NUS Business School Commercials: Visibility vs Message.

Firstly, to my doubting friends, I played no part in the conception of the aforementioned ads. And saying this gives me no satisfaction at all for I am talking about my alma mater. But a line has to be drawn netween blind loyalty and rational criticism for the sake of betterment.

Secondly, I am highly disappointed in the storyboarding of this ad. I shall also avoid unconstructive criticism of this ad here because that has already been rehashed many times on the blogosphere.

But I always believe that transparency is key and I anticipate certain sensitivities may be broached by this post. However, if we are to be a world-class business school, we should expect every action and policy of ours to be scrutinized in a fair and open manner befitting a globalized, frontier-less business environment our graduates will face once they leave the confines of the college campus. The Internet is the best example of an open, inclusive channel for undiscriminated communication of diverse opinions.

Let me also say that I think the online community, and most importantly, my own NUS Business School admin, deserves to hear from a NUS Business student's mouth (albeit digitally) instead of outsiders.

From Straits Time June 4, 2006 article,

The dean, Mr Christopher Earley, who came up with the concept for the ad, said that a lot of the criticism was a product of Singaporean modesty.

This is not an excuse. We boast when we need to, but look at the context we were boasting with respect to: Wharton, University of Chicago and Sloan… My question: where's the justification?

To be fair, the commercial ranked high on the visibility factor. If the purpose was to get the name out and create the viral marketing effect, the commercial succeeded immensely. Recall rates must be immensely high for these commercials, not totally impossible if we really had primetime slots during TV ratings winners like Singapore Idol.

But to market well, the visibility is not the sole component. The rule that any publicity is good publicity DOES NOT apply to an incumbent, mature business school like NUS. Acting young and rejuvenating our staid, old image is fine. Pple will at least say we dare to change, although some will say this smacks of copycat behavior of SMU marketing. But gloating about our status and saying we r truly the best up there with the Ivy Leagues of Wharton in an effort to differentiate ourself was the wrong strategy. People know NUS is better than NTU and SMU in terms of world rankings. But to elevate our status artificially and inflating our status to "world-class" alongside world-renowned business schools is something that is better off as a buzzword on school prospectuses and not as taglines on mass-market TV commercials.

The messages sent out in our Suburban American commercial was wholly wrong. Through the role-playing of an American girl preferring to come to NUS Business School, we implicitly sent the message that local students should choose NUS because overseas students are doing so and they should learn from them, if not copy. This is derogatory. This form of persuasion is too blatant. Local viewers immediately see a brain-washing attempt here. Trivalizing the ad with "cute boys" was uproariously cheesy, and "chewing gum" makes me think this ad was actually targetted at overseas audiences as locals have already forgotten this foreign stereotype and connotation with Singapore.

Hence the question, why air this foreigner's perspective view of Singapore within Singapore. Wrong audience, dun ya think so?

I think this ad will better serve its purpose overseas, but even if shown overseas, it would have fallen flat on discerning audiences. Hey, college students-to-be ain't fools.

But if we apply the visibility factor above, this ad will succeed in increasing mindshare among foreign audiences and the viral marketing via word-of-mouth or the Youtube effect (which is already happening) would have been to the benefit (if somewhat dubious) of NUS.

Having said that, its still a tasteless ad.

As for the "Hometown Singaporean Boy and his Lil Brother" ad, "huh??" is the first response. Its a highly convoluted and confusing way to waste precious TV airtime when the only meaningful message was to tell viewers that "NUS is preferred by elites all over the world". What a wasteful way to spend our college tuition fees on an expensive TV ad. Again, visibility might be high here due to the strategic time slots of the TV ad placement, but the message fails to hit the sweet spot inside the viewers' mind.

It merely raises one question, why is the adult protagonist considered an "elite" in the first place and why "all over the world" when he's already in Singapore?


  1. Do not waste these commercials. NUS Business School should turn these commercials into teaching material for our marketing classes. Make them a valuable case study.
  2. Self-sustenance. Use these commercials to connect with our students. In lectures and tutorials, the instructor should be saying: " Alrite, students, we screwed up. But beyond your snide critique which is easy to do, CAN YOU DO BETTER?" Issue this as a personal challenge and make this a project. Get students to create new storyboards on how they can design and conceptualize better ads and put together a proper marketign campaign with right positioning statements for NUS Business School. I think this has magnetic appeal. We develop ads by students for (new) students. No second-guessing by marketers with no feel or connection to our generation. THe students will have an incentive to do better than their own dean who came up with the current concepts. Now, that would make me respect the courage of the staff and administration, not to mention reaffirm my faith in the pedagogical objectives of our teaching stuff as opposed to them covering up valuable teaching material.
  3. Implement Suggestions #1 & #2 next semester to maintain currency of content.
  4. Focus Groups. I believe I do not speak for myself, but for most Bizad students, that we can contribute much better to future Business School adverts. Such cringe-worthy commercials cannot possibly escape the criticism in behavioral marketing labs.

If NUS Business School students are truly world-class, lets see what the students can come up with.

Related post(s) here by Vox Iuvenium, another great post here too by SG Entrepreneurs one more here by PortalofLife.


13 thoughts on “NUS Business School Commercials: Visibility vs Message.

  1. thanks bjorn for the comment. now here’s mine:

    take a step back and look at the big picture. what are the structural issues with Bizad (or NUS in general) that are the root causes of its underperformance? Do you think it has something to do with
    1) complacent/incompetent leadership
    2) stagnant bureaucracy/groupthink
    3) powerful vested interests resisting change
    4) lack of accountability that rigorous competition brings

    This has very little to do with the marketing strategy of a subsidiary alone.

