14 March 2010

Singapore Launches A Brand Campaign. Again.

Is Your Singapore any good?

I have to wonder as I scan our new brand campaign, unveiled last week by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The multi-million dollar marketing campaign built around the phrase "Your Singapore" includes an interactive website (http://www.yoursingapore.com/) where travellers can customise their Singapore sojourns, book their flights and hotels, and soon, have itineraries sent to their mobile phones.

(Pardon my quibble, but if the website is laser-trained on tourists, shouldn't they be able to type http://www.mysingapore.com into their Web browsers?)

Explaining the rationale for the new campaign, just six years after the previous campaign "Uniquely Singapore" was introduced, STB's assistant chief executive of marketing Ken Low said, "A brand's lifespan is six to seven years." Ouch.

One can think of a good number of brand campaigns that have been in play for decades and are still going strong. Perhaps the difference was they were based on a purposeful positioning, and their campaigns had legs. While not particularly enamoured with the "Uniquely" campaign, I have to take issue with Mr Low's remark. Change the previous campaign if you wish, STB ... but don't offer an incendiary statement by way of rationalization.

One other aspect gives me cause for concern. The best country branding campaigns speak not only to the target audience (tourists), but also to the country hosts (Singaporeans). Campaigns such as "Incredible India" not only appeal to foreign visitors, but also instill patriotism and pride in the homeland hosts who are subliminally encouraged to be brand ambassadors. The latest Australia Tourism print ads, too, while not spouting a tagline, effortlessly entice visitors and make Aussies proud. (To view the whole series of luscious ads, click on http://www.tourism.australia.com/content/Destination%20Campaign/Transformation/Partner%20briefing.pdf)

This is a hallmark of good advertising: it portrays what we feel in our hearts the product can grow to become. Good advertising is often slightly ahead of the product -- not in a way that assails credibility, but in a sensitive way that inspires belief in the product's benefits and imparts a greater sense of purpose to those who deliver its brand promise.

By not giving a nod to Singaporean residents, this campaign is missing a golden opportunity to enlist advocates for its cause. And by pandering to the empowered consumer -- even though it does employ all the right social media marketing principles -- the campaign has abdicated our positioning throne, and given away our birthright. If Singapore is what a visitor wants it to be, then what is it, really?

But let's be fair: "Just do it" probably sounded like somebody's naggy whine when it was first unveiled to Nike execs in Beaverton in 1981. It took a few years of inspired advertising before the campaign tagline hit its stride.

Singaporeans might be so lucky to have such a winner on our hands. But I have to say, I'm not holding my breath.

07 March 2010

An Olympic Fortnight, Vancouver!

For 17 days, Vancouver has treated the world to a showcase of the human spirit.

The Olympic Games have a habit of doing that. And these Winter Olympics were no different. (See http://www.vancouver2010.com/ for all the stories.)

The Games stated on a tragic note, with Georgian luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili dying in a horrific training crash on the morning of the opening ceremony. Dodgy weather conditions conspired to further dampen the mood, with Cypress Mountain being forced to shut down portions of the spectator areas for safety reasons, and disappointing thousands of ticket-holders offered the scant consolation of a refund. A sizable section of Vancouver's population, too, were up in arms about the hefty tax bill that seem to be unjust desserts for all host nations of Olympic Games.

But the mood began to shift and the gloom began to lift when hearts and minds became captivated by the human stories of the Games:

American idols and skiers Lindsay Vonn and Bode Miller winning gold in dramatic fashion: Vonn pushing pain aside to capture the downhill title(she injured her shin a week before the Games and was a doubtful starter) and Miller clawing himself back from 7th position going into the second leg of the super-combined.

Slovenia's cross-country skier Petra Majdic displaying true grit after a warm-up tumble into a craggy creek bed, to ski four gruelling races before being stretchered off the course after the finals. A medical examination later revealed she had suffered five broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette being knocked down by the sudden, unexpected death of her mother who had flown into town to cheer her on, then somehow channelling her emotions for a few critical minutes two days later to skate her heart out on the ice. The scoreboard showed bronze, but her performance was pure gold.

And of course, the Canadian men's hockey team who gave the nation the gold medal it craved the most badly, by winning a sudden-death playoff in the finals against a young but brilliant US team that had played above itself throughout the Games.

The closing celebrations had a magic moment of its own when a faux repairman, giant screwdriver hanging from his toolbelt, 'fixed' the mechanical arm of the Olympic cauldron that had infamously failed to rise during the opening ceremony. Nothing is as endearing as a host nation that can laugh at itself.

Canada ended the Games with a haul of 26 medals (including a superb 14 gold, the best-ever achievement by any country in a single Winter Olympics). On another level, perhaps even more significant was the way the whole nation came together as One after a lukewarm first week. VANOC chief John Furlong paid tribute to "the most beautiful kind of patriotism that (has) broken out all across our country." My niece and nephew are Canadians and performed in the opening ceremony; it's an indescribable experience they'll cherish for the rest of their lives.

I lived and worked in Canada myself for close to seven years, and can vouch that for the longet time, the country's sports psyche seemed to be best summed up by the mantra, "Go for the bronze!" Not anymore. Canada has found a new voice, a raison d'etre; and Canadians are becoming comfortable with making it visible.

Billions of dollars are spent on nation and city branding each year as countries strive to reinvent themselves for the 21st century. Very rarely does a vision capture the hearts and minds of a populace as completely and seamlessly as it appeals at the same time to a nation's visitors. With these Games, brand Canada has turned the pages and started on a new chapter in its history.
I'm looking forward to the unfolding story.