When Singapore Airlines pitched its rebranding business seeking a new image in 2007, the industry was abuzz with talk that the end of the Singapore Girl was nigh.
Beating DDB and Publicis, the lucrative account moved to TBWA from Batey Ads, which created the iconic Singapore Girl during its 35-year tenure. But under TBWA’s hand, the Singapore Girl took a temporary backseat while destinations and aircraft took centre-stage. This year, however, the kebaya-clad ambassador is back in a big way in the airline’s latest television commercial.
“Contrary to popular belief, the Singapore Girl was never excluded from Singapore Airlines’ ads as we recognise the strong emotional connection our customers have with our brand as a result of this iconic image,” says Nicholas Ionides, vice-president of public affairs at Singapore Airlines. “Our campaigns have taken varying forms as they carry different messages over the course of time. But through it all, the Singapore Girl character was always present.”
To that end, the agency hired Sydney-based Goodoil Films and director Michael Spiccia to film a 60-second commercial that echoes a slower age of travel featuring canal boats, bicycles and cable cars rather than the latest airline technology.
But the focus remains resolutely on the airline’s hostess, who steps through the streets of San Francisco, Jaisalmer, Paris and Wuzhen, offering small attentions to passers-by. “The four countries - the US, France, India and China - were settled in early pre-production before an extensive scout began,” says Sam Long, producer at Goodoil Films. “Ideas developed as the director, agency and location scouts found fresh and interesting locations.”
The blending of the locations is reinforced by introducing elements of the next city into the previous segment, so that the ad shows sari-clad women walking in San Francisco and a French woman pushing a bicycle next to an Indian street vendor.
“My objective was to deliver in one elegant shot a poetic cross-continental stroll with the beautiful Singapore Airlines Girl,” says Spiccia. “The biggest challenge lay in creating a seamless piece of film where the viewer is taken on an effortless journey across the world, while always having the Singapore Airlines girl as a constant element.”
John Merrifield, lead creative at TBWA, says that he wanted the transitions to be invisible and to avoid “digital trickery”. The biggest challenge, he adds, was to choreograph every step of the Singapore Girl’s journey and precisely map out each camera movement. “We wanted the film to feel honest and contemporary. No exaggerated sunsets, no over-the-top camera wizardry, just a simple, graceful journey around the world,” says Merrifield.
Richard Brandt, ECD at Landor New York, says that among the airlines Landor has branded, Singapore Airlines is one they are particularly proud of. His counterpart in Singapore, Victoria Corsi, also welcomes the return of the icon. “It is great to see Singapore Airlines embracing an iconic brand asset from their heritage in an engaging, relevant way.”
However, the response elsewhere in the industry has been mixed. Sonal Dabral, regional ECD of Bates141, praises the execution but says that the spot lacks warmth. He claims the “unpretentious authenticity” of the Singapore Girl in past work is missing.
“Everything is ‘right’ about the script and I think that is its failing,” Dabral says. “It almost seems as if the brief has been put on screen. Although the DNA of the brand cannot be tampered with and has to be protected, I wish there was more of a leap.”
See the Singapore Airlines ad at campaignasia.com