Yesterday, I went to OCBC Bank, the one at Marine Parade, and asked for a birthday cake. According to the bank's advertisement, their customers get a cake on their birthday, complete with burning candles and a birthday song. And yes, it was my birthday yesterday. If you haven't already seen the TV ad, here it is:
(17 January 2010 – Commercial is now in Chinese because the English version has been deleted from Youtube. English subtitles added on 21 January 2010.)
There were five ladies wo-manning the counter at OCBC. The one who got the short straw was xx Ming. Young, quite cute and quite sweet. Unfortunately, she was wearing a red and white polo shirt with four different coloured buttons, in thick polyester. Hmm, OCBC probably paid a lot of money for some consultant to come up with the hideous design. I gave xx Ming my IC – that's identity card to those not familiar with the Big Brother state – which has my DOB on the front. She went about quietly processing my cash deposit. Was she alerting her colleagues it was my birthday with a secret 'birthday button' underneath the counter? The one beside the panic button for bank robbers? Please don't press the wrong button! I was sure someone was lighting the candles on my cake as I waited, and all the staff were getting ready to shout, 'SURPRISE!' Something like this:
xx Ming looked up and asked me if I wanted to update my address. 'No, thank you.' I had deliberately given OCBC a non-existent address because it's the only way to stop the bank from sending me bits of paper every month. I can't opt out of hard copy statements but if they're returned to the bank three months in a row, they're suspended. A roundabout way to outwit the system and the tree murderers who run it.
After making sure I didn't want my address updated, xx Ming handed me my receipt and IC. I glanced to the left . . . . No one jumped out with a cake topped with burning candles. I glanced to the right . . . . No one started singing 'Happy Birthday to yooou . . . !' xx Ming gave me a weak smile and a is-there-anything-else look. 'Er, it's my birthday today. Do I get a birthday cake?' Since the subtle way wasn't working, I had to be explicit about my real purpose for visiting the bank. xx Ming blinked, then blinked again. She turned to her colleague on her right and said, 'It's her birthday. She wants a birthday cake.' Then, she turned to her colleague on her left and said, 'It's her birthday. She wants a birthday cake.' The three ladies smiled and looked at one another, probably thinking I was joking. And probably hoping their smiles would make me go away. Wrong! 'OCBC has an ad that says customers get birthday cakes. You know the ad?' 'But it's just an advertisement,' xx Ming said. 'Yes, it's an ad, which I take very seriously.' 'But it's just an advertisement . . . .'
When it was clear I was dead serious about getting a cake, one of the teller ladies got up to consult her supervisor. Of course, such an important person wasn't sitting at the counter. He was hidden from customers' view by a door with a high-tech digital lock. Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . ' Have other customers asked for birthday cakes before?' 'No, you're the first one!' Tick, tock, tick, tock . . . . 'A "Happy Birthday" would be nice, you know?' All I got was a blank look, and 'But it's just an advertisement.' xx Ming was starting to sound like a broken
After yet another eternity, the supervisor, xx Keong, joined me on my side of the counter. Would I like to discuss the matter with him in a separate room? 'Why? Is there a birthday cake with a candle in the room? No? Then we can discuss here. Your advertisement says customers get birthday cakes, so I'm here to collect my birthday cake.' 'Yes, but in the advertisement, the bank surprises the customer, not the other way round! You're not supposed to surprise us!' Heheh, he had a point there. 'If there's any sincerity in the advertisement, you wouldn't be surprised,' I retorted. 'The point in the ad is that the bank gives the customer a surprise. If I give you a cake now, you wouldn't be surprised,' he returned. I almost burst out laughing. 'If you give me a cake now, I promise I'll be very surprised.' For the next few minutes, he tried to wriggle his way out of giving me a cake. 'It's just an advertisement blah blah blah. . . .' I can't remember everything he said but there wasn't anything that convinced me I should leave without a cake. After all, the ad didn't have conditions like 'while stocks last' or 'offer expires whenever'. I thought I had to lie down on the floor and kick my legs in the air. Boy, that would be fun, wouldn't it? But before I could do that, he caved in and said, 'Ok, I don't have a cake now but I can go and buy you a cake.' Of course, when he said 'I', he meant one of his female underlings. It took another eternity for a bank teller to get the cake from a bakery round the corner.
In total, it took me five eternities to get the miserable three-inch cake from OCBC. It was topped with a heap of artificial cream, the kind that doesn't melt in Singapore's tropical heat and I never eat. Frankly, my homemade cakes are way better. (Click here for recipes.) The plastic tree and plastic Hello Kitty? Tacky tacky tacky! Not to mention the danger of a child choking on them, especially when the 'leaves' can be detached from the 'trunk'!
Getting OCBC to cough up the cake was like prying something from a dead man's cold, hard fingers. Or squeezing blood from a stone. But advertisements are so often deliberately misleading, I couldn't resist the temptation to show an advertiser that misleading ads can sometimes backfire. A taste of its own medicine, perhaps? I allowed myself to be misled into thinking that OCBC was giving customers birthday cakes. And you can do the same, too. I asked xx Keong if I could tell all my friends that they can get birthday cakes from OCBC. He said it might not be a cake but it would be 'something' if it's their customer's birthday. Well, if you're not happy with that 'something', just insist that it was a cake in the TV ad. And you can do your part for consumer rights any day of the week, except public holidays. OCBC branches are everywhere and 18 of them (click here for a list) are opened 11am-7pm, including Saturdays and Sundays.
Click here for links to media reports.
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