POSTAL company Singapore Post apologised yesterday for its publicity campaign that involved a masked man openly defacing six post boxes over the New Year weekend.
The "vandalism spree" had sparked a furore among Singaporeans - initially surrounding the blatant vandalism and, after it was revealed to be a publicity stunt, the wrong message being sent.
Police, who were called in to investigate, said on Tuesday that this had "caused unnecessary public alarm and wasted valuable resources".
Yesterday, Mr Wilson Tan, SingPost's group chief executive officer, said: "We would really like to sincerely apologise for the undue alarm and inconveniences caused to all parties.
"Certainly, that was not the desire and aim. Our focus is to go out and be part of communicating and connecting with the community."
He lauded public-spiritedness here as being "very much active and alive".
The campaign had been meant to promote a post-box art competition called Stamp 2, a sequel to a similar event in 2007.
This in turn had been meant to publicise SingPost's role as the official postal-service sponsor for this August's Youth Olympic Games (YOG) here.
SingPost will provide local and overseas delivery of YOG tickets and sell official YOG merchandise via selected post offices and its online portal, vPost.
Called Express Yourself, the campaign had been meant to spark greater awareness of creativity and self-expression, in line with the message behind arts and sports events like the YOG, said SingPost's vice-president of marketing, Mr Steve Ng.
It was meant to work by "viral marketing" - where awareness is raised via videos, messages or images being sent in a self-replicating "viral" process.
Mr Ng said: "We thought that this would be a more innovative and out-of-the-box kind of pre-launch campaign." SingPost could have done better by working more closely with the media and the police, he added.
Late last month, SingPost told the police that it would hold a campaign involving street art being painted on its post boxes, and gave a list of locations and times, but did not give any specific details about the execution, he said.
Its event-communications agency, A Group of People, had asked the police if it needed to apply for a public-entertainment licence, but was told this was not necessary, as the post boxes belonged to SingPost, he added. Ms Tay Poh Choo, vice-president of SingPost's corporate communications and service excellence, clarified that it had not made any police reports about the post boxes being vandalised.
In a New Paper report, its spokesman said that it had made police reports, but she had meant that SingPost had informed the police in advance about its campaign, Ms Tay said.
On Tuesday, the police said they would take the matter up with SingPost. Mr Ng said that SingPost would definitely co-operate with the police.
Mr Derek Kang, a partner in the litigation department of law firm Rodyk and Davidson LLP, said that although the mailboxes belonged to SingPost, it could be deemed to have committed an offence of mischief, if it had vandalised the boxes knowing that this would lead to wrongful loss or damage to another party.
But, in this case, no crime was committed as no loss was caused to another party, he said.
Still, in theory, the police could take up a civil suit against SingPost if they could prove that its actions had caused loss to the police in terms of wasted resources, he said.
The plan was for 10 post boxes to be covered in graffiti, but SingPost stopped at six after the wave of negative reactions, Ms Tay said. She added: "We were also concerned for the safety of our graffiti artist."
The six affected post boxes will be repainted by local artists over the next week.
Over three weekends in March, the top 40 designs submitted to Stamp 2 will be painted onto 40 post boxes - including three of the "vandalised" mailboxes - near YOG venues.
Student Nur Sherillin, 19, said: "Designs would make mailboxes look better. This competition can encourage youngsters who are keen on designing."
But traditional methods, like newspaper advertising or school- outreach programmes, should have been used instead of the controversial gimmick, she said.