What the Philippines can learn from Singapore’s new tourism campaign

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Individual stories take the spotlight for Singapore’s new tourism campaign, “Passion Made Possible.” In photo: Vibrant shophouses line Joo Chiat district, home of some of Singapore's well-preserved, multi-cultural heritage structures. Image courtesy of SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When it comes to memorable Filipino tourism campaigns, two spring to mind almost immediately: “Wow Philippines” in 2002 and “It’s more fun in the Philippines” in 2012. The former expressed, in a single word, a sense of wonder and amazement; the latter emphasized a natural Filipino predisposition to celebrate and find delight in virtually anything.

“It’s more fun in the Philippines” (the present campaign) connected with Filipinos. Locals vigorously supported the campaign by way of memes and personalized posts in social media, perhaps because it represents a Filipino mindset: fun, more than anything, is what we offer as a people. It’s not only an attractive tourism slogan, but also one that cuts across major differences across the islands: an attractive label that most Filipinos are only too willing to wear.

The campaign (retained after the most recent one, “Experience Philippines,” faced serious plagiarism allegations) might also be indicative of a global trend on tourism. Tourists today are more demanding and “want to live like a local,” says the Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) assistant chief executive for marketing, Lynette Pang. “Transformative travel is critical to tourists.”

Pang is part of a larger team that conceptualized Singapore’s new tourism campaign — “Passion Made Possible” — which frames the city-state as a place that enables the pursuit of one’s passions. The campaign also attempts to go beyond tourism, as STB partners with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to ensure the campaign represents not only Singapore as a travel destination, but as one of the world’s strongest economies.

“What we really wanted was a unified brand, one that brings tourism and business together,” says Edward Koh, STB’s executive director for Southeast Asia. The new campaign comes at the heels of descriptive tourism-only brands “Instant Asia Singapore,” “Surprising Singapore,” “New Asia Singapore,” and “Uniquely Singapore,” all of which significantly differ from “Passion Made Possible” by way of the latter’s story-driven content and its aim to brand Singapore’s identity through its people.

It’s a highly ambitious concept, one that involved making several brand films, the creation of ‘passion tribes,’ and even a ‘trust mark’ (the letters SG inside a circle, marketed as a trademark). The new campaign also signals a shift in Singapore’s approach in marketing itself; here, it attempts to make a reintroduction, debunking its reputation as a sterile, rigid, expensive, and limited travel destination, and asserting its identity after teetering on the edge of uncertainty for decades.

Lionel Yeo.jpg Lionel Yeo, Singapore Tourism Board's chief executive, introduced Singapore's new tourism campaign to representatives of over 10 countries on Aug. 24. Photo by JOSHUA PHUA/SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

Such a campaign took six months to conceptualize, with ideas tested across thousands of Singaporeans and key source markets. Here are a few pointers we can learn from Singapore’s new tourism campaign.

Make the brand relatable to the local community.

A campaign means nothing if it doesn’t resonate with the communities it seeks to represent. Perhaps the strongest facet of Singapore’s “Passion Made Possible” campaign is its focus on people, who themselves are representatives of a gamut of sectors in Singaporean society — food, art, business, environment, sports, entertainment, among many others. It’s Singaporeans themselves, telling their stories to the world. “It’s an inside-out approach. We’re trying to define who we are,” says Koh.

“One thing we have come to realize is whatever brand you come up with, it has to be supported by the people,” he adds. “Your own people are [also] your brand ambassadors. They are the first people [you have] to convince that this works, and once they believe in it, they’ll be out there, telling the stories naturally, organically, without [you] prompting them to do so.”

Tell stories of successful locals in the country.

Singapore’s campaign depends heavily on storytelling, because “people do not remember facts, but they remember memories,” says Pang. The stories told are those of ordinary yet exemplary individuals in Singapore: a custom sneaker designer who anchors his art on skateboarding, a wildlife consultant who advocates for the preservation of Singapore’s remaining green spaces, a Michelin-starred restaurateur who was once unsure about his path. These stories are made into short (approximately five-minute) ‘brand personality’ films, shot on location in the city, with the brand personalities narrating, in their own words, how they overcame their own limitations.

