Taking home the bronze award for “Best COVID-19 related response” at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s PR Awards 2021 is the National Youth Council (NYC). The winning campaign, “Dear COVID-19”, stemmed from the organisation’s aim to document personal stories during the circuit breaker implemented amidst the pandemic.
Tapping onto the expertise of its agency DSTNCT, NYC created a platform that demonstrates the collective experience of youths in Singapore as they were going through the uncertain period. Read on to find out how NYC managed to band the nation together and contribute to a national narrative.
When circuit breaker was implemented in April 2020, the generation of youths in Singapore was thrown into disarray. As they seek to cope and adapt to the crushing reality, the youth started to turn to social media to share what they had to go through. Because of the suddenness of the circuit breaker announcement, people from different backgrounds and situations had to deal with their own challenges. And all these different stories remained behind the closed doors of households.
As people share their individual experiences on social media, NYC saw the need for a central repository to collate all the experiences as a nation together. This came as NYC identified that personal stories, experiences, thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears and aspirations are crucial to preserve this historic moment. They should be documented for future generations, who will look back at this tipping point and understand better how it was like going through the pandemic.
The stories could also empower fellow Singaporeans to get through the tough time together, as well as form invaluable insights to inform and shape policy-making and the government next steps in tackling the pandemic as a nation.
However, despite it being common practice for people in Singapore to share their experiences online, they are disinclined to contributing to a national narrative, especially when it is an initiative spearheaded by a government agency. With the heart of the necessity of the project being the documentation of this historical period, the added challenge was the collection of authentic, raw and honest experiences of everyday Singaporeans, who are disinterested to contribute to a national narrative, as well as those unwilling to engage in deep reflection about their experiences on a public platform.
This was the problem NYC wanted to solve with its campaign “Dear COVID-19”. It wanted to design an initiative with the ability to morph into a movement where youths would be open and willing to bare their stories in honesty, forming a collective narrative which would be as inspiring to the nation, as is important for the sake of history. From a practical standpoint, the challenge was also to launch an initiative during a time when emotions were most intense, such as during Singapore’s first-ever circuit breaker.
To get youths in Singapore to start wanting to contribute their stories, NYC wanted to create a platform where Singaporeans would feel like they wanted to be on and contribute towards. To do this, it needed to use an innovative format amidst the crowded online space, and give youths something to talk about, in order for word-of-mouth to catch wildfire.
Collaborating with its agency DSTNCT, NYC looked to create a main go-to platform for the expression of collective experience through this pandemic. Besides collecting stories, it also wanted to provide a platform for encouragement.
As an entirely new brand attempting to establish itself as the national memory project, awareness was a critical first step for the project. The campaign had to be executed fast to capture the relevance and crux of the current situation as well as to cover broad segments of different youths from different backgrounds to tell a compelling Singaporean story of resilience and unity.
Enter “Dear Covid-19”: a virtual gallery of life during circuit breaker. Housed on a microsite as a central repository, the gallery aims to tell the stories of everyday Singaporeans, leveraging on the then trend of virtual photography. Each series captures the essence and mood of each household, accompanied by letter written to Dear Covid-19. The naming of the campaign was intentional in order to subtly encourage long-form writing from Singaporeans.
NYC’s strategy was two-pronged: to create a curated virtual photo gallery, and a user-generated social gallery. The curated photo gallery was the initial bedrock of content to get the ball rolling. With the initial bedrock of content consisting of virtual photography, NYC would be able to effectively dictate the look of the microsite, which ensures compelling visual storytelling through the hook of aesthetics.
Meanwhile, there is a user-generated social gallery that encourages the public to participate in the sharing of their Dear Covid-19 stories. Additionally, incentives such as SG$50 GrabFood vouchers were used to further entice youths to share their stories.
With the hook of aesthetics and well-taken photographs being the initial draw to the microsite, visitors of the website would then be engaged by the meaningful stories shared, creating a ripple effect in the nation about Dear Covid-19.
The campaign had three objectives: to bring awareness to Dear COVID-19 as Singapore’s national memory project, encourage Singaporeans to share deep reflections about this pandemic, and to build buzz and inspire hope amongst Singaporeans during these uncertain times.
