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Pow! Covid-19 superheroes zapped

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Virus Vanguard, a collaboration between Gov.sg and local artist group, disbanded after online furore

Singapore's Covid-19-themed superhero team has beaten a hasty retreat before a swelling of negative public opinion, as the Gov.sg platform removed the Virus Vanguard from its website and Facebook page just a day after launching it on Sunday.

Public communications and marketing experts said the campaign could have touched a raw nerve, owing to a perfect storm of events.

The five-member superhero team is the product of a collaboration between Gov.sg and local artist community group Band of Doodlers (BOD), and comprises Dr Disinfector, Fake News Buster, Must Always Walk Alone (Mawa) Man, Circuit Breaker, and Care-leh Dee.

Public relations consultant and trainer K. Bhavani said the campaign's tone could have been jarring to people used to relying on Gov.sg's platforms for daily Covid-19 updates and reminders.

"A lot of people rely on the updates and (Gov.sg) has become a very formal channel. So if they suddenly wanted to do something different, perhaps the audience could not accept it," she said.

In February, the Ministry of Education launched five superhero mascots, called the Soaper 5, aimed at encouraging children to practise good hygiene amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

An unofficial tongue-in-cheek community portal called I Am A CCB (Community Circuit Breaker) was also launched this month and went viral online.

"We wanted to provide some form of entertainment... through the use of Singlish and the tongue-in-cheek approach worked for us because it helped distract our community from the mundanity of the circuit breaker routine," said Mr Jeff Cheong, deputy president of DDB Group Singapore, the creative and technology agency behind I Am A CCB.

"I think using comics as a genre is a good attempt... (but) I would have made the characters more local and relatable to our culture so we can all have a little laugh at ourselves."

Of the five Virus Vanguard characters, Mawa Man was singled out by netizens for the most criticism.

The social distancing- inspired character is supposed to be a fanatical fan of Manchester United, with his name being a jibe at rival club Liverpool's "You'll Never Walk Alone" anthem.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Virus Vanguard creator and BOD founder Mas Shafreen apologised for characters that came across as insensitive and asked for BOD not to be held collectively responsible for the campaign.

Among the five members of Virus Vanguard, Mawa Man was singled out by netizens for the most criticism. PHOTO: GOV.SG

He also acknowledged criticism of Mawa Man and said the character was "more about how we should practise safe distancing but the aim is that he will realise that it takes all of us, regardless of which team we support, to pull through this together".