With the pandemic having forced many brands to rethink their PR and communications strategies, brands in Singapore looked towards which channels they could use to keep their brands top-of-mind, as well as continue driving growth. Some of the key themes outlined at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Marketing Excellence Awards 2021 were driving more digitalisation, utilising social media, and creating engaging and relatable advertisements, especially in a time where community spirit felt more potent than ever. Aside from pivoting to digital, brands have also looked to new ways of innovating their advertising, creative production and products, to capture consumers' attention and increase visibility across the cluttered digital space.
A recent media and advertising study by Forrester reported that marketers and publishers are looking for ways to extend the agility and capitalise on "unprecedented levels of consumer experimentation". In fact, 41% of marketing executives said that improving their ability to innovate is a marketing priority for 2022.
Aside from fresh innovations, consumer behaviour never stops evolving. For brands, this would mean that the pressure is on for brands to keep up - or be left behind by competitors who understand the power of digital innovation. Furthermore, the influence Gen Z's have on the digital space is yet another factor brands need to be mindful of, in creating socially responsible content and conveying value of their products to the young consumers. In the age of COVID, with decreasing attention spans, and increased online engagement, brands will need to be even more mindful when adapting swiftly and responsibly to consumers' ever-changing behaviours.
As for 2022, a report by PR Newswire found that companies should be focusing on the following three themes to dial up their communications strategies: building on more MICE events as restrictions ease around the country and the region, jumping on the metaverse trend and harping up their ESG commitments, as well as getting media to communicate these new strategies.
For 2021, these are the five PR campaigns that impressed our judges at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's Marketing Excellence Awards:
1. Far East Hospitality
Far East Hospitality wanted to transform a crisis into an opportunity by rejuvenating the hospitality industry amidst the pandemic blues. Working with ADK Connect Singapore for its campaign, Far East Hospitality decided to build on three key strategies to help the hospitality industry in Singapore thrive. These were namely sustain, recover and transform.
In spite of the marketing budget cuts across the industry, Far East Hospitality saw crisis brought about by the pandemic as an opportunity to distinguish itself from competitors. The team was clear that it had to make a palpable shift in its marketing focus and had to ensure that its spokes people could establish a differentiated voice in the media, while communicating Far East Hospitality’s portfolio of management capabilities to drive business continuity. The team began by developing a structured calendar that would map the above motivations, and adopted an integrated marketing strategy that leveraged public relations (PR) and social media marketing to communicate its key messages.
For its first strategy, “sustain”, the Far East Hospitality team looked to begin by sustaining its own people amidst a declining revenue faced by the hospitality industry and on-going manpower issues. The company decided to hold off from having no-pay leaves or wage freezes, and continued its process of hiring to prepare for market recovery. It also ensured that the key messages were communicated by providing timely sound bites or commentaries for the media. Leveraging media opportunities, Far East Hospitality also shared insights on using the downtime to build staff capabilities and strengthen versatility within the team.
For its “recover” stage, Far East Hospitality decided to redesign staycation packages in partnership with local SMEs. For instance, The Barracks Hotel partnered with Ximula Sail – a local yacht charter, while Oasia Downtown collaborated with entrepreneurs in the fitness and wellness industries to conduct aqua-spin and yoga classes. The key message that Far East Hospitality wanted to communicate during this stage was that as a homegrown company, not only would it reopen staycations to Singaporeans, it would also play its part in helping fellow local business navigate these difficult times. This message was communicated through press statements, which garnered coverage on media outlets such as CNA and also Far East Hospitality's owned platforms.
While some hospitality players decided to lay low amidst the downtime, Far East Hospitality focused its efforts on growth and expansion. Using its own channels as a medium for amplification of its messaging, Far East Hospitality wanted to inject optimism and cheer among hospitality insiders. While the distribution of media releases was key to reaching out to the B2B target audience, Far East Hospitality also wanted consumers to learn about its new hotel openings abroad. Hence, the team decided to have media drops for two of Far East Hospitality's overseas hotel launches - Quincy Hotel Melbourne and Far East Village Hotel Yokohama. Given that many Singaporeans also missed travelling, the team sourced for items that represented Australia and Japan to bring a little bit of these countries to Singapore. The team coordinated with journalists and influencers to have the items delivered, where the coverage was subsequently shared on Far East Hospitality’s social media platforms.
