A series of Nike ads in Singapore designed to resemble graffiti have stirred emotions in the Asian nation known for its obsession with cleanliness and civic order.
The small, page-size posters featuring anime-style images of NBA star LeBron James were pasted helter skelter over the ad panels of 700 bus stops, shocking commuters who are used to the ultratidy shelters.
At least 50 commuters have called or written to complain, said officials at Clear Channel, which owns the advertising rights to the bus shelters.
"The idea is to do something naughty like wild-postings to disrupt the neat environment of Singapore and stay in line with the street-feel of this LeBron James basketball campaign," Nike spokeswoman Ann Kositchotitana said in a statement.
Public spaces are immaculate in Singapore, which once banned chewing gum and still levies fines against people who spit in public or forget to flush public toilets. Vandalism is especially taboo in the island republic, where US teenager Michael Fay was flogged with a cane after spray-painting cars in 1994.
Clear Channel said Nike took a calculated risk in its effort to create a buzz among Singapore's basketball-crazy youth.
"It was a deliberate act, meant to give viewers the impression that some street punk had hijacked somebody else's ad campaign. It looks kind of cheeky and kind of naughty -- and it got noticed," said Henry Goh, Clear Channel's sales director in Singapore.
Nike's "Chamber of Fear" campaign in Singapore starring James includes TV, print and outdoor ads, all of which pay homage to various Asian film styles including the 1970s Hong Kong kung-fu movies and Japanese anime.
While some officials and adults took offense at the simulated graffiti, the campaign seemed to touch a chord with young people, many of whom rushed to grab the posters off the bus shelters as souvenirs.
"It's super cool," 14-year-old Gilchrist Goh told The Straits Times newspaper.
The sneaker maker is ramping up its effort to win over Asian basketball fans at a time when over half the hits on NBA.com, the league's main Internet site, are coming from outside the US. Two weeks ago, Nike signed a US$100 million marketing agreement with the NBA in an effort to increase the sport's popularity overseas, especially in Asia.