NTUC’s Full-page Flood Ad: What Was That Funny Feeling Left in My Stomach? 3


That funny pang hit my stomach this morning as I read the Straits Times. No, it wasn’t hunger or too much beer the night before.  I felt that awkwardness–something not sitting right–after reading NTUC’s quick marketing blitz in the wake of yesterday’s Orchard Road flooding.  I have my reservations about the rhetoric in what appears to me a hastily-placed ad. 

On Theme: in a few senses the apparent intent of an insurer does emerge from the ad.  When we are hit with a serious problem, we want from our insurer a quick response and settlement.  NTUC sends such a message.  This ad must also undoubtedly function as a public promise, so the incentive for NTUC to follow-up with with action has been amplified.  I think this is a good thing.  The company has an opportunity to serve Singapore, and serve well.  Finally, the focus on paying out money should also resonate well within Singapore.

Off-Theme: The core message, however, seems off base.  Let’s look at the language.  “You can be sure of one thing with us–someone will pay for this.”  Within the context of today’s headlines, one cannot help but think of BP and the massive clean-up underway in the Gulf of Mexico.  Tony Hayward’s odd and sometimes inappropriate responses only make matters worse for BP.  By comparison, NTUC might be seen as on top of a current issue and being proactive.  But there is a fundamental difference between the oil spill and a rain storm.

When someone spills millions upon millions of gallons of crude on your shoreline–creating unemployment and the largest petroleum disaster ever–then you talk tough.  You ask whose ass to kick or you proclaim that somebody will pay for being at fault.  But how can a rain storm be at fault?  I have difficulty imagining how the public will see the flooding as anything more than an accident, a sudden and drenching rain storm, so by definition there is no fault to be pinned to anyone.  If anything, I might question the drivers who went forth into high water.  Now that is a human action to which fault can be attributed. 

The layered meaning of NTUC’s word choice left me feeling awkward, given the context.  Yes, it allows them to brag about what they will do in the future, but to choose a common phrase which unquestionably evokes a talk-tough message, and then applying that to a situation beyond anyone’s control, left me personally feeling uneasy with the rhetoric.  It is a bit catchy, but not quite appropriate given yesterday’s events.

Add to this NTUC’s choice to talk about themselves.  Personally, I would prefer they show a greater sense of selflessness and focus more on the customers (in a way they are, but indirectly I would argue).

Ultimately, I would prefer that NTUC brag about the speed of settlements rather than give me an opportunistic photo and promise of what they will do. 

Prof gives this ad a C+; the high end of average (note: I am using an American grade scale).  I am impressed with the speed at which they grabbed this opportunity, and the attempt to be clever (certainly we are seeing online discussion about the ad!), but feel awkward about the language choice and the decision to advertise something that has not yet (at the time the ad was placed) been accomplished.

I won’t award credit until after the job is done.  Let’s see if NTUC reports back in a  few weeks telling us how many customers were served as a result of the Orchard Road flooding and the average settlement time. It would be even better if they shared overall averages, so we can compare.  If they respond well, now that would be something worth bragging about. 


  1. I noticed the photo was taken off someone’s Flickr account (the URL was provided in small print), but that person clearly states on the photo page that he did not own the rights to that photo, and it was merely found and uploaded by him. So NTUC can’t possibly know who the original photographer was, and have certainly not compensated him/her for the use of a photo at the heart of an expensive full-page media buy, or they would have given accurate credit. In any case, the photo’s copyright status on Flickr is set to ‘All Rights Reserved’, which should have made it a no-go for insertion into an ad without the uploader’s permission – permission that was not his to give.I’d be interested to know if you have any insight on the legality of this, and if you take any steps to publicize this possible gaffe on the part of NTUC.

  2. Hi Brandon,Thanks for visiting and leaving the comment. I must admit I missed the link in small print! I was more focused on the timing and content. Right now I am not entirely sure what to say about the legality of the photo use. It has been a couple years since I last worked with copyright at the university, and how SG’s copyright laws might have been updated to address online questions is something I just don’t have an answer to. My understanding, based on discussions in 2006-2007, is that providing the link to the photo would be legal but reproducing the photo without permission would likely be illegal. The other side of that coin is that using whatever content we want seems to be common practice here and is rarely if ever hear of organizations being pursued through prosecution. You raise a great question. Let me see if someone at the law school might have any answers.

  3. There is nothing at all about this catastrophe in the mainstream news right now. I am wondering, how long BP and our government are planning to keep the American People and the World from learning the actual extent of this disaster with their unconstitutional ban on the truth?

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