Sugarbook has once again sparked heated discussion among internet users, starting with an infographic that the sugar dating platform publicly released for media outlets last week.
By now, you probably know what the infographic was about as major news outlets across Malaysia were quick to publish the stats.
Vulcan Post received these stats as well, but we decided not to blindly publish them. I will explain why below.
Before I go any further, however, I would like to anticipate that while Vulcan Post as a media brand, while our writers have the right to their own personal views about the app and lifestyle, it does not violate Sugarbook, its services, and its right to advertise as a registered business . Rather, we are against the exploitative marketing and blind sugar dating advertising, both of which are present in this debacle.
Now that the news has gotten widespread, we felt it was all the more important to bring this discussion up.
1. It's a PR stunt that feels exploitative
I think what rubbed me wrong at first was that the infographic revealed what I thought was P&C information.
I can't confirm if this information came from initial user logins that users willingly provided on their profiles, or if they responded to a survey by Sugarbook asking them which university they were from.
While whether or not students have consented to their university names being published is an issue, Sugarbook even found it necessary to provide the university names in the first place, let alone how many students came from which.
What was the point of that? Who should that benefit?
In the press release, Sugarbook claimed the reason for the infographic was a 40% increase in student enrollments to Sugarbook from January 2021.
The publication of this unverified data, however, almost seems to act as a trigger for a FOMO reaction among students at the universities mentioned.
Since this was a marketing strategy for the team (or a PR stunt as some might call it), the answer may be obvious that it was on purpose to get a lot of attention.
With so much media covering it the moment it came out, this was accomplished while some feathers were puckered along the way.
2. It may have created unnecessary conflict in families and among peers
I can't remember how the parents of students at the 10 universities react to the news. No student names were published, but if I were a parent in this case, I would most likely wonder if my child was one of those sugar babies.
For those who already live in abusive families (which is why they may have turned to sugar dating in the first place), this could make things worse for them. They can either face severe punishment or be blackmailed by their own families if they are found to be getting money but keep it to themselves.
While we have not yet heard of such cases regarding sugar dating specifically, it would be ignorant to deny that these outcomes are possible.
In addition, other university students may wonder who is a sugar baby among their peers. This could lead to the embarrassment and harassment of certain students who their peers suspect may be using the sugar dating app.
Bullying victims then run the risk of developing depression and ADHD, among other things, and becoming antisocial, which can have a negative impact on their personal and academic life.
3. It is an irresponsible promotion of a lifestyle that is not for everyone
Sugar dating is still a taboo subject not only in Malaysia or the East, but also in the West. Personally, I am all in favor of freedom of choice, but I believe that this choice should also be accompanied by a great deal of understanding and weighing of advantages and disadvantages.
I strictly disagree with the obvious promotion of lifestyle in public. I believe that if it is to be promoted it should be made very clear based on whatever the agreement implies and its possible impact on one's life.
Take the smoking lifestyle, for example. It is not publicly advertised or promoted for reasons of public health and wellbeing so people are not encouraged to pick it up.
When you see a pack of cigarettes being sold you will be presented with images of the health risks of smoking so you cannot claim to be ignorant of their effects. Since it is also not advertised publicly, those who seek the lifestyle are people who understand the risks but still make up their minds to do so.
However, sugar dating is not a concept as understood as smoking. Not everyone understands the full implications of sugar dating and the effects it can have on mental and emotional health, let alone their self-worth and confidence.
It is irresponsible that a registered business chose to promote sugar dating as if it were a simple product or service that has no potentially permanent impact on the people involved.
4th It is marketing that is predatory to the students
Here lies the biggest problem of all with the whole situation. Sugarbook's purpose in making these statistics public was not just to show the demographics of sugar dating in Malaysia.
It should also encourage more students to sign up for the site as sugar babies. In the press release, founder and CEO Darren Chan even said the following:
“Times are tough. Our platform offers the opportunity to find economic relief in these volatile times. Meeting someone who is more successful or experienced has its advantages, and financial incentives are just one of them. You can connect with high net worth individuals and make career progress. "
He used words like "economic relief," "financial incentives," and "career advancement," all of which have little point in glossing over the fact that sugar dating is still women trading intimacy (sexual or non-sexual) for money Reward.
Marketing such a lifestyle in such words is misleading, especially for college students who may not be financially responsible or emotionally mature enough to explore the many different facets of sugar dating.
In many cases, those who sign up as Sugar Babies are already vulnerable in certain aspects of their lives, be it mental, financial, or emotional. You are now being misled into thinking that sugar dating will be your best problem solver because it is portrayed as a glamorous lifestyle that has all the pros and cons.
If you search the internet for real-world experiences with sugar babies, you will find that many of the cons listed indicate that they are experiencing:
- Possible loss of self-esteem,
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and more.
We must note that while research is still lacking on the specific risks of a sugar baby, various studies have been conducted to examine the dynamics and lifestyle outcomes of sugar dating.
Typically, a sugar dating arrangement consists of an older, wealthier vendor (usually a sugar daddy) and a younger, money-needing beneficiary (sugar baby). A look at the previous sentence should make it clear how much power imbalance such a relationship entails.
Marketing without borders or a clear awareness of young, vulnerable students is therefore unethical, even if a company has to make its dough.
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Sugarbook has since been banned in Malaysia, but they are still accessible through a different URL. This likely means they will no longer be able to easily advertise their services publicly, but there is one more aspect of this controversy that needs to be addressed.
One reason this marketing stunt spread so quickly was because of the blind advertising many media sites were giving it.
Vulcan Post interviewed Darren about Sugarbook and its services in 2017. We wanted to have a neutral story about the concept by presenting Darren's common perceptions of the lifestyle and also presenting his perspective on it. That way, readers could choose for themselves if this was a lifestyle for them, with an objective mindset.
Topics like these will focus on the media industry and the way we cover ongoing events. On our side, we hope to do our part and provide value and perspective in our content. We don't claim to always make the best decisions, but we also have our readers and audiences holding us accountable and in check.
- You can read our previous coverage of Sugarbook here.
Featured image source: Darren Chan, Founder and CEO of Sugarbook