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.


Anonymous said...

I have to agree with your observations. And I submit that one of the reasons why it doesn't evoke a sense of national pride is probably due to the fact that the advertising agency that created the campaign is likely, not at its core, Singaporean. http://www.marketing-interactive.com/news/18222

True, the STB is run by Singaporeans. However, the confidence to embrace a Singaporean approach by a government body has never been hardwired into our national consciousness. (See table tennis) How easily would it have been to slip into a false sense of security by agreeing to a campaign that was proposed by an international team of "experts" who were lured by the promise of a multi-million dollar payout.

Baz Luhrman, I believe, along with a host of other born and bred Australian directors shot the commercials for Australia's tourism efforts.

One can only imagine what Singapore's true beauty looks like through the eyes of a sensitive, Singaporean director like Royston Tan or even, gasp, Kelvin Tong. The current commercials make Singapore look cheap, artificial, and dare i say, desperate. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsUx0J5Gyes

We need to stop selling what we THINK tourists want, and start romancing what lies at the heart of a true Singaporean experience. And that, I'm afraid, is not a story an international team of "experts" would ever be able to tell.

Anonymous said...

So what is at the "heart of a true Singaporean experience?"

dshaw said...

@ Anonymous #1: Thank you for your comments. Your points are well made, and taken. The reason I stayed away from sniping at the provenance of the ad agency involved in the campaign, is because I generally hold them in high regard and reckon they had an off-day (well, make it an off-month) with this campaign.
Expanding on your train of thought, I do think that the best team to assign to this kind of project would actually be a hybrid of local and foreign talent: the locals, for their knowledge of the core product and their instinctive grasp of which best foot to put forward; and the foreign eyes, precisely to replicate the perspective of a tourist who will react to the campaign.
Thanks again for the dialogue. Appreciate it.

dshaw said...

@ Anonymous #2: I'm not sure if you're the same person with a follow-on comment, or another person asking Anonymous #1 the question. You've nevertheless hit the proverbial nail on the head. I've a coupla ideas; but I think I'll save them for if/when I get a chance to share them directly with STB:-)

Anonymous said...

@anonymous#2 "the heart of a true singaporean experience" differs for everyone. but we shouldn't stop looking for those stories and telling the best ones. and i'm not being paid by the agency in question so @dshaw is right to hold his cards close to his chest.

my original point was that the campaign fails to romance the difference, the thing that makes it truly "my singapore" or "yoursingapore". all it is saying now is that "there are a lot of things to do in Singapore." how that translates into a meaningful experience is what the campaign should bring to life – there's nothing wrong with the idea. it's the execution that lets the thinking down.

don't demonstrate the features. tell me a story. then yoursingapore would actually mean something.

@dshaw hybrid or not, any talent (foreign or local) should have a meaningful relationship with the brand (i.e. singapore) if that's what they're selling.

dshaw said...

@Anonymous: I can't disagree. You speak plain truth. (I get the feeling I know you:-)