Mike Fromowitz
Dec 16, 2011

A sexist marketing concept or one of the world’s great brand icons?

Over the years, The Singapore Girl has been criticized as a sexist marketing concept, and accused of stereotyping the Asian women as desirable and subservient to males. What a load of crap!Singapor...

A sexist marketing concept or one of the world’s great brand icons?

Over the years, The Singapore Girl has been criticized as a sexist marketing concept, and accused of stereotyping the Asian women as desirable and subservient to males. What a load of crap!

Singapore Airlines (SIA) and its trademark The Singapore Girl has become Asia's best-known brand. Its "A Great Way To Fly" remains one of the few truly memorable airline theme lines. The concept—the brainchild of advertising guru Ian Batey back in the 1970s—has done well for SIA in engendering Asian values: caring, warm, friendly, elegant and serene, and in building a superior reputation for the airline.

Batey’s campaign for the Singapore Girl built an Asian icon known the world over.  It's the only marketing icon of any airline that is identifiable by a large proportion of the traveling public. Competitors can copy SIA’s services, but they can’t match the Singapore Girl.

For over 40 years the Singapore Girl has been in every SIA advertisement and publicity effort imaginable from TV to newspapers, magazines, direct mail and online. She has been the constant on the SIA journey as the airline went from a tiny Southeast Asian airline to one of the most respected in the world.

It goes without saying that the SIA brand has done more for Singapore than any other brand. In many ways the airline has been the poster child for Singapore as an efficient, comfortable, safe and welcoming Asian nation.

It is regularly recognized as one of the best airlines in the world thanks to its exemplary service, comfort, food, in-flight entertainment, its quality website and it’s long history of superior marketing and brand advertising.

What an amazing legacy Ian Batey and his agency Batey Ads has left behind for Singapore. Batey and his advertising agency remain Asian legends.

Ian Batey

The question of whether SIA should drop the Singapore Girl concept comes up every few years. In my opinion, that would be suicide for SIA. Why throw away forty years of marketing and branding. Besides, the Singapore Girl has reached celebrity status. This has enabled SIA to be highly selective in recruiting talent adding further to the strength of the brand.

For those who think that the Singapore Girl needs a makeover, I’m certain that if Ian Batey was still the brand’s champion, he would tell you: “Travel has changed and so have the needs of consumers. Focus on what they want out of travel; continue to deliver even more to the consumer than the advertising promises; stay true to the brand and keep delivering on the promise of quality, innovation and service. And above all, leave the Singapore Girl right where she is.”

A review of the airline's historic advertising shows that Ian Batey knew the importance of keeping pace with the contemporary look and feel of the airline's image over time—though the changes were subtle.

As a concept, the Singapore Girl is unlikely to be replaced in any future marketing campaigns. The Singapore Straits Times said: "To remove the Singapore Girl icon from SIA is like removing Mickey Mouse from Disneyland.”

OK. I admit it. My favourite airline is SIA. First and foremost it’s an emotional thing with me. So bring on the Singapore Girl in her signature uniform, with her Asian grace and hospitality. For me, she is a symbol of what I expect from an airline—impeccable service standards—service other airlines can only talk about.

From a rational viewpoint the brand’s excellent onboard offerings sway my decision to fly with them. In the end, that’s what a brand is all about.

In 2007, ad agency TBWA Worldwide became SIA's new principal advertising agency, and SIA, the agency’s largest win since starting up in Asia in the late 1990s. That Singapore Airlines chose TBWA was a smart move on their part. The agency is a creative leader and knows how to build and rejuvenate icon brands.

Since that time, TBWA has smartly renewed Singapore Airlines brand strategy by getting back to the simplicity of what the Singapore Girl stands for.  Now you don’t see business class beds, or gourmet food, or lounges. What you do see is the timeless Singapore Girl at the heart-centre of the brand, the one thing that sets the airline apart form the rest. Was this not the same brand strategy in the late 70s and 80s? Sure it is.

For those who argue that the Singapore Girl has run her course, let me remind you that The Singapore Girl is a much more sustainable brand icon for Singapore Airlines than any other. She does for SIA what new product features can not do. For example: SIA was the first to fly the A380. Now Emirates flies more of them. SIA, for a period of time, had the widest Business Class bed in the world. Now Turkish Airlines boasts that offering. For airlines today, product differentiation is seldom sustainable.

The airline recognizes that innovation often has a relatively short life span. Once other airlines adopt it, it is no longer considered "innovative". Still, SIA continues to invest heavily in R&D, innovation and technology as an integrated part of its business strategy to further differentiate itself.

The essence of the Singapore Girl is something no other airline can duplicate.  She’s reached mythical status. The icon has become so strong that Madame Tussaud's Museum in London started to display the Singapore Girl in 1994 as the first commercial figure ever.

Ian Batey’s Singapore Girl concept has become one of the world’s most recognised brand icons, and because of it, SIA has become a hugely rewarded and successful industry leader.

I raise a glass (or two, or three...) of the finest vintage wine aboard my flight, and salute Ian Batey, wherever he is, for making the Singapore Girl A great way to fly.

She’s here to stay, and I’m happy about that!

PS. You can read more about the subject in Ian Batey's Book—Asian Branding

Mike Fromowitz



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