NTUC Income's 'comic' ad falls fat, insurer apologises

Insurer apologises and scraps ad that makes property agents look bad

NTUC Income has taken down and apologised for a controversial commercial which insinuated that property agents were untrustworthy.

The ad was part of a new branding campaign launched last Monday, offering customers "transparent" advice on insurance policies.

But more than 130 comments, which included one property agent calling it "degrading", on NTUC Income's Facebook page led to the plug being pulled three days later on the online part of the campaign. Television ads for the campaign were also halted yesterday.

"In hindsight, we took the wrong approach and I apologise to all concerned," NTUC Income chief executive Tan Suee Chieh told The Straits Times. "We have since pulled the ads. They were never intended to cause offence. We recognise that sales professionals are the lifeblood of many industries, including ours."

The campaign involved one commercial featuring dubious salesmen from the real estate, construction and retail industries, who supposedly delivered less than promised.

Another 32-second ad featured just the property agent lying about the perks of a unit to a potential buyer.

In one scene, the female property agent looks at the camera as she describes the flat as having a "rich history". But the word "haunted" appears beside her.

When she claims that the unit's owner is "relocating", the caption reads "loan sharks are coming".

The commercial ends by telling viewers "don't be misled", with a voice-over adding that NTUC Income's insurance policies are "made simple, made honest, made different".

Said netizen Huang Qi Heng on NTUC's Facebook page: "Your advertisement is degrading our profession as realtors. We strive to protect our clients' interests more than ours."

Property agent Nur Mohammad Hafeez of CrestOne Realty told The Straits Times that the ads were "insulting" to those in the profession. "How can you sell a policy by singling out an industry and stereotyping them?"

NTUC Income said the ads were meant to be "a comic portrayal of bad salespeople" and exaggerated how "things are not always as they are described".

Still, not everyone was upset.

"I had a good laugh over it," said Mr Chris Koh, director of property firm Chris International. "Every industry has bad apples and I think that's what the ad was trying to say. It's a pity that they singled out the property industry, but they've apologised and taken down the ads. I don't think there's more to be done."

maryamm@sph.com.sg