In the last stage of the strategy on “transform”, Far East Hospitality worked with ADK Connect to craft a narrative aligned with the national agenda of reimagining the tourism business. One of the key messages was to highlight how Far East Hospitality would be creating new brand experiences to attract staycationers, as well as future overseas travellers. The team worked on multiple by-lined articles and media interviews to share how Far East Hospitality was transforming its business. These tactics were also leveraged to provide insights on how Singapore’s tourism needed to transform its focus to stay competitive.
These efforts helped position Far East Hospitality as a thought-leader and was further amplified on Far East Hospitality’s social media channels - particularly LinkedIn. Far East Hospitality also ensured that its CEO had a share of voice by sharing industry news and insights on his personal LinkedIn profile.
In spite of the decreased volume of travel, Far East Hospitality managed to have 80% of its company portfolio occupied with closed borders with all of its efforts. The group managed a positive gross operating profit, 176 media clippings across print, broadcast, trade publications and social media, a 150x increase in PR value compared to 2019, retain and secure new contracts with hotel owners, and expand into new markets and business streams.
Some success stories include multiple coverage and feature stories in the national dailies such as The Business Times to highlight business strategies, propositions, and thought-leadership. The extensive coverage helped instill confidence in hotel / property owners as well, leading to Far East Hospitality signing new contracts with Indonesia’s hospitality organisation, ARTOTEL Group. Far East Hospitality was also able to continue its management for Hotel Suzu and Hotel Reve in Vietnam in 2022. Most recently, the company also announced its expansion into the Spa and Resort category with the launch of its latest hotel - Oasia Resort Sentosa in Singapore.
The coverage also helped Far East Hospitality give its own team assurance that they are a valued member of the company and the message that for hospitality players, this was a chance to reposition their brand to come out of this crisis stronger.
With the pandemic in tow, more and more Southeast Asian consumers were turning to eCommerce to fulfil their daily needs. In 2020, Google estimated that 40 new million online consumers had entered the digital space, accelerating the growth of the digital economy. While Shopee has been a leader in the eCommerce space for some time now, the demands of the new world economy required rapid digitalisation. Furthermore, Shopee wanted to differentiate itself from other local and global eCommerce platforms.
This meant Shopee had to create stronger brand awareness and affinity for itself, as well as show consumers that Shopee was a trusted partner, committed to helping consumers adapt and thrive in an increasingly digital-first environment. Shopee’s approach was two-fold, with one strategy geared towards MSMEs, and on the other, established brands and retailers.
Shopee realised that each of these segments had different resources and needs, which meant that it had to tell the right stories in the right ways to help different brands at different stages of their online business journey. Its objectives was to spread the awareness for its offering and tools to foster trust and confidence in Shopee as a business partner, and differentiate Shopee from competitors by showing how the brand addressed the specific needs of businesses.
Shopee decided to ramping up on its communications to target new and inexperienced sellers, along with brands from the third quarter of 2020. This was also the time when many markets in the region were severely affected by the pandemic. As the impacts of the pandemic carried through to 2021, Shopee knew it had to continuously adapt its approach based on local market conditions and maturity of online businesses, while still focusing on onboarding new sellers.
In order to achieve its key objectives, Shopee zeroed in on three main obstacles: lack of trust and access to eCommerce, mindset and organisational barriers, and lack of digital resources.
A communications strategy was formed by partnering with public and private sectors to onboard and cross-promote businesses, creating platforms to help businesses learn, connect, and advance together, as well as increasing visibility for brands and sellers on public channels to help them reach users and drive online growth. Shopee also developed an integrated communications approach that was tailored to the needs of merchant partners and their stakeholders, and positioned Shopee as a trusted partner. The company utilised both traditional and digital media to maximise reach across all levels of society, building awareness, strengthening reputation, and increasing trust.
Shopee also developed narratives catered to the growing industry interest in digitalisation, while positioning its services as trusted solutions to resolve business challenges. Shopee made use of owned and paid channels to consistently deliver content, which increased organic conversations about Shopee’s support initiatives and outcomes. The content posted on social echoed key messages to build trust and spurred more businesses to partner with Shopee.
