Like a person you trust, brands that resist constant change and remain true to themselves engender trust from those around them. Ayam Brand is one such brand, having retained its distinctive red and yellow cans for over 100 years. And like a person who listens rather than just broadcasts an opinion, Ayam Brand learnt early on how to augment that trust when it changed its name to reflect public perception.
In Malaysia and Singapore, Ayam Brand is as trusted as Campbell’s or Heinz is in the West. At nearly 125 years old, it’s a brand that much of Southeast Asia has grown up with and regarded fondly as a staple of family mealtimes and family life.
In all this time, Ayam’s distinctive visual identity has remained almost entirely unaltered, enduring through a century of remarkable change. ‘Iconic’ is not a word that should be used lightly these days, but it can surely be applied to Ayam Brand’s core sardine packs, with their quirky (if somewhat old fashioned) logo, crowing cockerel icon and bright red and yellow colour split. Ayam Brand is by far the most striking and disruptive home-grown brand on the supermarket shelves, demonstrating how a dedication to the protection of distinctive equities, no matter how odd, can pay dividends in the long term.
Ayam Brand was founded by Frenchman Alfred Clouet in 1892 in Singapore (then British Malaya). His company introduced a cutting-edge technology to the region—tinned foods—that must have been something of a godsend in tropical Malaya in the days before refrigeration.
Being French, he chose the Gallic rooster—the unofficial emblem of the French nation—to represent his brand. He called his products ‘A. Clouet & Co. Ltd. Singapore’. Thankfully, he ended up with a somewhat snappier name by simply listening to his market. Reading his packs visually, people referred to his products as ‘Ayam’, which means ‘chicken’ in Bahasa, the lingua franca of the region. Clouet had a new name for his brand. CEO Francois de Moulliac explains that this move meant … ‘that it was not a colonial brand anymore—it became a people’s brand’. A canny move indeed.
So what next for this Southeast Asian classic? Everyone in Singapore and Malaysia is a foodie, and tastes are becoming ever more international and sophisticated. The humble pack of tinned sardines has a limited shelf life for a new generation of consumers with increasingly discerning palates. By positioning itself as a champion of the region’s cuisine, Ayam hopes to be more than just a source of nostalgia. In its efforts to remain relevant, let’s hope it never loses sight of what made it successful in the first place—a bold, distinctive and unmistakeably quirky identity.
Did you know?
One of these facts is a little fishy.
1. It’s said that Ayam founder Alfred Clouet was on his way with French colonial troops to Indochina when their boat stopped in Singapore. Clouet was so taken with the island that he did not return to ship.
2. As well as operating his sardine cannery, Clouet also traded in perfume under the name of One Rooster Brand. A rival perfumier began selling his products with the label Two Rooster Brand, but Clouet successfully sued him.
3. In Singapore and Malaysia, the game we know as sardines is simply called Ayam.
4. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, Ayam Brand is asking for Singaporeans to contribute designs for a new ‘limited edition’ oval sardine can. One million of these will be produced.
5. Ayam Brand teamed up with American rappers The Fung Bros to release a viral video which praised the company’s products. Sample lyric, ‘Out in Singapore Out in Malaysia/ Ayam Brand got so many flavours/ It’s tasting so fine/ Everything is so good/ I really like it.’ And ‘It’s not China despite the faces/ It’s actually a diverse mix of races.’.
6. In Singapore, Ayam Brand produces a National Service Survival Camp Kit which includes a tin of sardines, to reinforce its connection to the Singapore armed forces.
We squeezed a little lie in at number three. The game of sardines is not known as Ayam in Malaysia and Singapore.