Chris Reed
Jul 9, 2013

Singaporeans demonstrate a passionate love of brands (and freebies)

Singaporeans love two things passionately: 1) brands and 2) freebies. When the two come together the mix is explosive!

Singaporeans demonstrate a passionate love of brands (and freebies)

Two great examples of this happened in the last few weeks with differing social media reactions:

  1. This weekend Gordon Ramsay came to town. As part of a SingTel PR stunt he challenged Singapore’s famous hawker chefs to a “cook off” which resulted in free Michelin starred meals for thousands of people who had queued for up to 10 hours to be photographed near Ramsay
  1. The McDonalds Hello Kitty promotion has just finished thankfully as it resulted in riots and exasperation amongst Singaporeans desperate to add the ubiquitous smiling cat toys to their collection of other plastic memorabilia….

Both of these brand promotions were executed in different ways with different objectives but only one  caught the imagination of the public on social media and in the street. Ironically it wasn’t the one that was moderately successful.

If you take SingTel’s Singapore v’s Ramsay Hawker challenge it was a great stunt but seemed to have no purpose other than to be a stunt…. One report I read was that it was to promote SingTel’s restaurant portal. If this was the case then that objective was not fulfilled. As you can see if you Google the challenge or look at SingTel’s creative or even read about it on SingTel’s facebook page there is literally no mention of

So what was the purpose? They telecasted the event but big deal….very few people actually watch anything on SingTel apart from the English Premier League (EPL)! I speak as one and know hundreds of others with similar complaints that there is literally nothing to watch on SingTel compared to competitor Starhub apart from the football. This is fine if that’s your expectation (which is mine!) but if you’re expecting more you will be sorely disappointed. There is no coincidence that SingTel’s subscriber numbers jumped by almost 400,000 when they secured the EPL rights and they only have around 500,000 paid subscribers in total!

Ironically the Ramsay collection of cooking TV shows from Restaurant Nightmares to How to Cook are all not on SingTel by rival TV operator StarHub. I am sure they have benefited from the PR with extra viewers to his shows on Starhub! Thanks SingTel for free marketing of the Gordon Ramsay brand!

The stunt itself was a success in terms of changing some of the brand perceptions of SingTel and it looked a lot of fun. As Singapore’s dominant telco player they bear the brunt of all billing/3g/4g/coverage complaints in Singapore where queues are often seen at weekends and lunchtimes in their showrooms. It is best known outside of Singapore for sponsoring the Singapore Night Race Grand Prix in September each year.

The event itself was all good fun. Ramsay was brought over to compete against selected Hawkers to cook the best Hawker meal (street food which is the mainstay of Singaporeans to enjoy outside in beautifully warm evening conditions). Customers lined up in their thousands to taste the various meals put forward by the selected Hawker Chefs and Ramsay.

Free food is the way to Singaporean hearts! The users would then vote on the best meal.  Ramsay came 3rd in the final 4. He was always onto a loser but accepted it with characteristic good grace (he didn’t swear once!), he may be known for being angry but everyone knows that’s for show…he’s serious about his cooking! Singaporeans although in awe of celebrity and brands were never going to vote against their daily food! Food and Singapore go together like fish and water!

I was surprised that social media was not more actively engaged with the event. Many people clearly saw it for what it was, a PR stunt that didn’t mean much to the man on the street. There was even one report which said most of the Hawkers themselves across the island didn’t know who Ramsay was, being a predominantly Western brand I can believe it. Why should they?

The official website is a very corporate way to cover the event. Their YouTube channel covering the even only has 2,500 subscribers not much for the power of SingTel to show. Their Twitter only has 12,500 and the hash tag #HawkerHeroes was a nice idea but didn’t really catch on. The result that Singapore Hawkers had beaten Ramsay only received 500 retweets….

From a content engagement point of view it was a masterstroke. If only they had tied it back into their own brands, content and marketing instead of just creating an experience for everyone to read about and smile about!

The McDonalds Hello Kitty promotion probably had the reverse effect on McDonalds brand inSingapore. Negative all the way. Even those who actually managed to get their Free Hello Kitty toys when buying selected meals/ordering home delivery did not seem enamoured with the brand on social media afterwards.

The Hello Kitty promotion certainly created much more excitement and posts on social media. Take a look at some of the YouTube footage of Singaporean’s fighting and arguing and the police having to get involved for a taste of the fervour generated. Tens of thousands of views and comments shows how engaged the community were with this promotion and not in a good way!!! All over a doll!!

This appears to be a lose-lose from a McDonalds point of view. Ok they may have sold more meals short term but they annoyed normal customers who couldn’t order instore or on line or received terrible service as a result of the staff being overwhelmed.

Ironically McDonalds ran the same promotion a decade ago and guess what happened? The same thing. A riot caused by shortages of stock!  “An addict is someone who refuses to confront the history of their actions and therefore repeats their behaviour” I read in the gripping book “Choke” recently. It appears that McDonalds are addicted to running Hello Kitty promotions which cause riots and disrupts their business and not in a good way!

What’s the bet that they will run this again in ten years and still not have enough stock to satisfy demand! Social media was such a menace to McDonalds that they moved all negative comments to different places on their facebook page and didn’t answer most of the queries publicly. This was really taking crowd sourcing customer service to a whole new level! Revolutions were built on less than the anger generated by McDonalds in this promotion!

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