Nikon Photo Contest: Viral Sensation or PR Fiasco?

January 31st, 2016   •   2 comments   

Nikon captures Photo Yu Wei

Courtesy of Nikon Facebook

“Look up in the sky! It’s a bird… It’s a plane… It’s a doctored photo which won a Nikon trolley bag!”

OK, just in case you were hiding behind a huge rock over the past 48 hours or so, a huge viral Facebook event has overtaken Singapore. Shutterbugs everywhere are talking about this photo contest so widely that it will probably become the most “viral” Facebook photo contest ever organised in Singapore.

What appeared to otherwise be an innocuous photo contest has turned out to be a major Public Relations (PR) incident. The spotlight for this incident has shone on none other than one of the world’s most trusted and respected camera brand – Nikon.

So what exactly happened to an otherwise run-of-the-mill Facebook photo contest?

A Black and White Photo Contest

If you see this Facebook post from Nikon’s Facebook page below back on the 4th of January, you probably wouldn’t have given it a second look. After all, photography contests are a dime a dozen, even if the photos were supposed to be monochrome (black and white).


If you look at the engagement of the post, it doesn’t look very exciting. Ditto for a repeat call for participation by Nikon.


And a more recent one here.


That was on 25th of January, which was barely a week ago. As you can see, there wasn’t a lot of excitement over the photo contests, judging by the number of likes or shares which measure Facebook engagement.

However, they did receive some pretty interesting entries. If you visit the Nikon Captures website, you would have noticed all the creative entries that were submitted to win the $169 trolley bag.

Nikon Captures Photo Contest

Courtesy of Nikon Captures

After a round of internal judging, Nikon Singapore announced on its Facebook page about two days ago (29 Jan 2016) that they found their winner. Avid photographer Chay Yu Wei has apparently managed to capture a wonderfully composed shot of an airplane framed by a ladder in Chinatown.

You can see Yu Wei’s handiwork called “Look Up” here.

Nikon Photography Contest - 29 Jan at 11.15 am

Courtesy of Nikon Singapore

If you look more closely, you’d have noticed that there were 33,394 “likes”, 9,985 comments, and 22,496 shares (as of 12.30 pm on 31 Jan 2016) now that the winner was announced. How on Earth did the monochrome contest gain such huge virality despite its humble beginnings?

The answer isn’t black or white, but many shades of grey.

Yu Wei’s Doctored Photograph

Apparently, the winner of the contest Yu Wei used photoshop to doctor his winning entry. He cropped in a photo of an aeroplane and blended it in with the skyline in a separately shot photograph through the ladder well at Chinatown.

Yu Wei’s efforts were exposed by several online detectives, including Shaun Ho, who posted on Nikon’s Facebook page that “Here is definite proof that it is a fake. just change the adjustment levels and you can see it clearly.”

You can see from Shaun’s post below how you can tell if a photo was photoshopped:

Nikon Photography Contest - CSI

Courtesy of Shaun Ho

Shannen Ho added that Yu Wei took a similar photo last year, and extracted a screen shot for all to see:

Yu Wei - Took similar Photo Last year

Courtesy of Shannen Ho

Another Facebook user Sivarajah Kanesananthan shared a photo which he took of a real plane with a Canon EOS 7D MKII. You can see from the photo that it looked quite different from the winning entry.

Nikon Photography Contest - Real Photo of Plane

Courtesy of Sivarajah Kanesananthan

Adding more evidence to the mix was this comment on Instagram by Yu Wei (shared by Melissa Yeo), where he claimed that he was lucky as he did not wait too long for the plane.

Instagram Response - Yu Wei

Courtesy of Melissa Yeo

Netizens Unleash Their Creativity

While there were many furious comments on Nikon’s post accusing them of not conducting sufficient due diligence in the contest, what grabbed people’s attention were the numerous parody posts put up by Facebook users.

Have a look at some of the funny ones here:

Zhirong Fu - Nikon Photograph Contest

Zhirong Fu’s “Bride in Mid Air” (courtesy of Zhirong Fu)

Kim Huat mr brown

A hilarious entry from “Kim Huat” (aka mr brown).

“I chanced upon a set of ladders while on a photowalk with my friends in Chinatown, and thought the view above would make an interesting perspective. Little did I expect to catch Kim Huat up there.”

Nikon Apology - Roller Coaster

Render Bryant’s entry Roller Coaster.

“He should have waited longer for the coaster to add a bit of drama.”

