We Build This City

Singapore celebrates its 50th birthday this weekend. Needless to say, many brands have jumped on the bandwagon to leverage the nation’s significant milestone with their SG50-related marketing campaigns. This is not unusual; we see the likes happening everywhere else on occasions or events the likes of Cyber Monday, Superbowl, Ramadan, etc. However, doing something generic and linking it loosely to the occasion – in this case SG50 – doesn’t do much for marketing. In fact it can end up hurting your brand image. And it is common and easy for marketers to fall for such cheap tactics that adds value to neither its consumers nor brand equity.

In the red sea of SG50-related messages, how does a brand expect to stand out, truly own its marketing message and connect genuinely with its target audience? People are discerning enough to know when a brand has merely stuck on the SG50 message and churned out a generic marketing promotion for the sake of: the messaging is mundane, hackneyed and forgettable. If we do a quick poll among consumers on the brand message recall, I believe only a few brands have done well enough to stand up to the test.

Now let’s take a look at some examples of what brands have done:

The Good

LEGO never fails to brighten any child’s mood when one enters a room full of the familiar building blocks. A brand not bound by time, age or geography, it stands for creativity, imagination, and as a byproduct, succeeds in bringing people together. For this joyous occasion, it created a video reimagining Singapore 50 years into the future. The story starts off in a room where a futuristic city has been built out of the blocks. For example, we see more skyscrapers with sky-bridges supporting and creating liveable spaces. It represents a city of prosperity and growth – a ‘dream city of the future’, yet something is missing from the picture and it posts an important question: “What makes a city feel like a home?” Enter the futurists of today and builders of tomorrow; we see young children breezily skipping into the room, interacting with the set-up. They tinkle, demolish and rebuild a city that they feel is their future home. What they have done is breathe life into a city that they can dream of and enjoy with their families and loved ones. The result is a heart-warming story that resonates deeply with people, and rings true to its brand.

The second example is The Fullerton Hotel Singapore. The grand old dame resides by the Singapore River and it shares a history that mirrors – the remarkable growth and success that is Singapore. This former iconic General Post Office is both architecturally and historically rich in heritage and holds many memories for the people of the nation. To celebrate SG50, it conceived a clever idea of incorporating stamps into the storytelling of the Singapore Story, showcasing key moments over the past 50 years through a spectacular 3D video projection on its building facade. The concept is apt and on-point with the brand, though sadly I cannot say the same for the execution.

If I put my hand on my heart, would I say these are flawless initiatives? Probably not, and I could comment on a few awkward moments in the videos. But alas let’s keep that for another time… My point here is that the brand marketers (and their partners) took time to craft a message with strong and memorable takeaways, which added value to its viewers, and offered some food for thought around SG50. All this done tastefully in a more engaging way, without shouting the brand and/or pushing a promotional agenda in your face.

The Not-So-Good

Now, about brands pushing SG50 promotions. I walk down the CBD area and I see a myriad of brands including foreign banks showing some love by plastering the SG50 logo with a generic ‘happy birthday Singapore’ message everywhere: on the facets of retail outlets, newspaper ads, etc. Or some brands have simply created products that carry the SG50 logo for the sake of. This, I can’t help but feel, is a wasted opportunity.

I get brands want to boost sales through a short burst of promotions by riding on the SG50 wave, and a good deal here or a discount there can’t possibly hurt. In fact it can be compelling enough for some audiences looking for a cheap bargain, but hey, they would do that regardless of the SG50 connection. And in a sea of SG50 promotions bombarding consumers, are they unique to the brands and helping to reinforce the brand image? As they say “if no one hears you, it really doesn’t matter what you are saying.”

That said, I can think of many reasons as to why the former tends to happen (unfortunately, this happen more often than not): Budget, time, lack of creative resources, and even a reason for being (“do we really need to think so deeply around a promotion?”), just to name a few. And I can also empathise with the urgent need to do something, and be part of a large-scale event like this, because if you don’t, your competitor will. But such promotional initiatives do cost money and amidst a sluggish global economic climate, brands are tightening their wallets and are watching their ROIs ever more closely. Marketers need to be more discerning in how they spend their marketing budget, and choose to create meaningful initiatives that put consumers at the front and centre of it, while staying true to the brand. So I urge brand marketers and even brand owners to pause and consider: does my brand have values that connect to the local culture, especially for such a major milestone that evokes national pride sentiments?

Sounds difficult? Yes, but to do otherwise is being lazy and callous. Increasingly, consumers are becoming more conscious of how and where their attention is being spent (hence we have technology like ad blockers and TrueView). So when they do come across a brand message or an ad that is authentic, that makes sense and is of value to them, they will view it with keen eyes and put the brand on their consideration list.

Indeed, good marketing takes art, science and a bit of magic to find the right balance of messaging, purpose and reasons to believe. The onus is on us to rise above the sea of poor communication tactics and do better. I quote Steve Jobs who once said, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” As a proud Singaporean and a thinking marketer, I look forward to seeing more brands engaging more deeply with the SG50 theme. I will end here with some brands which have joined in the celebrations by focusing on its people and giving back to the community at large.

Have some comments on this topic? Drop me a line below or connect with me @desertflood on Twitter.

P.S. Here at Acoustic, we created our own little SG50 initiative a few weeks back and some of you may already know or even own a ‘Chope Card’. The idea stemmed from an insight that it is extremely hard to find seats during lunch hour in Singapore, especially in the CBD area. There is also an unspoken rule in our local culture of reserving seats with any personal belonging (umbrellas, tissue packs, staff pass, etc) and everyone automatically respects it, no questions asked. So we created our very own Acoustic Chope Card that makes it convenient and useful to book a spot where we can all eat or makan together on #HawkerThursday. This is but a tiny example of a utility or tool that celebrates the local culture (#efficiency, #food, #choping). Drop us an email with your name, company and address if you wish to receive your own Chope Card. And do get in touch to join us on any Thursday.

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Hoong Wei Ling is a Senior Account Manager @AcousticAgency. You can find her @desertflood on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

[Main photo by MCI/Tan Pei Wen, under CC]

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