“One thing we have come to realize is whatever tourism brand you come up with, it has to be supported by the people. Your own people are [also] your brand ambassadors.” - Edward Koh

The ‘brand personalities’ in film find themselves in the company of hundreds of Singaporeans known all around the world, for example: Joseph Schooling, who won Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal; Quek Siu Rui, founder of buy-and-sell app Carousell; Kirsten Tan, the first Singaporean to win a filmmaking award (for “Pop Aye”) in the Sundance Film Festival; Kyra Poh, a world champion at indoor skydiving; and hawker Chan Hong Meng (fondly called “Uncle Chan”), owner of Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, famous for its soya chicken rice and noodles.

The stories do not focus on Singapore as a ‘transactional destination’ but as an ‘aspirational one,’ where one goes from “doing things to being,” says Pang. The methodology — content based on homegrown stories, rather than destinations — takes the tourism campaign into a whole new level and makes it more comprehensive: one is invited not only to visit Singapore and do things, but also to live there and pursue a myriad of interests.

Invest in meaningful and local design with an impact.

Singapore was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Design in 2015, spurring it as a design hub in Southeast Asia. While design, says Tiffany Loy of Parasolbag (which shapes bags out of parasol factory leftovers), is not a defining aspect of Singapore, it reflects a certain Singaporean trait.

“Singaporeans are a very conscientious people … we are careful about things that we do. Generally, [we have] this attitude of wanting to do well in everything,” she says. “Design is one of the things that the country is pushing, because it’s becoming more relevant globally.”

Joo Chiat papermaking.jpg Artisans create tall "spirit houses" made of paper in Chiang Pow Joss Paper Trading. As part of tradition, the colorful houses are burned before a funeral. Photo by ANNA BUENO

While the creative design community took shape only recently, there is a vibrant community of entrepreneurs who craft local, well-designed products in the country. Naiise, a Singaporean platform that curates and sells local brands, carries around 800 brands (out of 1,078) from Singapore.

“Everywhere we go today is a replication of brands … what we want to create is a diversity,” says Dennis Tay, its founder. His platform aims to put forth design as an everyday object, something that “creates intangible value to add to everyday lives.”

Similarly, the brand identity of Singapore’s “Passion Made Possible” campaign seeks to weave itself into everyday life and create value out of it. Its key signifier is the SG Mark: the letters SG in the open-source Metropolis font circumscribed by a circle, as in a trademark. The mark also serves as a ‘trust mark,’ to be applied to key visual icons of Singapore or texts with a uniquely Singaporean perspective.

Passion Made Possible Logo 1.png The SG Mark was created by The Secret Little Agency, a Singaporean design firm, while the logotype was commissioned to Colophon Foundry, an award-winning group of designers based in the U.K. Image courtesy of SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD

Accompanying the SG Mark is a logotype, also set in Metropolis, commissioned by the Singaporean design practice The Secret Little Agency to Colophon Foundry, a group of award-winning designers based in the U.K. The logotype is ‘a blend of uppercase and lowercase characters, a nod to Singapore’s cultural diversity.’

Turn apparent weaknesses into strengths.

While Singapore today is a major financial district, its history — as with the Philippines — is embedded with periods of colonization and a struggle for independence. The city-state was once part of a British colony, attracting thousands of migrants from Asia. In World War II, it was bombed by Japan, invaded, and renamed to Syonan (Light of the South). After struggling to deal with conflicts after joining the Federation of Malaysia, it pulled out to become an independent republic.

There are many other challenges that threaten Singapore’s prosperity today, such as a lack of land area and a shortage of water to serve its population. While all these may seem daunting or may put the country in a bad light, the campaign takes all of these shortcomings and fits it into a narrative of a country that despite the odds, has positioned itself as one of the best cities to live in the world.

Again, the individual stories take the spotlight. Lionel Yeo, STB chief executive, says “the Singapore story is about pioneers coming together to overcome constraints and challenges, to find new solutions to transform a newly independent city-state with a small, uncertain future, into a thriving metropolis and cohesive nation.” The campaign, says Pang, is a result of a collective realization that Singapore has survived most of its challenges because of a “can-do attitude that brings forth possibilities.”

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“Passion Made Possible” was launched globally on Aug. 24, in Singapore’s Infinity Studios. For the Philippine launch, a Singapore travel showcase will be held in SM Megamall Fashion Hall from Sept.15 to 17, and will feature collaborations between Singaporean brand personalities and Filipino opinion leaders and personalities. It will also offer airfare and travel deals to Singapore, various activities and performances, as well as products from Singaporean brands. For more information on the campaign check the official Singapore tourism website.