Nikon Glenn Guan Godzilla

Glenn Guan’s Godzilla.

“Such a poor copy and paste by Yu Wei can win a Nikon trolley bag, my entry can win the new Nikon D5 with AF-S 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR. LOL !!! …. Nikon Singapore should do better in future judging.”

Last, but not least, we have the team from SGAG coming up with their own version of this photo fiasco. Have a look and see what they did here:

Mainstream and Alternative Media Weighs In

Like any viral story worth its weight in gold – or a full-sized DSLR with lens – the buzz caught the attention of the media.

Local media channels like The Straits Times, TODAY Online, and reported on the story, with varying degrees of detail captured.

Professional photography blog Peta Pixel also carried the story, musing over the mixture of horror and humour with the photo shopped fiasco.

Apparently, that’s not the end of it. International media websites like The Mirror, The Star, Inquirer, and CNN Philippines have reported on the story. They are joined by viral news portal Bored Panda, amongst others.


Courtesy of

Contest Winner Yu Wei Says Sorry

Recognising that the incident has blown into epic proportions, Yu Wei issued an apology on his personal Instagram account as well as his responses to the media. Here’s a photo showing what he posted on Instagram.

YuWei Says Sorry

Courtesy of Yu Wei’s Instagram

Let me reproduce his apology below so that you can read it in full:

“Hello everyone,

This goes out to everyone who has seen my Chinatown plane post. I’m sorry! This is going to be quite a read so that’s the first thing I would like you to read if you don’t have time to read below; I would like to apologize for the mistake I have done.

I’ve been quiet so far because I’ve been trying to contact Nikon and have been waiting for them to contact me back to discuss about this. I understand that what I would say might affect Nikon’s brand hence I decided to wait for their advice. However, since more than 24 hours have passed and I have not managed to have discussions with Nikon, I think I shouldn’t wait and it’s important for me to come out to address this issue.

Like one user commented, I was on a photo walk in Chinatown and I chanced upon that set of ladders. I snapped a picture of it, and subsequently felt that a plane at that spot would make for an interesting point of view. Hence, I inserted the plane with PicsArt and uploaded it to Instagram. That’s how I use Instagram, sometime it’s to showcase the work I’m proud of, sometimes just to have fun. This case, that small plane was just for fun and it was not meant to bluff anyone. I would have done it with photoshop if I really meant to lie about it, but no, it was a playful edit using the PicsArt app and uploaded to Instagram. When my friends commented with some questions, I also answered it jokingly, saying it’s the last flight of the day and saying it was my lucky day that I did not wait too long. At that time, of course everyone who read it took it as a joke, before this issue arrived and it is taken seriously.

However, I made a mistake by not keeping it to Instagram as a casual social media platform. I crossed the line by submitting the photo for a competition. I meant it as a joke and I’m really sorry to Nikon for disrespecting the competition. It is a mistake and I shouldn’t have done that. I also shouldn’t have jokingly answered Nikon that I caught the plane in mid-air and should have just clarified that the plane was edited in using PicsArt. This is my fault and I sincerely apologise to Nikon, to all Nikon Photographers, and to the photography community as general.”

As you would imagine, the apology generated a lot of comments – 632 as of this writing. Unfortunately, the bulk of the comments were negative, with many expressing that his apology wasn’t sincere.

Nikon Also Apologises for Oversight

After Yu Wei has said sorry for his act of deceit, Nikon stepped forward to apologise for their oversight on this issue – not just once, but twice. You can see their Facebook entries below.

Nikon Apology for Incident

In response to Nikon’s apology were several comments, both supporting and criticising Nikon and Yu Wei. The most popular comment was the one below by James Chan:

James Chan Comment on Nikon Apology

Eight Lessons in Online Crisis PR

From the perspective of online crisis management and communications, I felt that there are several useful lessons for us to bear in mind.

#1 Anger and Amusement are Hugely Viral

As I’ve previously written on Memes, Movements and Mobs, social networks like Facebook can be hugely viral channels once an idea catches on. In this case, the alchemy of outrage and entertainment presented a double-barreled assault on the virality of the incident, propelling it worldwide.

According to Jonah Berger in his book “Contagious”, any form of controversy can be viral. In this case, anger and perhaps hilarity were the main emotional triggers that led to the incident being spread far and wide.

#2 Virality is Hard to Predict

Having shared about how anger can be a trigger for virality, I doubt that this incident was engineered by Nikon in any way.

