Singapore social agency angers photographer for asking to use his work for free in campaign

Exchange between AIA and Tan on Instagram

Exchange between AIA and Tan on Instagram

Zexun Tan

Zexun Tan

A social media agency has been publicly rebuked by a photographer for asking to use his work for free for a campaign.

DSTNCT, a social agency working on behalf of client AIA Singapore, approached photographer Tan Zexun through Instagram to seek permission to use his pictures for the company’s ‘Real Life’ campaign, saying that he would be credited but not paid. Tan refused, and then exposed the approach on the image-sharing social platform.

DSTNCT later responded to Tan, saying that they fully supported his position on fairly remunerating creative work and that the use of his pictures would have been restricted to Instagram.


Tan objected to the response from DSTNCT on the grounds that the act of asking for work to be used for commercial purposes for free was wrong in the first place.

Mumbrella approached AIA for comment, but DSTNCT responded with the following: “At DSTNCT, we think that the situation has been taken out of context. We reached out to ask permission from Instagram users with the intention of featuring their images that resonated with  the theme ‘Real Life,’ on the client’s Instagram account. We would then credit them by tagging the featured Instagram users in the post.”

“We have reached out to the Instagram user Zexun to further clarify our intention as well. DSTNCT respects the creative work of all people, be it photographers or talented Instagram users and we respect the need to credit or remunerate for creative works where appropriate,” the company said.

DSTNCT, it emerged over the weekend following a report from, is part of a family of companies aligned with Gushcloud, an influencer marketing network. Gushcloud was exposed for paying celebrity bloggers to trash the rival brands of Singtel a year ago, which is against Singapore’s advertising code of ethics. The company was acquired by Korea’s Yello Digital Marketing two months later.

DSTNCT was hired by AIA Singapore in December, along with Bates CHI & Partners, which now handles creative.

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