SMRT staff front ad campaign

SMRT's new advertising campaign includes posters featuring the company's staff. The ads also feature on SMRT's webpage, blog, Facebook and Twitter channels.
SMRT's new advertising campaign includes posters featuring the company's staff. The ads also feature on SMRT's webpage, blog, Facebook and Twitter channels.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Experts say featuring maintenance and operation workers humanises the company

SINGAPORE - A new advertising campaign by SMRT is being fronted by its rail maintenance and operational staff, in what brand experts say is aimed at humanising a company whose reputation has been affected by breakdowns and delays.

In a series of posters themed "We're working on it", various employees including technical officers, an engineer and a station manager are profiled with a quote about what drives them.

The posters have been put up at MRT stations and bus interchanges since last month, and also feature on SMRT's webpage, blog, Facebook and Twitter channels.

One, for example, profiles assistant engineer Norhidayat Salim, 32, who says: "Every night, my team and I maintain about 50km of our train tunnels so (that) you have a safe and reliable journey the next day."

Mr Patrick Nathan, vice-president of corporate information and communications at SMRT Corp, said the campaign was created in-house, and offers passengers a glimpse into the important roles its staff play. "This effort showcases the multi-year, multi-project effort that takes place seven days a week, all-year round, which is aimed at renewing our transport services to serve passengers better," he told The Straits Times.

Branding and marketing experts, such as Dr Seshan Ramaswami, an associate professor of marketing from the Singapore Management University, said the campaign is well thought out and tries to humanise SMRT.

He said: "It is easy to get angry at a faceless corporation which runs trains on tracks - a mechanical, impersonal object. So, showing behind-the-scenes photos of hardworking men and women working under difficult conditions... can help to soothe negative emotions."

On July 7, a massive breakdown during the evening rush hours crippled both the North-South and East-West lines, angering commuters who took to social media to express their frustrations.

Dr Ramaswami, however, noted that the advertisements must work in concert with actual improvements in rail reliability, which must be felt by the public.

The timing may be right. SMRT's train withdrawal rate, where a train is withdrawn from service because of faults, has come down from 3.3 for every 100,000km operated in 2012 to 1.05 last year.

Mr Samir Dixit, managing director of Brand Finance Asia Pacific, said the campaign has good intent, but is a "risky proposition" that may serve to drive up more negativity in its execution.

"Can we imagine the outcome... where there is a breakdown and people standing at the platforms are constantly staring at the campaign posters and wondering what to make of the situation?" he asked.

Commuters such as Ms Nurul Syuhaida, 28, a translator, said the campaign is a good move. "It lets the public know that they are working round the clock to improve our commuting experience," she said.

However, the campaign is not just for commuters, said Dr Ramaswami. He said: "These ads may help boost the morale of SMRT operations personnel... as they get criticised when trains break down, but never applauded when everything works for most parts of the year."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'SMRT staff front ad campaign'. Print Edition | Subscribe