Racheal Lee
Sep 11, 2013

Changing an icon's role: The curious case of the 'Singapore Girl'

The recent global campaign launched by Singapore Airlines (SIA), which gives the brand's iconic 'Singapore Girl’ new roles, has drawn varied responses from the public and industry insiders.

The campaign, entitled 'The lengths we go to”, focuses on the airline’s commitment to putting customers at the heart of its operations. It launched last week on print, television and digital platforms.

Developed by TBWA and directed by John Park, the campaign includes three short videos in which the iconic Singapore Girls go to different parts of the world to select items including tea, leather and movies, for the airline's passengers.

The longtime brand icon, the ‘Singapore Girl’, is one of the world's longest-running and successful advertising ideas, although critics recently have called it dated. The new videos have received mostly positive feedback from members of the public, who have also shared their experiences with the airline.

However, comment from those in the marketing industry have been more likely to call the campaign a “branding disaster”.


“There is no doubting the quality of service of SQ flight attendants," one commenter said. "But since when has an airline sent its air crew to fulfill a corporate purchasing role?! Buying tea in China or a painting in Venice? Get real TBWA and SQ!”

Another comment, complained of "complete disconnect between air crew duties and corporate branding", adding that "the ads still have the same surreal look and feel, which just goes to show that there is nothing new presented in this campaign.”

Hari Ramanathan, regional strategy director at Y&R Asia, noted that there is an issue of the Singapore Girl being confused for a brand idea.

“The challenge for Singapore Airlines thus was to ideally find a new conversation or at the very least a new execution to talk about service," he said. "Unfortunately I feel it’s been a missed opportunity."

He went on to say Singapore Airlines needs to find a conversation that is innovative, refreshing and relevant to its customers, even if it means going to great lengths.


Yue Chee Guan, national executive creative director at Grey Group China, noted that this is a typical case of a corporation taking small steps when it approaches a needed change, adding that it would be impossible for Singapore Airlines to drop the icon entirely after so many years.

He added that the campaign has brought out a new and relevant message without forgoing the Singapore Girl asset, given the limitations. He also doesn’t see the women in the films as flight attendants getting involved with the procurement process.

“Instead, they personify the SIA brand in a poetic way,” he added. “Yes, creatively, you do not need the presence of the Singapore Girls in order to put across the idea of going the lengths, but the icon must have been part of the brief for continuity purpose.”

Ali Shabaz, CCO at Grey Group Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia, said while the films are produced fairly well, they are not up to the usually high SIA standards. The latest ads, he added, seemed to have mixed the service message and the corporate message together.

“But even if one overlooks that, from a messaging point of view, it's confusing,” he said. “The Singapore Girl stands for exemplary service in the sky. It's quite strange to see her involved in the process of procuring tea, which falls into the larger scope of what the rest of the airline departments do.”

Shabaz said it would be a shame for Singapore Airlines to have lost The Singapore Girl, and more thinking should go into how the airline can use her to portray a modern image.

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