  2. Pingback: Singapore Entrepreneurs » Random Musings of the NUS Business School Ad

  3. quitacet, thanks for ur comment. For a prefrosh as you mentioned on ur blog, you are very well read and mature thinking, something I have not experienced since i returned from Silicon Valley. =)

    I do not understand how you arrive at the term of “underperformance” of NUS. In what context or relative comparison factor are u using?

  4. Hey, ya, although its a lousy ad campaign, I have nothing against NUS Biz School. Hope I did not sound offensive to any of the NUS Biz students on my blog. I think it could have been better to let students from NUS Biz itself to have its own marketing campaign or something, in a way, sort of a small competition/project or whatever to let students learn how to market products. They are students from Biz Ad.

  5. I watched it on YouTube. I don’t think the ad was that repulsive. Some comments:

    1. I haven’t really seen any University ‘publicizing’ itself on television like that before. Usually its the private/new Universities that indulge in something like this. NUS has been around for quite some time. And for such Universities, results speak for themselves. But like you said, maybe BizAd is trying to rejuventate or whatever.

    2. Having that American girl choose NUS over Sloan etc just adds credibility to a Singapore University. An American girl living a few thousand miles away applied to NUS and realizes that NUS is better than the other US B Schools..alrite..I think it serves the Singaporean population really well. I think somebody has pointed out that they still don’t believe that NUS is at par with other top B schools..and that is the reason why they chose an American girl over a Singaporean. If people outside realize the worth of NUS B then perhaps that has got to mean something.

    3. Bizad should have asked their students to come up with an ad campaign like Firefox did. Much better ads and students can connect with the students well.

  6. hey i don’t want to comment on the ads per se. but i definitely support the idea of encouraging students to come out with more innovative, creative, powerful yet truthful ads! geez, it’s a brilliant idea! two advantages for doing so: 1. this is sth that certainly can make students motivated and interested and drive them think totally out of box. 2. i’m quite positive that they can come out with some really good ideas, which of course can always be further polished to make better, because no one should underestimate the power of imagination coming from students and one’ll be surprised at what they’re capable of doing.

    but this is what i really want to comment on – nothing to do with the post. i agree with you that from an untypical perspective, we’re the bosses as we pay them to make their survival possible. give you another analogy. i worked in hotel last vacation break and a friend told me that, “hey we’re the bosses, because the hotel needs us to do all the shit work – all the standard work that a typical waiter has to do. without our support or presence, they’ve nobody to serve the guests and the hotel is close to shutdown.” my friend’s trying to say the same point that you’re trying to bring across me: we are not their slaves and don’t have to listen to them all the time as “good” students do; we’ve our rights to make comments et cetera. (Perhaps this is not precisely your point, but i’m fine so long as you get the gist of what i’m trying to say.)

    but let me offer my argument. it’s true that hotel needs to demonstrate care, understanding and all those things to us. but they don’t owe us anything. they don’t need us if we consistently create troubles for them. they can simply fire us and get new employees as they’re many more people who are on waiting list in the hope to become a waiter/waitress to make a living. hope that you got my point that: working in a hotel, we’re not really the bosses, although we’re of great value to the hotel management. but school is quite different from hotel. i don’t think that the school admin’ll be immature or imprudent to censure anyone who passionately states his/her view on this hotly-debate issue in singapore online community, let alone fire him/her from school.

    yeah you may argue that you’re the boss and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it as i can get your point. but i’ll go with my belief that i’m not the boss here because i respect the rules of the game and i play by the rules wherever i go. so your point that you’re not as vocal as an american. it’s certainly true but the problem lies with the very fact that you’re right now in SINGAPORE but not the STATES!

  7. i am a global citizen my friend. Perhaps we could get into a discussion next time on what culture do you typify Singapore has that makes you think we have “rules of the game” that stifles feedback and diversity of opinions.

  8. so am i – a global citizen, bro. sure it’ll be great if we could have some discussion the next time perhaps less about the culture here but more about your encounters in china i hope, so i can also offer my perspestive to you.

    but don’t get me wrong. i’m a maverick in nature – hope that it’s the correct word. i’m a kid who’ve bent and broke too many rules in both singapore and china, and of course i’ve paid a huge price for my action.

    what i really want to say is that, i like people who are vocal, just like you. i’m vocal as well. but one just has to be less vocal in singapore than in the states, given the differences in culture, politics and so on. there’re areas of rules of the game that we’ve to respect, but there’re also areas of rules that we can certainly bend, if not break… and this is the area that i gonna respect

  9. A group of us had a similar discussion about the ads and the same few points were discussed. I got to know more about the ‘levis’ style ad last year and got to understand and appreciate it more than what it appears at the start (see blog). Setting a world-class positioning is fine since competition is no longer localised. However, for the marketing efforts to pay off, a more consistent message should be projected, not a change in positioning every now and then which dilute the entire efforts and only confuse viewers of what exactly does NUS Business School represents. Good effort but way to go, a student competition-based ad generation could be done in classes or open for all.

  10. I think NUS is a good university with bad placement office.

    If NUS can attract better recruiters to NUS campus and with

    transparent and competent student/graduate placement officers

    then it may really attract better students. If I were an white American,

    I may choose NUS B school over Sloan as it will make resume’ good.

    But with that placement office only those who cannot afford or cannot

    admitted to Sloan may come to NUS especially for Asians professionals

    from the region.

  11. that is quite true, joel. the career prospects for nus students is pretty bad as the overall career office doesn;t have that many exciting jobs nor attractive placements in top companies around the world, let alone the blue chip, Fortune 500 firms for white Americans thinking of getting an Asian education. Truth to be said, many of my friends only have agitation and exasperation talking to the nus career admin, which speaks enough of the quality of their crew

  12. Hi, there!..2cc37b7da293cdd946c08a30032b90ff

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s