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.