Singtel CEO apologises to M1, StarHub; terminates services of Gushcloud over negative marketing campaign

SINGAPORE - Singtel said on Thursday it has terminated the services of social media agency Gushcloud which was engaged to promote a marketing campaign which ended up disparaging rival telcos M1 and StarHub.

Singtel Group CEO Chua Sock Koong also apologised to M1 and StarHub, saying that "our actions in this incident did not live up to our high standards and values". She added that the Singtel employee involved in the controversial marketing campaign is "no longer with us".

In a statement posted on Singtel's Facebook page on Thursday, Ms Chua said: "In June 2014, we worked with a digital agency to promote a youth marketing campaign. We regret that a Singtel employee who worked on this campaign did not adhere to our professional standards and values. We have since terminated the services of the agency and the employee is no longer with us."



She added: "Singtel does not condone negative campaigns or publicity against any individual or organisation. We are committed to upholding the highest standards of professional values and integrity."

The controversy first became public after blogger Wendy Cheng, better known as Xiaxue, posted on her website last week that Gushcloud had instructed its bloggers to bad-mouth StarHub and M1 as part of Singtel's e-campaign last June.

M1 and StarHub have asked the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), which regulates telcos here, to look into the allegations that bloggers were asked to complain about their services.

StarHub recently said that it is exploring its legal options, and wants Singtel to ensure that all false and disparaging comments spread during the campaign are “retracted and corrected”. M1 said that it “will explore further action if necessary”.

The IDA said it is investigating the matter.

In an earlier statement on Tuesday, Singtel’s consumer marketing vice-president Johan Buse apologised for what he described as an "isolated incident". He said: “Further investigations have revealed that our staff who worked with Gushcloud on the marketing campaign last June did not adhere to Singtel’s marketing standards.” 

He added that Singtel will emphasise to its staff and agencies the importance of adhering to guidelines including the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice, which states that all advertisements should be legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Shortly after his statement, Gushcloud chief executive Vincent Ha released his firm’s apology saying that “we have let our influencers and client down with the way the campaign turned out and we are sorry. It goes against the management’s belief to use the Internet for spreading negative messages”.

At least two bloggers have since apologised for posting negative comments. Mr Xavier Ong, 20, a blogger under Gushcloud, said on Wednesday that he was sorry for complaining about his service provider, M1. “I... apologise to anyone affected for posting negative comments towards M1 (while on a Singtel campaign) and not explicitly stating or revealing that I was on a campaign with Singtel,” he wrote in a blog. But he said he did not “lie” as he had been unhappy with M1.

Another Gushcloud blogger, Ms Eunice Annabel Lim, 21, also apologised. She had said she agreed to do it because she was “genuinely annoyed with my previous telco”.

Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng, who is savvy with social media, told The Straits Times that Singtel’s latest statement showed “they mean what they say”. “For its group CEO to apologise, it shows that it is taking this matter seriously... as what has happened so far is quite damaging to its brand.”