Income CMO on Rebecca Lim retirement saga: ‘We didn’t say sorry, we’d done nothing wrong’

The CMO of Singapore insurer Income, formerly NTUC Income, has said that he has no regrets over a campaign launched earlier this year that drew criticism for misleading consumers and the media into thinking that a prominent actress was retiring.

Rebecca Lim Income

Rebecca Lim reveals she is not retiring; ‘sorry’ image from The Middle Ground story ‘NTUC Income teaches us how to not apologise’ subverted Income’s logo

In an interview with Mumbrella Asia, Marcus Chew, who is three years into his role as CMO of the local insurer, said that the campaign that started with Mediacorp artist Rebecca Lim announcing her retirement on Instagram in February, only to later admit that her comments were part of a stunt to promote Income’s retirement products, has been the most successful of his career, and has had no negative impact in the level of trust Singaporeans have in the brand.

Chew said that the heated response to the campaign was partly a reflection of the immaturity of Singapore’s entertainment scene, which he says is not used to any sort of controversy, and a war between Mediacorp and Singapore Press Holdings, which ran commentary on the stunt for five days straight.

Media outlets including Straits Times and Mediacorp’s own websites TODAY and Channel NewsAsia had reported the news only to later remove or change their stories when it emerged that Lim was retiring from Mediacorp.

NTUC Income Mr Brown tweet

Prominent blogger Mr Brown joined the chorus of criticism of the brand for misleading consumers

“There was a lot of conversation about consumers being misled. But we weren’t really being misleading if you think about it. She [Rebecca Lim] is an actress. Is she was to act in a TV show as a murderer does that make her a killer in real life? That essentially was my assessment before we launched the campaign,” he said, adding that the idea had been defined internally as “medium-level risk”.

Chew said at no time had he considered pulling the ad. “And at no time did I do what most clients do and blame the agency. I don’t think that ever helps the brand, and in any case I don’t think we did anything wrong,” he said.

“We were being disruptive. And we’d never played in the retirement space before, and it’s a very important segment of the sector. We came in and owned retirement with this campaign. We were talking to youth. The people who commented [negatively] were mainly older,” said Chew.

The results of the campaign Chew described as “fantastic”, with page views for Income’s retirement products on the company website increasing by 300% over the campaign period.

He said the fact that the campaign picked up a number of Hall of Fame Awards last week was a reflection of the industry rewarding bold work.

“To me, if you advertise, if you spend money talking, you have to get attention,” he said.

“It would have been easy to pull the ad and apologise. Sorry is a strong word. It means you are wrong. [Chew stated at the time, “We did not set out to mislead anyone. We regret upsetting anyone over the weekend.”] And in my mind, I didn’t think I was wrong to create awareness among my target audience about the importance of retirement. We just had to stay calm and go all the way to achieving what we set out to.”

“For me, this is the best campaign I’ve ever worked on in my career. I hope to build on it in the future, but without wanting to always be controversial,” he said.


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