Shopee’s key messages were built around three pillars: transform, adapt and grow. Firstly, Shopee sought to help partner MSMEs by offering them first-hand experience on the platform, and build partnerships around the public sector to leverage grassroot networks. For brands, it looked to engage brand leaders with meetings and events, and provide insights from Shopee’s leaders to establish its credibility among key decision makers.
Next, it looked to help the brands achieve confidence in the digital transformation through a consistent stream of success stories from MSMEs, increasing Shoppe’s association with top brands through co-branded activations.
Lastly, Shopee looked to equip the MSMEs and brands with the right resources, tools and support networks that would help the business scale and succeed in the long term. For MSMEs, seller communities became more connected and would partake in a dedicated support network for sellers to learn from one another. For brands, Shopee helped them establish industry partnerships with key media platforms, and created new owned channels to share exclusive insights that would help brands achieve their eCommerce goals.
In the campaign delivery stage for MSMEs, Shopee’s principal objective was the increase outreach, so as to digitise sellers at grassroots and governmental levels. For this, Shopee SG launched its Wet Market, so producers such as fishing “kelongs”' could sell their produce on Shopee. In Vietnam, Shopee met farmers in provinces and helped them to sell harvests on Shopee Farm, which helped drive consumer support in media and YouTube. Shopee also looked to digitalise traditional businesses during key festival periods, such as durian season in Singapore and the Chinese New Year e-bazaar in Malaysia, which it highlighted heavily in the media and in-app to encourage consumers to support these businesses.
Partnerships formed another aspect, where Shopee encouraged cross-promotion with governments to leverage trust and reach, and contribute to support local movements. In Malaysia, the “Shop Malaysia” campaign featured locally-made products with various state governments, whereas in Indonesia, the company started #ShopeePilihLokal to support the national Bangga Buatan Indonesia digital initiative. Both helped drive consumer support through multimedia social campaigns. In order to keep the MSMEs network thriving and active, Shopee also created dedicated channels specifically for this: Shopee Seller Summit, Shopee Pros, and Digitised Shopee University – a seller education programme with masterclasses to teach sellers about live streaming.
For its next segment, brands, Shopee looked to engage brand leaders in their adoption of eCommerce through three strategies: tier-one media engagement, which utilised mainstream media outlets, its regional brands summit in Singapore to build credibility for Shopee – also amplified via earned and paid media, and developing content for Shopee leaders to share their vision and strategy for brands via LinkedIn.
Shopee also helped brand marketers sustain their digital transition through various BTL content, such as through the one-stop Marketing Solutions portal, that introduced marketing tools, insights and case studies to help brands stay ahead of the curve. This was followed by a First Marketing Solutions Summit in July 2021, done to prepare brands for the shopping season with winning strategies.
Shopee also framed support tools as effective solutions for growth, such as partnerships in third quarter 2020 with Google, and leading media agencies to help brands accelerate growth and differentiate themselves. Shopee Mall Brand Memberships in July 2021 also helped brands customise loyalty programmes to increase retention. Lastly, collaborative content with brands were made to grow trust within sellers and the platform; this included consistent media stories on sales performance, driven by brand partners and joint announcements with leading brands on their ambitions with Shopee (Amorepacific, Shiseido, P&G Olay). On social media, Shopee made use of branding videos, featuring brand partners’ positive experiences on Shopee. These were then shared on cross-shared YouTube and LinkedIn pages.
Overall, Shopee was able to achieve positive business impact, with increased regional adoption of Shopee, growth for new online businesses and a 60% increase in the number of brands and sellers on Shopee in 2020. The company was also able to see accelerated growth for first-time sellers at shopping campaigns, such as 10x regional growth in orders for new sellers at 11.11 2020 and eight times regional growth in orders for new sellers at 9.9 2021. Shopee was also able to boost brand awareness and land key messages in right channels, with MSMEs seeing over 3,400 pieces of news coverage to promote support initiatives and success stories since June 2020, and brands having 2709 pieces of news coverage on brand-facing stories, across regional mainstream/business/trade media.
