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Singtel on pivoting brand marketing to be ‘kinder, more down to earth and authentic’

Singtel supports Singaporean athletes for National Day

As Singapore celebrates its independence, locally-founded telco Singtel marks the occasion every year with a major storytelling ad. Singtel is back once again this year with an Olympics-inspired story and, as Lian Pek, vice-president of group strategic communications and brand at Singtel, shares with The Drum, it’s part of a strategy to connect with its audience during tougher times.

The ad stars four Singaporean Olympic hopefuls; swimmer and Olympic medalist Joseph Schooling, badminton player Loh Kean Yew, fencer Kiria Tikanah and sprinter Shanti Pereira. The storyline follows the challenges the athletes faced in training during restrictions on movement over the past year, showing how they have been ‘leading through uncertainty’.

The Olympic ad has a practical link to Singtel promoting its Olympic coverage to its subscribers, through a deal with Mediacorp. There is also a wider brand marketing strategy in the messaging, in which Singtel hopes to echo the more everyday struggles that consumers will relate to from the past year, linking the ads to its brand purpose.

Singtel is now known for its take on National Day – why focus on the Olympics this year and how does that tie in with the regular strategy around your National Day ads?

We see our athletes’ journey to the Olympics as a very relatable metaphor for what we’ve all been going through since the onset of the pandemic. If all of us have been grappling with the cycles of disruption and adaptation brought on by Covid, imagine what it’s been like for them to stay focused on their one shot at the Olympics. Training for something they’re not sure will happen has been incredibly trying, and yet they’ve managed to stay in top form and maintain their mental focus over a protracted period of time. This is why we took the decision to couple the Olympics with National Day. We hope everyone will look at our athletes’ determination and resilience and feel inspired to keep pressing on, hence our campaign tagline – ‘leading through uncertainty’.

This year’s campaign is in fact an extension of last year’s approach and strategy. If you recall, we were in similar partial lockdown during the National Day period last year, but that being the first time we had to downsize our festivities due to social distancing, we turned our National Day campaign into a rallying call for national resilience. Our film entitled ‘This is the year’ acknowledged the pressures and strains that the pandemic had placed on Singapore society, but paid tribute to Singaporeans’ indefatigable optimism and can-do attitudes.

You have chosen to feature certain athletes in the ad – why did you choose them and how does that tie into the messaging?

We chose these athletes because they represent different genders, ethnicities, a mix of Olympic winners and newcomers with backgrounds and journeys that speak to our long-held beliefs in diversity, inclusivity, integrity and excellence. They represent the entire Singapore Olympic contingent, who are already champions in our eyes, having made it to the games despite the long-drawn delays and uncertainties in the run-up. Our campaign captures their tenacity and their leadership – something we want to celebrate and use to inspire.

What does it mean as a Singapore brand to celebrate National Day?

National Day is very important to a homegrown brand like ours, which has been around for generations and whose purpose is to keep serving current and future generations of Singaporeans, especially as we build out our 5G network to support Singapore’s transition to the new economy. As a Singaporean multinational corporation (MNC), our progress and prosperity are intimately tied to that of the country, and National Day is an occasion to acknowledge our roots and the Singapore DNA that has propelled our regional growth and expansion.

Has Covid impacted the strategy around your National Day ads? How has it had to evolve during these times? How has it impacted the ability to practically create ads and how have you worked around these issues?

The pandemic and the new normal has irrevocably changed the way we communicate. The collective sense of displacement and loss meant that few people were in the mood to hear the usual brand messages. Communications had to get far more personal, speaking simply to fellow human beings rather than to customers or stakeholders. We pivoted towards a kinder, more down-to-earth and authentic way of communicating through our ads, choosing to continue with our branded content approach to sharing our brand values – but staying relevant by approaching these films through a Covid lens.

Content marketing campaigns typically take months to plan, but the realities of the pandemic meant we had to go back to the drawing board and change tack – and fast. Out went the celebratory messages and fanfare associated with the festive holidays. In its place were empathetic films that acknowledged Covid head-on, with messages of hope and support for the broader community. Ultimately, we wanted to encourage Singaporeans to focus on the positives – the resilience of our people and community.

The execution was tougher than in previous years as we were working against multiple constraints – among them the practical realities of production given social distancing requirements. Depending on the regulations in force at any given time, we had to pivot to video conferencing to film our interviews or reduce the crew size to avoid overcrowding on set. In short, we had to stay flexible and keep adapting the way we executed our campaigns, refining our messaging throughout the year, as the situation evolved.

Did you come across any production challenges during this most recent campaign and how were those solved?

In addition to catering for the existing Covid-19 safe distancing guidelines during production, we had to work around the athlete’s packed schedules, as they were in the midst of training for the Games, ensuring that we maximized the use of the time we had with them as effectively as possible.

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