directing marketing and technology teams at global arena” would, you know, be familiar with how the Internet works.

Okay, maybe he hadn’t been in Singapore long enough to have heard of Amy Cheng, Anton Casey or Edz Ello since Mr Truyen wasn’t in the job for more than a week before he was fired.

But as a “battle-tested digital marketer with 10 years’ experience”, surely he must have heard of Justine Sacco.

That’s the US woman who, in 2013, tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!” before turning off her phone and boarding a plane from London to Cape Town.

By the time she landed in South Africa 11 hours later, she was the most hated person on the Internet.

Like Mr Truyen, Ms Sacco was also a senior manager at an Internet company. She was the InterActiveCorp director of communications who communicated her way out of a job.

Both Mr Truyen and Ms Sacco have prompted a debate over whether they deserved the online lynching they got.

Except that Mr Truyen was fired so quickly that the online mob barely had time to gather and do the lynching.

In less than 24 hours of the Pokémon post, CEO Darius Cheung apologised for his employee on his company blog and announced that had “terminated” Mr Truyen’s “engagement”.

I guess the wedding is off then.

Usually, when the online mob goes on a rampage, it would demand an apology and/or that someone be fired. By apologising and firing Mr Truyen so swiftly, Mr Cheung robbed the mob of its reason for being.

It happened so fast that website called it a “blink and you miss it” Internet saga.

Conspiracy theorists have even suggested that since Mr Truyen is a search engine optimisation specialist, he intentionally called Singapore a “piece of fucking shit country” just to get to appear higher in Google search results.

Admittedly, before this happened, I thought was the website for a shop where everything is 99 cents.

Appearing contrite, Mr Truyen told website Mashable: “It was disappointing the lengths Singaporeans went at to attack me and deny any chance of making amends for my actions.” asked him what “amends" he had in mind. He said: “I think donating some time and resources to help out some local charities would have been a good start.

I’m not sure how doing charity work makes up for such a social media faux pas, but Mr Truyen is not the only one with that idea.

Remember the aforementioned Anton Casey, the professional rich guy who was run out of the country for making fun of poor people on Facebook two years ago?

Now going by the name “Anthony S Casey”, the Brit is apparently back in Singapore and has created several web pages highlighting his contributions to causes like the Community Chest, Willing Hearts, Autism Research Centre and Action For Aids Singapore.

No update on whether he has managed to wash “the stench of public transport” off himself, though.

Just as Mr Casey asked to be forgiven for his “poor judgment” in 2014, Mr Truyen said it was “a very big error in judgement to negatively label an entire country over Pokémon”.

Talk about an understatement.

And ultimately, that’s the most embarrassing thing for Mr Truyen. He wasn’t fired because he was racist or xenophobic. This is a grown-ass man who basically lost his job because of a game.

Hey, you gotta catch ’em all, right?

I know if I were fired over tacos, I would never live it down.

At least Pokémon Go, which has become a worldwide phenomenon, will be released in Singapore eventually.

Taco Bell has already come and gone.

I’ve tried eating 10 kong bak bao in one sitting, but it’s just not the same.

- Published in The New Paper, 17 July 2016