NTUC Income has expressed regret to anyone upset by an Instagram post by popular actress Rebecca Lim last week that said she was retiring when she was not. But it stopped short of apologising for the publicity stunt which backfired.
At a press conference yesterday, the insurance firm said it had worded the post in collaboration with the actress, whom it had engaged to talk about retirement planning.
After Ms Lim, 29, said in the post last Friday that she was retiring, fans started speculating about the reasons for her decision. This led her to clarify that night that she was not retiring and that the post was part of a collaboration with NTUC Income.
That drew flak from netizens who accused her of misleading fans.
At yesterday's press conference - held to release the results of a survey on retirement planning among young people - NTUC Income's chief marketing officer, Mr Marcus Chew, 41, said: "We did not set out to mislead anyone. We regret upsetting anyone over the weekend."
When it was pointed out that most people would read the post as Ms Lim announcing her retirement from acting, NTUC Income's head of strategic communications, Ms Shannen Fong, 39, said: "'Retiring' is about when you are starting that journey. With proper planning, you can start 'retiring' at the moment."
NTUC Income's definition of the word "retiring" has been criticised online. Facebook user Petrina Pang pointed to a dictionary definition that says "retire" means "to withdraw from office, business, or active life, usually because of age".
Public relations experts interviewed said the insurer has missed an opportunity to apologise for a publicity stunt gone wrong.
Mr Edwin Yeo, 48, general manager of integrated communications firm SPRG Singapore, said: "Trying to get people to think of 'retiring' as a journey to retirement is a big ask."
Dr Michael Netzley, 49, academic director of executive development at Singapore Management University, said the insurer "should have simply apologised and moved on".
But Facebook user Michael Goh urged netizens to move on. "Please give Rebecca a break. I do not think she is trying to fool anyone."
In recent years, two organisations behind publicity stunts gone awry apologised for them.
In 2010, Philips Electronics Singapore apologised for alarming the public after a guerilla advertising campaign that involved a "bear" spotted in Ulu Pandan. In the same year, Singapore Post apologised for a marketing initiative involving six "vandalised" mailboxes which got the police involved.
When asked if NTUC Income could have done anything differently, Ms Fong said: "Everything is possible in hindsight. We did not have that hindsight when we started."
Ms Lim was not present at yesterday's press conference and could not be reached for comment.
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