Monday, 29 April 2013

Singapore Shiok: Authentically Singapore

Editorial, The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013

Singapore Shiok, the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest international marketing video, would either charm or baffle potential visitors, like the local interjection "shiok". To doubters, the big-bang attractions have a better chance of wooing tourists. The high-end glitzy part of Singapore, which includes the two integrated resorts, the annual F1 night race and the luxury shopping malls, should certainly remain headliners. 

But mega attractions, improved air links and the Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) industry are being milked by other regional cosmopolitan cities too. Examples of the keen tussle for big spenders include plans by Macau and South Korea for new integrated resorts, an F1 night street race by 2015 being planned by Bangkok, and Universal Studios' opening in South Korea and Shanghai soon. Such competition and a tight labour market will lead to slower tourism growth here over the next 10 years.

Hence, there is a need to combine upmarket offerings with an authentic experience that can appeal to discerning travellers who want to soak in local colour and culture and enjoy what Singaporeans call their own. They would be charmed to find not just home-grown fashion designers expressing local themes but also street personalities, like the "One Pound Fish Man" in London who became an Internet hit. For authenticity, there is a need for pride and passion, even if what is presented is eccentric. Of course, if efforts are too self-conscious or commercial, these can turn off locals and tourists alike.

There is much to offer like the many ethnic festivals, Joo Chiat and Bukit Pasoh shophouses, the parks, nature reserves and trails. Singaporeans enjoying their own attractions, just being themselves, and taking pride in what's "shiok" here are worthy of being showcased to the world. STB's down-home approach is a refreshing change that can also help to boost Singaporeans' self-image.

Singapore Shiok, or just silly?
The Singapore Tourism Board's latest marketing video centres on the Singlish expression for extreme pleasure, but response to it is mixed
By Nicholas Yong, The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013

First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is "shiok" too.

The Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression - derived from the Malay word "syok", which means nice - for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh...iok.

These are some of the scenes in the 21/2-minute video, produced in collaboration with British creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) and uploaded last month on STB's Your Singapore channel on the video- sharing website. At last count, the video at has attracted more than a million views.

While some are hailing the clip as a breath of colloquial fresh air, others are not exactly quivering with sheer bliss over it.

Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks "using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing".

He adds: "I can remember when Singlish was banned from both advertising and programming on TV here. But like it or not, Singlish is a quaint reality which cannot be eradicated or ignored. It's part of Singapore's charm and appeal. Since you can't make it disappear, you may as well make the most of it."

The senior lecturer with Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Wee Kim Wee School of Communications, Division of Public and Promotional Communication, adds that he has seen the tactic used to market other destinations such as France and Australia. For example, in 2006, Australia used the phrase "So where the bloody hell are you?" in a tourism campaign which drew more brickbats than bouquets.

In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce "shiok" - defined helpfully on screen as "a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality" - opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him.

Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU's Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce "shiok" look "a bit of a shmuck".

She says: "The phrase isn't particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual."

That said, Prof Calvert, 46, praises the video as an excellent promotional campaign: "I think the decision to highlight a uniquely Singaporean concept, 'shiok', is inspiring. Irrespective of how fluent anyone is in English, Singlish is still widely used by locals and residents to communicate feelings that are unique to the experience of living in Singapore."

Local branding professionals, such as Kilo Studio creative director Benjy Choo, agree. Mr Choo, 38, says: "I do think that the word 'shiok', as well as the use of Singlish, defines who we are as Singaporeans and I use it quite a bit myself."

However, he points out that the way the word is used in some parts of the video "seems far-fetched". "It begins to deviate from the actual meaning somewhere after the halfway point," he adds.

Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: "'Shiok' is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural."

For instance, having a little boy whisper "shiok" at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.

Mr Adrian Tan, 57, who heads the Ad Planet Group, Singapore's largest independent advertising group, is more critical of the video's art direction and videography, saying that it lacks "energy" and "excitement".

