SingPost fiasco: where was the creativity?

Update 11 Jan 2010:

singpost part 2 Real artists painting over the “vandalized” postboxes. Picture from ST.

Looks like SingPost did a nice turnaround by getting real (ie. talented) artists to paint over the “vandalized” postboxes (actually I should remove the apostrophes as I do consider the postboxes vandalized).

From what the press says, this repaint is being managed by a different agency from the original that organized the “vandalism”. From ST 10 Jan:

The artists were picked by Farm, a local arts collective that is organising Stamp 02.

In 2007, Farm had also worked with SingPost to launch the first Stamp competition, which saw 40 post boxes transformed into different scenes of Singapore.

I’ve often complained that many locals aren’t as appreciative of good art as they should be. But this episode has taught me that at least, they know how to reject bad art. 😀


culprit_gets_more_brazen_serial_mailbox_vandal_also_defacing-thumbnailA SingPost postbox that was vandalised as part of their marketing. Photo from Stomp. 

A good commentary in Today newspaper today on the SingPost PR fiasco:

TO SOME in the marketing industry, any publicity – good or bad – is still publicity. It’s an adage the brains behind the botched SingPost "Express Yourself" campaign may want to seek some comfort in following the public furore over the campaign which saw six mailboxes all over Singapore being vandalised.

But for their client, SingPost, the gimmick has been nothing but a public relations disaster.

What was to have been a press conference on Wednesday to announce SingPost’s sponsorship for the 2010 Youth Olympic Games saw the company going on the defensive. It had to take hard questions from the media:

Did it know about the vandalism gimmick, did it approve the marketing strategy, did it even consider the public alarm the vandal may trigger by his actions?

In the end, SingPost issued a public apology and the police – which had to look into a few 999 calls as a result of the stunt – have said they will be taking up the matter with SingPost.

Read the rest of the commentary here.

In the first place, the whole marketing gimmick didn’t seem to me as very creative.

A lot of people seem to mix up creativity with rubbish. In marketing, being creative doesn’t mean that you lose sight of the main message you are trying to send out.

In SingPost’s case, what message was being sent here? Who on earth knew that this was related to the Youth Olympic Games?

And why is “creativity” being associated with the YOG? The YOG is a sporting meet – it’s about a group of young athletes coming together to compete aggressively to become number one in their respective fields. It’s not about putting on a show to demonstrate how different they are, but how similar they are in their desire to win.

Real creativity means turning ideas on their heads while making sure people understand your real message in the process. It requires marketers to think about the thinking process – how will people process the information and not get the wrong idea?

There are also marketing agencies that come to clients to pitch big and grand ideas, but guess what, some of them are not really interested in your business or your message. They’re often out to make a name for themselves and add your brand to their portfolio of gimmicky stunts.

I remember many years ago, there was this MRT poster that went something like “By the time you finish reading this poster in the next 10 seconds, something would have changed.” A classmate said she actually stood in front of the poster for 10 seconds and wondered what would happen. I think the poster was trying to highlight the nature of time and how efficient the MRT system was (or something like that lah). But the message didn’t sink in fully with at least one person and thus it wasn’t a good ad.

That’s why good marketers are hard to find. There are many who think marketing is just about spending the budget to put out big flashy advertisements or public gimmicks, and unfortunately, there are many marketers who prove that stereotype right.

That’s why in bad times, marketers are often laid off before accountants and HR folks who are deemed to be doing more tangible work.

This fiasco also sheds some light on something most people don’t want to talk about  – marketing and PR are intrinsically tied together, though industry professionals try to separate them due to the different materials and approaches used.

A good marketer will understand how to manage the media coverage of such a gimmick, and a good PR guy will understand when such a gimmick is going to drag down the company’s name. But I know in many companies, PR and marketing folks don’t talk to each other very much. I guess it helps my team is so lean, I happen to do both together, so if anything goes wrong, you only need to crucify one bald guy.

Still, kudos to SingPost for doing the right thing and apologising for its mistake. Better to admit you’re wrong than insist it was a spark of brilliance that was misunderstood by the masses.

Next time, hire a better marketing agency and perhaps, better graffiti artists. The artwork on the postboxes was really low quality, I’ve seen better at canals and slums.

11 Replies to “SingPost fiasco: where was the creativity?”

  1. You can’t blame them for trying to think out of the er, postbox.

    They were trying to make some philosophical points, I suppose. Say, the pressure of living in a mail-dominated society etc etc.

    But as I tweeted, Singpost should have followed the letter of the law and gotten a stamp of approval first : )

  2. I’m part amused and part proud that people actually called the police to report that the postboxes were vandalised. It shows how clean Singapore is, in the sense that you don’t expect public property to be vandalised. I’m sure in many many other countries, people won’t even bat an eyelid when they see a fresh piece of vandalism.

    With regard to the marketing effort the vandalism was supposed to be, I guess if the graffiti was better drawn, people might have realised that it was supposed to be an ad… rather than misunderstand that damage was done.

  3. “I’m sure in many many other countries, people won’t even bat an eyelid when they see a fresh piece of vandalism.”

    Dear Ian,

    I am flagging what one of your readers wrote, something which I thought is interesting in its own right.

    I live in Ontario, Canada, and it so happens that in my city, vandalism is a crime. Indeed, the police has recently started to devote more resources to fighting this scourge.

    I wonder what Singaporeans make of western liberal democratic societies. The mantra “anything goes” is a misnomer.


  4. Hi SN, I think she was just making a casual remark which applies to some countries (western or eastern)where vandalism is rampant. Not really picking on western countries, IMO.

  5. Dear Ian,

    Oh no, you misunderstood me, or perhaps I should have made myself clearer.

    I was just making this observation: that the preconception giving rise to the remark that societies in the West “won’t even bat an eyelid” when faced with vandalism is interesting.


  6. Hi SN,

    Ian’s right. I wasn’t referring to western countries at all actually. I was thinking about other countries in Asia and appreciating how safe and clean Singapore is. Singaporeans have often been called “sterile” but I think it’s absolutely wonderful to live in a country where the vast majority of folks have more meaningful things to do than to vandalise public property.

  7. Dear UptownGal,

    My bad. I misread your comment. Why, you never did specify the ‘West’.

    It appears that the preconception is all mine.


  8. I suspect that there’s a side of marketing that’s trending towards using loud or flashy but low on creativity and substance, perhaps inspired by hits on Youtube. The other ad by OCBC about the birthday cake is quite dumb also.

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