While some may claim that any form of publicity can be positive for your brand, we need to note that Nikon isn’t exactly an unknown start-up, and has been a market leader for professional camera equipment for many decades.

#3 Dishonesty is Never a Good Idea

Personally, I felt that Yu Wei did the right thing by stepping forth so quickly to apologise for his mistake. Being open and honest about what he did was the fastest way to flush a negative incident out of the system.

Unfortunately, the backlash from this incident will take a while to die down. Any form of online dishonesty has the propensity of being magnified a hundred fold due to the Echo Chamber Effect (read my post on Social Physics).

#4 Speed is of the Essence

I must say that both Yu Wei and Nikon acted fairly quickly in extending their apologies to the online public.

Barely 30 hours or so after the incident, Yu Wei posted publicly on his Instagram to admit his guilt. Likewise, Nikon also responded expeditiously considering that they posted their response on a Saturday.

Perhaps what would have better would be the issuing of a more immediate “holding statement” by Nikon as quickly as an hour after the incident started to balloon. The company could also have found a way to contact Yu Wei as soon as possible so that a joint position could be arrived at, rather than separate statements which do not seem coordinated.

#5 Keep it Open and Transparent

Kudos must be given to Nikon for not trying to take down the Facebook post or to censor parody posts and comments made by fans. On the contrary, they have left all their Facebook posts open for all and sundry to see, and have even thanked the public for their humour and wit.

Quoting from their Facebook post:

At the same time, we welcome the funny and witty entries being shared in response to our recently awarded image. It’s with joy that we acknowledge that the global photography and image community is alive and thriving. We thank you for the numerous spontaneous contributions and encourage everyone to keep the imagination alive.

While I like the fact that they have kept conversations flowing, it would be better if they have revealed a little bit more about what actions they were taking.

#6 Mitigating Actions Should Match Public Expectations

Unfortunately, the two “sorry” posts from Nikon doesn’t appear to be enough to soothe the public, judging from the slew of negative comments which are still forthcoming.

In a case like this, perhaps Nikon need to show a lot more fortitude and firmness in ensuring that such an incident would never occur again. While they may have felt that it was a “casual photo contest”, expectations from their customers and fans were a lot higher.

Perhaps Nikon could state the exact steps they would take to prevent this from reoccurring. They should also consider awarding the winning photo prize to another winner (and to do it soon) so that the entire incident could be put to rest. The spotlight could then be shone on the real deserving winner.

#7 Memes have a Life of Their Own

As we can see from the number of parody entries submitted by Facebook users, memes can take on a life of their own. In certain instances, memes can be positive in spreading mirth and merriment. In others, however, they may destroy a brand’s credibility.

For an established camera brand like Nikon, I doubt that the incident would deeply tarnish their reputation as a professional photographer’s camera brand. After all, Nikon’s brand equity was built on many decades of high standards, quality and trust.

Having said that, they should use this opportunity to engage more deeply with their fans who obviously care deeply about the brand.

#8 Who Says Singaporeans are Boring?

Last, but not least, this incident shows that Singaporeans certainly know how to have fun, especially when it comes to online parodies! I’ve never seen so much creativity and comedy in such a short span of time before.

Hopefully, this incident will blow over soon so that both Nikon and Yu Wei could get on with their lives. While I certainly do not condone dishonesty, I appreciate how both parties have stepped forward to admit their guilt or oversight. This is certainly laudable.

Finally, let us all take a chill pill and listen to Justin Bieber. At least he knows how to say sorry!

UPDATE (1 Feb 2016 at 12.10 pm)

Nikon has just posted on the Facebook page that they would take down the winning post “Look Up” from their Facebook page. The reason was because Yu Cheng has decided to withdraw from the competition, which is the right thing to do.

Nikon Photo Contest - Taking Down Look Up

Unfortunately, doing so would mean that all of the creative comments and photoshopped posts by Nikon’s fans and commenters would also be removed. Aargh! That’s not so cool.

Before Nikon did that, however, they did respond to some of the posts with their own comments as shown below (courtesy of Zacharoy and hat tip to Daphne). I love their wit, but I wished they have kept those posts around somehow.

Nikon Responses 1

Nikon Responses 2

Nikon Responses 3

Nikon Responses 4

Nikon Responses 5


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  1. Richardson
    posted on Jan 31, 2016 at 11:21 PM

    What’s a Nikon 7D MKII?

    • posted on Jan 31, 2016 at 11:31 PM

      Oops it should be a Canon EOS 7D MKII! Have updated it accordingly. Thanks for pointing it out!

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