Chris Reed
Apr 16, 2014

Singaporean superbrand "Ah Boys To Men" makes the army sexy

When the first Singaporean armed forces coming of age film “Ah Boys To Men” hit the cinemas and was instantly a monster success it genuinely resonated with Singaporeans. The film had such a fundamental effect that it really made a difference to the way Singaporeans felt about their armed forces in a very positive way. It also created a Singaporean super brand franchise.

Singaporean superbrand

As an “ang mo” I have no idea what half the jokes are and what they mean. I know a few brave “ang mo” souls who ventured in to watch the first film and while everyone else was falling about laughing they stood out as not having a clue what was going on. It’s a Singaporean thing clearly. Purely in the interests of writing this blog I also watched the first film. Even though I have read my “Singlish to English” phrasebook most of the jokes were still lost on me. However I could appreciate the wit and warmth that the film resonates along with the age old buddy-buddy themes.

“Ah Boys to Men” I and II were so popular that they were both at the top of the cinema box office for weeks on end keeping more established and better funded Hollywood blockbusters from being top of the charts. The DVDs have also sold in droves as young and old shared in jokes, empathy and the warm feeling that they were helping protecting their country by experiencing National Service (NS).

In a country where National Service (NS) ensures that the male population leaves the employment arena for two years, significant amounts of money are spent on presenting the army, air force and navy in very positive ways. Singapore is very good at connecting reserved nationalism, patriotism and the powerful “protecting the family” theme which truly pervades the family culture of Singapore.

“Ah Boys to Men” did more than 100 marketing campaigns in warming up the experience of being in the armed forces. It portrays the highs and lows of the separation from family and friends but overall made the time seem like a more joyful time rather than the hard time it must be. It’s about the only DVD set that I have ever seen on sale in every 7-11, Giant Local and FairPrice.

Singapore spends more money on their armed forces that any other country in the world per capita than anyone bar Israel. There is ongoing debate as to whether this money could be better spent on health and the elderly but the argument to protect the Singaporean nation from potentially hostile and much larger neighbours always wins the day. In the recent Singapore Air Show many deals were done to enhance the air forces capabilities and power.

“Ah Boys to Men” has done a great job in helping justify defence spending and communicating the value of a strong armed forces to protect the nation and way of life that Singapore is so proud of. “Ah Boys To Men” has ensured that what serving your country and the male bonding that goes on means to everyone involved. It also amply demonstrates the pressures the two years away put on relationships of all kinds.

The irony is that the film got very mixed reviews by the critics both at home and abroad. However that didn’t stop people going to see their local heroes and didn’t stop them buying the DVD too.

“Ah Boys to Men” II is the highest grossing Singaporean film of all time, and has grossed over four times its S$3 million budget and became the highest grossing film of 2013. “Ah Boys To Men” I was the 5th highest grossing film of 2012. Buoyed by audience demand, a third instalment has been confirmed. A franchise has been created and with it an ongoing pro-NS marketing machine which both entertains, informs and creates empathy with the target audience which is every Singaporean male, father, mother, brother, sister, friend.

Such is the popularity of the brand that they have launched a musical version which opens at Resorts World Sentosa in April. Is there no stopping the new Singaporean Super Brand “Ah Boys To Men”? Just like the Singaporean armed forces, apparently not.


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