How we made: NTUC Income’s ‘Times have changed’

As part of a series looking at some of the region's most groundbreaking work, NTUC Income's CMO Marcus Chew and BBH copywriter Stephanie Gwee look back at how the Singaporean insurer challenged societal expectations of women with the help of a catchy song

Four months have passed since the Singapore insurance firm Income and creative agency BBH Asia took on the long-held societal beliefs that determine women remain in their rightful place as perfect daughters, wives and mothers.

Thanks to decades of stereotype-laden marketing and media campaigns, the ‘Angel of the House’ stereotype remains a prevalent force in the vernacular around women’s messaging even today. The only thing that has changed is the perpetual reinforcement of shame and insecurity around one’s appearance, from weight, wrinkles, right down to the shape of one’s own vagina in recent years.

It was this cloud of negatively-charged messaging, that NTUC Income’s chief marketing manager decided it was time for a change in the way the insurer spoke to 50 per cent of its audience.

And in doing so, the brand created the video ‘Times have changed’, which has now been viewed more than 23 million times and had more than 300,000 shares on social media. Meanwhile, it’s catchy theme song ‘Be the you that you want to be’ was recently voted ‘The best song for females 2017’ by US-based website Asian Crush. 

Acknowledging the brand itself had “neglected” women for years in its marketing, Marcus Chew says the-now globally-renowned campaign evolved from the very concept that: ‘Times have changed – and so have we”.

“For the brief, we were looking at our business portfolio as a brand and we felt we were not connecting with the youth: a lot of people think, retirement insurance, that’s for my parents not for me, and we have been actively trying to change that perception for the past three years.

“So when we were looking at the products we have for retirement, we then realised we did not have any that were connecting with women: we have never really spoken to them in our marketing.

“So we started developing the product Lady 360 just for women. So for the campaign we wanted to reflect the idea that times have changed – and so have we. Even today in marketing, women are often presented as a housewife, even in an age when they sit on corporate boards. We wanted to showcase what women experience, such as being told to play with dolls and do housework, and how these attitudes carry over into their adulthood.”

Together with the brand’s creative agency BBH Singapore, Income came up with the idea of showing a young girl, who grows up in a world shaped by tradition and expectations, but then adopts a different approach when she becomes a mother.

Explaining the campaign’s development, BBH copywriter Stephanie Gwee says: “We set off to create a campaign that is genuine, that is inspired by the real experiences of women. The women in the team tapped into our life experiences, and we realised that we all had similar experiences and expectations placed on us while growing up. And we felt it’s a story that’s worth telling, and one that’s relevant for this day and age.

“When it came to the execution, we started off wanting to write an open letter to Singapore on behalf of women. That open letter took the form of a film and a song that we wrote ourselves. And the song was made even more poignant and relatable when it’s sung by one of Singapore’s most recognisable voices.”

This “most recognisable” voice in the campaign is that of husky-toned Singaporean singer-songwriter Tanya Chua. Picking Chua to be the voice of the campaign was an easy decision, says Chew. “She’s a woman with a very strong view on life,” he explains. “She’s a woman of character and she really connected with our script. Actually, the script was meant to be spoken as a voiceover at first, but we realised it would connect better with the audience to have it sung by a female singer. So Tanya adapted our words to her own style and it just worked straight away.”  

‘One of Asia’s most recognisable voices’ – Tanya Chua

Asked whether it was Chua’s fame in Asia that contributed largely to the campaign’s viral numbers, Chew adds: “At it’s core, the message is about the way we speak to women. Tanya is the flavour of the ad and certainly helped spark curiosity, but the engagement for us is the critical point: the number of people joining in the conversation and sharing the video was the point in which we realised we had hit the right mark.”

Meanwhile at BBH, the creative team had an inkling the campaign would go big, says Gwee. “This always sounds arrogant in post-campaign interviews, but we did plan this for ‘viral success’. Talkability and fame were important objectives. So we knew the idea would be talk-worthy amongst Singaporean women, but of course we were surprised by how much it resonated globally. It was interesting for us to note that these expectations were issues that were faced by women all around the world.”

In a bid to reinforce the message that it was committed to change, Income’s print accompanying print campaign featured three women whose personal stories helped shape the Lady360 product.

However, the campaign will now act as a standalone, with no planned follow-ups in the pipeline. However, Income’s messaging towards women will change, says Chew. “We don’t really like to do sequels or a ‘Part II’, but we will continue this campaign in terms of our engagement – in that telling women what to do doesn’t work anymore. We are quite fortunate now to have entered a women’s space, which we have been neglecting for years.”

And across the industry as a whole, Gwee hopes other brands and agencies will be inspired to rethink their biases in their marketing. “The industry on the whole needs to be more aware not just of our biases but also our unconscious biases towards all groups of people we speak to. Agencies and the work that the industry is producing should speak for women, not at women. That’s a gap that needs to be filled.”


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