The advertising landscape in Singapore


Is the Singaporean advertising landscape too tame? Is there room for more bold expression, a more creative way to flaunt our Singaporean character?

Meet Kiwi. Despite his New Zealand-ish name, the chap is a true blue Singaporean. His language explodes with Hokkien expletives, his skin thicker than a tank and his appetite is like a T-Rex after the dinosaur apocalypse. Over lunch, I quizzed him about several issues I felt needed addressing. Here’s a record of our conversation:



 (His face when he spots a chick over there)

Kiwi:    Before we begin, I have to share with you an interesting observation my wife had. She is Japanese and had lived in this country only a short period of time, but during this time, she notes the manner we speak on TV, on radio and on newspapers is so vastly different from how we speak in the real world. To her, it feels “inconsistent” – it’s not a bad thing, just an interesting observation.


Rango:    Well, it’s not uncommon of non-native English speakers to write better than they speak. But yes, especially on radio and TV, the accents are different and the Singlish is all but wiped out. Do you think Singlish, Hokkien and our local accents are to be celebrated and not “tolerated” by media?




Kiwi:    I totally agree – why hide the fact that we’re Singaporean? Why bury our culture and put on someone else’s hat? I hate it when some of us pretend to be what we’re not, we fly kite, we f**k spider, we are bobo shooter – that’s what we are!


Rango:    What about the use of colloquial words in marketing campaigns? I know of agencies who have vetoed phrases like “kang tao”, “chope” and “kiasu”. All these have been swiftly axed and replaced with more “Americanized” phrases. What do you make of this?


Kiwi: This is the heritage of a colonial mindset. The older, decision making management still think anything Western is superior. They wrongly perceive anything local will devalue our brands and make them “lose face”. But no what (sic) – if we carry on this culture, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy: local culture will forever continue to be “underground”.

Having that said, recall this: the Subaru advertisement on radio. This is the only company that dares to use a bit of Hokkien and Singlish in their advertisements. But then hor, why so animated? I would consider this poor taste even. Why is there a need to exaggerate it?


Rango:    I believe movies, music and television shows play a huge part in setting the agenda. I think it is a pity that we practice so much self-censorship on the use of colloquial words, Hokkien, Singlish and even Malay in our day to day media.



Kiwi:    I had high hopes for Michelle Chong’s “Yi Pao Er Hong“, but I was disappointed again. Why is there a need to exaggerate the culture? What happened to shows like “Teenage Textbook”, “12 Stories” and “Eating Air”? What happened to Dick Lee? These were the real and genuine reflection of Singaporean society. This is why you see so little of Singaporean culture being reflected in our marketing campaigns.


Rango:    Would you think a brand or business was “low class” if it expressed too much “Singaporean-ness” in it?



 (Lim peh kah li kong…)


Kiwi:    Of course not! In fact, I would go out of my way to support it just because it’s trying to be different! I’m sick and tired of brands trying to be what they are not.


I hope when we become totally comfortable with ourselves, maybe we can become as creative as simple and straight to heart like this thai commercial

 – End –

Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Taiwan – all these nations reflect a strong feel of their culture, their society and their blood in their products and campaigns. Personally, I hope that more companies (especially large brand leaders) will be open to behaving a little more local.

It doesn’t have to be funny.

It doesn’t have to mock.

It doesn’t have to be satire.

It doesn’t need to be exaggerated.

It just needs to be what it really is – Singaporean.

And if you can’t get enough of Mr. Kiwi, point your browser over here:


2 thoughts on “The advertising landscape in Singapore

  1. and Mr. Rango, tell Mr. Kiwi to keep his language clean. I can’t share your blog when there are expletives.

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