Marketing Case Study: NTUC Income


NTUC Income makes for the most interesting piece of marketing study.

Not too long ago, they had been rather successful at making an insurance advertisement go viral. Remember this?



Yet when they tried to repeat the same manoeuvre, it failed. Miserably.



(dont bother clicking on this, it’s only an image)

Well, if it’s viral they want, it’s viral they got.

They have since pulled off the ad. In case you hadn’t watched it, the ad was trying to mirror real life. A salesperson (one selling electronic goods and another, a real estate sales person) was portrayed as “selling” an item to the viewer. It cast the salesperson as a smooth talking crook with a fabrications laden sales pitch.

In theory, the video passed all the ticks of a good advertisement.

Singlish? Check.

Slice of life? Check.

Use a local? Check.

Humour? Check. (well… subjective… but, check)

Mirrors real life? Check.


So why did it fail?

Students of marketing might remember “Gestalt Theory” – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Logically speaking, this should have worked. But look at it as a whole – not so much. This is precisely why I always discourage my clients from getting “logical” people to approve and analyse their advertisements and marketing programs. Advertising is a work of art. It should be studied by how one “feels” and not one “thinks”.

But I put myself in Income’s shoes. I’m assuming that the agency producing this ad for them was the same agency that made the previously successful piece. So “logically”, this new piece should have worked.

However, if Income had passed this through to a third party – perhaps some independent team from another department (because the NTUC has so many other units, co-operatives and unions) – they might have received a hint of warning.

I don’t think the chief of Income woke up one morning saying “Hmmm, how shall we piss off the public today….” It is a marketing fluke – and a serious one.

The lesson for all of us in the marketing world is:

a.) Just because your first work worked, don’t assume the love will always stay

b.) Don’t dabble with marketing on the digital domain unless you really know how to


Note:  NTUC Income CEO Tan Suee Chieh has since issued a “no excuses” apology on his Facebook page.






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