Overall, engagement and consideration with brands and sellers increased significantly, with a three times increase in the number of sellers who attended Shopee University since June 2020, 700 sellers and brand partners attending Seller Summit featuring Enterprise Singapore, and 100 brand partners attending the first Regional Brands Summit. On LinkedIn, 77 posts across three of Shopee’s C-suite leaders’ pages saw a total of 1 million impressions generated and 22,000 engagements, with brands leaders and marketers contributing. Campaigns on YouTube also performed significantly well, with 9.2 million views recorded in total for Shopee Indonesia, and 3.6 million views for two specially produced videos featuring Shopee’s outreach and support of fruit farmers as part of Shopee Farm Vietnam.
3. MSIG Asia
MSIG Asia launched its MSIG for Biodiversity campaign, partnering W/E + Partners in the process. For this campaign, MSIG needed to communicate and maintain a position that aligned closely to a plan devised by parent company MS&AD - which is to drive a sustainability agenda with a priority to protect, conserve and restore biodiversity.
For a general insurer such as MSIG Asia, this was an unknown territory to explore. No other insurance brand was playing in locally, except for through ad hoc sub-campaigns. However, MSIG's key goal was to establish itself as the general insurer associated with (protecting) biodiversity while driving actionable participation and improve MSIG’s brand preference and consideration through awareness of its environmental efforts. Additionally, the brand needed to educate its stakeholders on the importance of biodiversity and its connection to human well-being and encourage them to do their part. This included engaging the hearts and minds of staff across APAC on the sustainability agenda and developing a biodiversity programme across its six core markets in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, to echo its wider commitment to protect biodiversity and create a lasting positive impact to the communities MSIG serves.
However, MSIG still faced some challenges as it looked for ways of creating meaningful conversations around the unrelated topics of insurance and biodiversity, as well as educating its industry outsider stakeholders. Furthermore, it needed to convince its stakeholders that MSIG could actually help protect Mother Earth, as well as convince them of the importance of engaging and caring for sustainability issues. As such, its principal target audience consisted of more than 3,500 of MSIG’s employees in the region, customers, partners, intermediaries, as well as a specific demographic of environmentally conscious individuals with an interest in sustainability and biodiversity protection.
The core strategy behind the campaign was to secure a sound future for the planet, enshrined in MSIG’s mission statement. This was to create societies more resilient and sustainable, through the core business of anticipating and mitigating future risk as an insurer. By driving awareness, educating the public on the importance of biodiversity and how human populations are dependent on it, MSIG wanted to effective show its commitment to providing protection beyond just general insurance and position MSIG as consumers’ insurer of choice – who is also striving to do their part for the environment.
For Phase 1 of the campaign, the focus was to communicate the thought of “protecting biodiversity for a sustainable future”.
In Phase 2, MSIG crystalised the thinking further and helped consumers and nature conservation enthusiasts bridge the link between protecting biodiversity and insurance. Thus, the emergence of the line, ‘protecting biodiversity is the insurance for a sustainable future’. By adding the word ‘insurance’ in the line, the thought would draw parallels to how protecting biodiversity and insurance both safeguard our future, making the message more relevant to MSIG’s target audience.
The campaign was thus built to further illustrate how biodiversity is interconnected with our well-being and livelihood, asserting that MSIG understands the importance of securing the planet’s collective future. This was further illustrated by MSIG walks the talk – demonstrating a commitment to do its part through a partnership with global NGO Conservation International Asia-Pacific (CIAP), and committing to more impactful KPIs. Visually, MSIG employed vibrant and eye-catching creatives to draw the attention of its audiences, to keep them engaged and willing to learn more about MSIG’s biodiversity content.
As for media considerations, MSIG focused on social and digital channels for cost efficiency, and diversify reach online. These platforms would also allow for longevity in terms of media duration and campaign exposure, as MSIG would be able to tap on owned social channels and reach out to existing followers and further boost its reach to new followers. This also ensured that the same consistent message would be replicated in the different markets across the region.
As MSIG staff are also a key group of internal stakeholders, they would also be brand and campaign ambassadors in amplifying MSIG’s goals and sustainability agenda. Internal media channels such as staff orientation, town halls, regional conferences, staff contests and intranet articles were utilised to create interest and engagement as well.
The campaign ran from October 2020 until September 2021 across all six markets and the campaign was launched on Sustainability Day (28 Oct 2020). It was further supported by an announcement of a 3-year partnership with Conservation International Asia-Pacific (CIAP).
