Analysis: Communicating with seniors: What works best?

Earlier this week, the Singapore government confirmed that circuit breaker measures will be eased in three phases starting 1 June. Minister Lawrence Wong said at the press conference that the government has to lift the restricted measures in a very careful and calibrated manner, to not risk a flaring up of the virus again.

In addition, the Singapore government reiterated that current measures limiting the scope of senior services and senior-centric activities will remain, in order to protect the seniors. As seniors are a particularly vulnerable group, they should continue to stay at home as much as possible, the media statement read.

The restricted movement for seniors comes as no surprise as when the announcements following the initial circuit breaker announcement made by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, emphasised repeatedly the risk the virus poses to the elderly. The PM appealed to the seniors of the nation to stay home as it was vital in safeguarding their health. In a somber note, he said:

“It is a serious matter. Our chances of dying are much higher, and if we get infected and spread the virus to our friends around our age, or bring the virus back home to our families, then, we put them in grave danger." 

The announcements by the PM came as numerous articles and reports said citizens were being fined for flouting social distancing rules and not wearing a mask upon leaving the house. Last month, The Straits Times reported that over 80 individuals were fined SG$300 each for not wearing masks outside their homes. Meanwhile, Channel NewsAsia also reported that nine repeat offenders will face a SG$1,000 for violating safe distancing measures. Amid these, enforcement officers/ ambassadors also took to the streets and neighbourhood areas as the elderly populations congregated with their peers, according to Channel NewsAsia. To further drive home safety regulations for the elderly, TV commercials were also adapted across common languages in Singapore to drive the same message on staying home and keeping safe.

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The biggest challenge when communicating with the older generation, said Edwin Yeo, general manager at SPRG is in having to change their mindset. In a conversation with Marketing, Yeo said that an effective way of communicating to the generation is by positioning the messaging as that by staying at home, they are protecting not just themselves, but rather their families. He added that the older generations generally do not like to feel like a burden on their families so appealing to the emotional, filial side could get them to better follow the enforced regulations.

He also added that the younger members of the family also must act as reminders and enforcers. “Family members living with an elderly should also take the responsibility in helping them pass the day. Young people have turned to video calls to stay in touch with their friends, maybe family members can also help the elderly set up chat groups with their usual friends to recreate their daily socialising, so that they feel less like they are missing out,” Yeo said.

Meanwhile, Cho Pei Lin, managing director, Asia PR Werkz said when communicating with the older generation in Singapore, the language used is by no means homogeneous with many speaking their own dialects. This poses a challenge in reaching out to this demographic. Moreover, they are also diverse in the media they consume.

“For example, they are not all online. But those who are online, might be hooked on to Facebook. They are not all be reading newspapers, but those who are could be reading a list of different newspapers in different languages. And there is a large number who are not ‘reachable’ because they do not consume any mass or social media,” Cho added.

Cho also highlighted that despite the difficulties there might be in reaching this generation effectively, the Singapore government has been successful in communicating with the elderly through its pioneer generation package back in 2015, and then again with its Merdeka Generation package. Some of the government’s communication methods to the elderly include creating dialect programmes and short films, as well as simple infographics in different languages. As such, they have a playbook at hand to communicating with this demographic

“These types of collateral are useful not just to reach the seniors directly, but also for the younger ones to use to explain what is happening to the seniors,” she said. Cho also added that another key strategy by the Singapore government in communicating with the seniors is through the People’s Association which regularly conducts and holds social activities and residents committee groups that sees many seniors participating.

While these key strategies have worked well over the years, many of these groups now use WhatsApp for dissemination of information, which is turning out to be the next frontier of communication channel for the elderly. As such this could be an effective way of getting the right clear message to the elderly by the government and cut through the clutter of white noise.

Echoing a stance on government’s past communication with the elderly, Yeo too agreed that the Singapore government have had a breakthrough with seniors through the use of dialects and ads tapped into the entertainment that the elderly tend to relate to in the pioneer generation campaign.  Basically, it all comes down to understanding what motivates the seniors, using the right tonality and language, and appealing to their family members to be more empathetic to the needs of the old folks, Yeo added.

Separately, agencies have also taken it upon themselves to help various communities that have been deeply affected by the pandemic, such as vulnerable communities and migrant workers. It created a set of infographics to help those living in Singapore make a difference easily. 

mindshare covid19

Melissa Tang, MD of Mindshare Singapore, said the agency wanted to do its part and make its efforts more visible and accessible to those who wish to help migrant workers, local businesses and other vulnerable communities. 

"Our Mindshare CSR Task Force and Content+ Team made good use of their content creation skills to produce these infographics, illustrating simple ways every one of us can help in these challenging times. Hand-drawn with love, they can be shared on any platform," she added.

Meanwhile, R/GA Singapore also launched an initiative that connects seniors who need groceries with people around their neighbourhood who are willing and able to help. Called ‘I Go For You’ / ‘让我来’, the initiative aims to help protect the elderly from the infectious disease by encouraging them to stay at home while young and well-abled members of the community help with their marketing and essential errands. ‘I Go For You’ is accessible to all seniors, especially non-English speakers who want to buy groceries during the circuit breaker.

In a statement to Marketing, Dorothy Peng, managing director, R/GA Singapore said previously that on top of existing client work and ongoing pitches, the agency took less than two weeks from ideation to release of the initiative. According to Peng, the agency was inspired to create and build a service that would make a difference to the future of humanity in Singapore, and speed was an important factor as every day COVID-19 was affecting lives in many ways. 

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