To achieve them, NYC and DSTNCT utitlised content across online and social media platforms. The microsite (dearcovid19sg.com) was created. The opening of the microsite was presented in a “typewriter” format that set the context of the entire initiative before users enter into the site.
Users are then brought to the home page, where there are two phases: life in stills and life in motion. In “life in stills”, there is a main banner featuring several portraits shot during circuit breaker using virtual photography. In “life in motion”, the main banner featured a GIF (reflecting the phase of motion or safe reopening that Singapore had entered into) of various common experiences shared. Scrolling down, users are then brought through a virtual time capsule of Singapore during circuit breaker and Singapore during safe reopening.
The last stage of the scroll journey on the home page brings users to “a parallel universe” which is a satirical commentary of the times that users are living in, which features comics drawn by local cartoonists Highnunchicken.
Other pages of the site encourage direct submission of entries (“Tell us your stories”) page, as well as a page entirely dedicated to user-generated content from the public sharing their Dear Covid-19 stories on social media platforms (“Your #DearCovid19SG stories”). The entire website, from the curation of content, visuals and design, is intended to draw users into engage with the experiences of fellow Singaporeans and make them feel like they want to contribute and be featured in this initiative.
To document the end of circuit breaker and Singapore’s transition into a period of safe reopening, NYC wanted to produce a series of short videos to capture the spirit of the times and experiences of the nation. This series kicked off with a short video that was taken from the perspective of a written letter to Dear Covid-19, against the backdrop of common but very new experiences typical to the period of safe reopening (such as safe entry, masks, and reuniting of families).
The series of shorts continued the targeted documentation of scenes that were unique to the times that youths in Singapore were experiencing. For example, there were scenes from the first-ever “COVID-19 elections”, virtual National Day Parade, safe entry and temperature screening, gatherings of maximum of five people. This served the purpose of documenting these times in an engaging manner, with such experiences being so common, and thus shareable on social media.
To kickstart chatter in the online sphere, NYC rolled out a campaign involving 20 youth influencers with a unique story to tell about their COVID-19 times. These influencers used photos taken during their virtual photoshoots and share a summary of their full letters they have written to Dear COVID-19, with the intent of driving their following to check out their full letter on the website itself.
NYC also collaborated with local cartoonists Highnunchicken, who created a 15-part series of comics that served as a satirical commentary of common experiences as a nation. It also provided an additional and consistent stream of additional amplification for the initiative.
NYC’s strategy was designed for the purpose of the ease of PR seeding. The strategic and timely approach of Dear Covid-19 gained mass media attention, with even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong doing a shout-out to call for Singaporeans to contribute more stories towards Dear COVID-19. In addition to coverage in traditional media, Dear Covid-19 also garnered radio interview segments on Channel NewsAsia and radio station 987FM.
Through the campaign, NYC successfully got Singaporeans to contribute to a collective narrative in the documentation of these times. The authentic and heartfelt stories also served as a source of inspiration for fellow Singaporeans, due to the high relatability of the experiences shared, which had a snowball effect of encouraging even more Singaporeans to share their Dear Covid-19 stories.
The widespread media coverage and mention by PM Lee also served to generate high brand awareness and positioning of Dear Covid-19 as the national memory project, despite many similar projects being done during the same period.
Dear Covid-19 gained a PR value of over SG$533,000. The campaign also saw sustained earned media, with Dear Covid-19’s earliest media mention being on 27 May 2020 and our latest one being on 14 November 2020. More than 1,000 user-generated #DearCOVID19SG entries, were also recorded.
NYC garnered a total reach of 2,343,038, total impressions of 2,760,392, and total engagements of 108,436 on social media. In the span of only 11 days, it experienced close to 55,000 page views, with a spike of 3,513 users on 31 May 2020 after the mention of Prime Minister Lee on his Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
After the launch of Dear Covid-19, NYC also saw many similar projects that contributed to the collective narrative as a nation, in their own ways. In addition, BBDO and OMD launched a campaign called #BeyondTheCase which employed out-of-home tactics to spotlight COVID-19 survivors penning their letters of gratitude to the frontliners.