MSIG utilised print, digital and social media channels for the campaign. Print visuals consisted of a key ad visual, which was then placed in Asia Insurance Review (AIR) magazine to showcase and announce the partnership to fellow peers in the insurance industry. It was also adapted into super graphics placed in offices. A manifesto video entitled “Protecting biodiversity is the insurance for a sustainable future” was also produced to showcase how humans are intimately interconnected with biodiversity, why MSIG partnered with CIAP, and the partnership goals with CIAP. The full version was used on website, in staff townhall, and MSIG owned channels while cut-downs such as 15- sec and 60-sec versions were used in social and digital media for better optimisation. Digital banners were also used.
The campaign website was designed as a knowledge portal, packed with content that is both informative and educational. Visitors had access to a wealth of knowledge such as infographics on various key ecosystems and how they’re connected to human well-being – reminding everyone to do our part for nature, and for the future. Additionally, a series of e-learning videos were also developed in collaboration with CIAP to continually engage visitors on the many wonders of biodiversity. Each video came with a quiz, which allows users to test and further their knowledge. A separate scoring system with incentives was created for staff engagement.
Social media posts were also employed to drive awareness for the infographics. As for social content, MSIG kickstarted the campaign with teaser posts focusing on the three key ecosystems – forest, marine and mangrove, that the partnership aims to protect and conserve, using various types of executions like videos, gif, photo albums, and others to engage with and attract the attention of its digitally savvy audience. Regular push of different topics on biodiversity proved to be effective in engaging the target audience, as did the use of different executions and animation styles which helped in stirring up interest among the target audience. The variety of content also created opportunities to drive traffic to the campaign site.
When the pandemic started making its presence felt in Singapore, Singtel recognised that its approach to communications had to evolve. During this time the brand felt it had to get more empathetic and down to earth in its communications if it wanted to connect with stakeholders meaningfully. Singtel thus started asking some critical questions, such as if it should continue with branding to keep the company top of mind, or to risk looking self-involved and tone-deaf?
After some soul-searching, it was clear to the brand that communications needed to continue but conveyed with a different tact and tone. While Singtel still needed to communicate its brand story, it could not ignore the larger story of how COVID was impacting all of Singaporeans’ lives. It thus decided to address the pandemic head on in its brand campaigns – communicating two key messages:
One – that business continuity plans allowed Singtel to provide essential services to support everyone through this crisis.
Two – that Singtel was in it together with not just its customers but for everyone else as well.
Production posed another challenge. With safe distancing being enforced, Singtel could not embark on fits traditional film production methods and led to the brand having to find creative ways to work around the constraints.
Singtel decided to embarked on a series of festive campaigns as part of its branded content approach, to articulate its brand values, albeit through a new COVID-19 informed lens. Instead of the usual celebratory message, Singtel opted for empathetic films that acknowledged COVID head-on, with messages of hope for community. The first film was done for Hari Raya and titled, “Keeping the spirit of Hari Raya alive”.
The branded content centred on how the Muslim community persevered in celebrating the season despite not being able to physically meet up with their extended families and friends. The film aimed to boost the morale of staff, and also conveyed to external audiences the robustness of our business continuity plan, showcasing how Singtel employees continued being productive in the new normal. Similar campaigns and messages of hope and connection followed for National Day, Deepavali and Christmas for that year. Singtel’s Christmas film in particular also gave the brand an opportunity to highlight its CSR efforts.
Due to the regulations and new normal, filming the campaigns was tougher than previous years, particularly during the Hari Raya and National Day period, when stay home regulations were in full force. To overcome this, Singtel did what everyone else was doing – pivot to video conferencing calls to film the interviews. Even after some of the regulations were eased, it had to adjust the way it shot Deepavali and Christmas accordingly, such as reducing crew size to avoid overcrowding on set.
Not only did Singtel need to communicate actively with its colleagues and staff, it also wanted to reach out to the broader community to let them know that we were all in this together and would support each other through this crisis. To highlight this, the Hari Raya and Deepavali films featured Singtel’s Malay and Hindu colleagues, while the Christmas film features the seniors who signed up for our digital clinics so they could stay connected during lockdown periods.