Creative director Theseus Chan of design agency Work also feels the video does not showcase anything new. Mr Chan, 52, says: "It is a reiteration of things done before. And the way that 'shiok' is depicted in the video is rather contrived. The effort to promote Singapore using a colloquialism is a weak one that non-Singaporeans find hard to identify with."

Similarly, some Singaporeans, such as community volunteer Robin Chua, are worried that the meaning of "shiok" would be lost on a foreign audience. Says Mr Chua, 60: "No matter how much Singaporeans love their Singlish, it is still not understood by the world at large. To the uninitiated, the meaning of 'shiok' is not immediately known or appreciated. So the impact is lost."

On the other hand, Mr Brian Patrick Tan, 33, found it "representative of what I would like to show my friends from out of town". The civil servant says: "It's more real and less of a glossy tourism promotion video. Using 'shiok' in an official video is also a pleasant surprise and, to me, is recognition of the authentic Singaporean identity."

Meanwhile lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. "There's a serious overuse of the word 'shiok' that's kind of cheesy and annoying," she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.

"Aren't there other 'uniquely Singapore' words or ways to express pleasure, such as 'sedap' or 'ho chiak' (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?"

Tourism board: Video shows fun activities
The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013

The Singapore Shiok video is part of the Singapore Tourism Board's strategy to showcase the everyday experiences of Singaporeans, says spokesman Sophia Ng.

"Singapore Shiok and other destination videos aim to portray Singapore in a differentiated and enticing way to tell our destination story," says the assistant chief executive of the board's marketing group, in response to queries from SundayLife!.

She adds that Singapore Shiok is part of a series of destination videos, or tools that aid in the storytelling of Singapore's strengths as a leisure destination. These include videos entitled Magical, Lyrical, and All Work + All Play, which have all been launched on the Your Singapore YouTube channel since March.

These videos were created in partnership with British creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH). The different experiences showcased in the video were chosen based on how effectively they support the compelling story of the Singapore destination, says Ms Ng.

Asked why the board decided to incorporate the use of Singlish in light of government campaigns such as the Speak Good English Movement, she would only say: "The term 'shiok' is distinctively identifiable to Singapore. The Shiok video showcases the wide range of fun activities and experiences that locals and visitors can enjoy in destination Singapore, and the term encapsulates the kind of experiences that Singapore has to offer for both locals and visitors."

Numerous videos have also been created by the board as part of customised marketing campaigns for different countries. For example, the Get Lost video, urging Australians to find the real Singapore, was launched in Sydney last March.

Past taglines
By Jennani Durai, The Sunday Times, 28 Apr 2013
- 1977: Surprising Singapore - Singapore is depicted as a tropical paradise where East and West, old and new meet.
- 1986: Surprisingly Singapore. A Magic Place of Magic Worlds - No additional information available on this tagline.
- 1995: New Asia Singapore - A modern, dynamic Asian city providing regional and Western tourists with comfort, safety, good infrastructure, cultural diversity and many food options.
- 2004: Uniquely Singapore - Showcasing quintessential Singapore experiences, with a blend of traditions, cultures and modernity.
- 2010: YourSingapore - Singapore is sold as an experience that can be easily customised according to each visitor's interests.
Other campaigns targeted at specific regions:
- March 2002: Live It Up Days - Aimed at an European audience to boost holiday traffic after the 9/11 attacks. It touted Singapore as a quick getaway with many direct flights from Europe.
- December 2011: New Discoveries - Targeted at Chinese tourists who want to avoid packaged tours in favour of new, unique experiences.
- March 2012: Get Lost And Find The Real Singapore - Launched in Australia to change the perception there that Singapore is simply a "stopover destination".
- March 2012: The Holiday You Take Home With You - Geared towards Indian tourists who prefer to travel with their families.
- November 2012: Only In Singapore, Right Now! - Launched in Indonesia to lure repeat visitors with what is new and upcoming. A similar campaign was launched in Malaysia in February.

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