Each film was released around three to four weeks ahead of the actual holiday and posted on social media and Singtel’s own intranet to encourage organic sharing and spark conversations. To reach a wider audience, it placed the films on owned assets and digital screens to drive awareness. Singtel also developed press releases announcing the films, targeting mainstream dailies and broadcast, online news channels and regional trade publications in Singapore. The press release was disseminated to mainstream and trade media to drive viewership. The brand also worked with editors and journalists to develop stories angled around the various themes and characters featured in the films.
The PR campaign was well-received by Singaporean audiences, generating good traction of more than 2.7 million views combined on Singtel’s Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn pages. The films garnered extensive positive coverage such as in-depth stories that include the brand’s key messages, and were published in the mainstream press and marketing media outlets such as Channel NewsAsia, Channel 5, Channel 8, vernacular newspapers Shin Min Daily, and Tamil Murasu. Individuals and organisations also shared the films on their social media channels.
5. Oceanus Group
As Oceanus Group advances on its nine-year plan to transform into a leading FoodTech enterprise of the future (Tech Up Phase), the group wanted to move away from the past year’s virtual webinar setup to reflect its theme of digital transformation. For the group, it was critically important to conceptualise an AGM like none other to pay homage to its fascinating history, as well as excite investors and shareholders (target audience) by showing its vision of the Tech Up Phase, as it digitalises and prepares to DISRUPT the food security industry.
The end-to-end format for the AGM was conceived to reflect the brand’s core values, as well as immerse shareholders in Oceanus’ extensive vision for its next chapter and build confidence in its growth plan. For the AGM to feel like an important milestone, and to reflect the digitalisation the company had went through, the group came up with three key execution strategies: a coffee-table annual report, retrospective and vision video, and live AGM show.
The annual report was designed to be more than a report of statistics and figures, and more of a special edition to mar the end of the previous two chapters of Oceanus Group, and the beginning of its digitalisation journey. The design was conceptualised to portray confidence, stability and a forward-looking perspective on the food security industry, with its coffee-table book presentation being a final touch. For example, production techniques such as foil stamping and unique pantone colours during printing were utilised to create an elegant aesthetic that was untypical of seafood suppliers, evoking a sense of the new direction Oceanus would be taking in the coming years.
Its retrospective video journey began with visuals showing the early days of Oceanus Group. By showing the six years of progress, the production would also reflect the retrospections of the company, from the farm development to the community development stage at large. A variety of treatments, from fast cuts of photos to cinemographs and video snippets was done to bring the impact of the past to the viewers. The transitions were then accompanied with a slide projector clicker effect to create the sense of a retrospective. This was followed by another video highlighting the company’s vision. The video talks about Oceanus’ new chapter to become ‘a leading enterprise of the future', with its various subsidiaries reflecting over Oceanus Group and its dedication to expand beyond being just a food production company, and with shots of deep tech production.
Finally, the live AGM was conceived to bring across the message that Oceanus Group wished to convey. It conceptualised the organisation’s growth model for the Tech Up Phase, helping investors visualise their growth plan. The company also designed a 3D diagram that reflected a Virtuous Cycle of Growth, which visually expressed how Oceanus can support various operations, such as investing in greater production by deploying FoodTech Hubs at scale. Three types of 3D backgrounds were used for the show, comprising of a minimal design, a visual that would spotlight Oceanus’ future food production centres, and a blockchain-themed design.
AR content was then added in the live, on top of the footage to increase integration. Oceanus also tapped into xR (Extended Reality), where the group’s director was able to showcase the capabilities Oceanus Group could deliver. Utilising AR elements, key messages could be delivered to the homestead of the viewers in attractive aesthetics, compared to using the standard charts or 2D graphics.
The entire AGM was live streamed onto Facebook, creating awareness in the social media space. With that in place, the AGM was developed with its own website and broadcasted live through it as well. This gave people a sense of belonging, and Oceanus was able to garner interest from the public.
Overall, the Oceanus Group Annual General Meeting had a consistent number of views throughout. The new approach proving to be a solution for the company for any future virtual events or conferences. Oceanus Group also had been covered by radio stations after the experiential AGM to discuss how it had redefined the benchmark of the virtual event landscape, even for internal stakeholder communications. At the same time, it gave the group an opportunity to share its narrative on how it was embracing change by driving digital transformation via its new growth model.
Photo courtesy: 123RF
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