In defence of Singapore’s ‘kiasu’ queuers

STOMP picture of a queue outside TangsSingaporeans, it has been said, are so competitive that they’ll queue overnight to be first in line for a free donut. Those who queue are then ritually humiliated in social media for being greedy, superficial and ‘kiasu’.

As McDonald’s launches its popular Hello Kitty promotion today, Singaporean blogger Timothy Tang comes to the defence of queuers, argues why Singaporeans will stand in line despite the inevitable mocking online, and suggests what marketers should do to combat the haters who take the glaze off their promotions.

Watch out Singapore, the island-wide queue mania is set to commence this morning, Monday 28 April, no thanks to McDonald’s with yet another Hello Kitty soft toy promotion.

With Hello Kitty turning 40 this year and Singapore being the first to sell the toys, the queues are sure to prompt yet more public disruption and outcry.

McDonald's suspended its Hello Kitty promotion website

McDonald’s suspended new orders for its promotion due to overwhelming demand

At least we can take some relief in knowing that a special online ordering service has been set up that might reduce much of the public chaos compared to previous years [although the online promotion has been suspended due to overwhelming demand].

No doubt local bloggers and citizen hacks from STOMP will have a field day capturing the full-blown ‘ugliness’ of queue participants and paste their pictures on the internet for all to criticize and shame.

The question of why Singaporeans love to queue for hours on end will surely come under the public spotlight once again, with the bouncing of old and new theories back and forth in discussion forums.

Some bloggers feel that the reason why Singaporeans love to queue for hours on end, sometimes overnight like for Krispy Kreme’s opening day last October, can be explained by peer pressure, greed, curiosity or simply the fear of losing out to the rest (Kiasu-ism – defined as a “grasping, selfish attitude” on Wikipedia).

STOMP story about last year's McDonald's Hello Kitty promotion

STOMP story about last year’s McDonald’s Hello Kitty promotion

Brands stir demand through their promotions, then sit back and let the Singaporean kiasu mentality do the rest.

Some would say that locals are weird to spend so much time and energy to queue for things that can be perceived to be utterly superficial and meaningless. But haven’t we all fallen victim to similar circumstances in our lives when we queue online to enrol for study courses or to queue for job applications where applicants can amount to hundreds? Are these circumstances not too dissimilar to queuing up outside a company store for donuts or toys?

To get to the bottom of the Singaporean mindset, we have to look at what makes locals tick. Is it money, food, sex or power? How about the age-old search for the meaning of life, is that too grandiose a theory?

How else could you explain the long queues with the inevitable public shaming of the hundreds standing in line that comes with it?

If the purpose of life is to experience diversity and novelty, then queuing for limited edition French macarons or Hong Kong style pork buns might not seem so dysfunctional after all – to boldly go where no consumer has gone before.

Those who dare to stand in line for hours may well be the ones who are truly adventurous and brave, and disregarding of what society might think of them, so could be just the sort of brand advocates the likes of McDonald’s are looking for.

STOMP story on the overnight queues for Krispy Kreme's opening

STOMP story on the overnight queues for Krispy Kreme’s opening

In the example of Krispy Kreme’s opening day launch at TANGS [a shopping mall] Orchard in October last year, there were people who were willing to queue overnight just to be among the first few to purchase their donuts and receive free boxes of glazed donuts. I even considered joining the queue at 6am myself but decided against it, not for fear of attracting unwanted attention, but because the free donuts were not the flavours I was after. I suspected that the flavour selection was one of the reasons why the overnight queue was relatively short.

I would argue that the overnight queuers might just deserve respect in their quest to seek any ounce of meaning by going through such an experience, more than the ones who did not join them. They were more willing than other customers to endure a longer strenuous wait to satisfy their curiosity.

The first person in line brought a stool. A teenager brought his pillow. A few others set up camp. However, despite their efforts, some of them were accused of gluttony on Krispy Kreme’s Facebook page, and there were quite a few demands for their complimentary donuts to be donated to charity.

In Singapore, queuing up for hours to be among the first to get hold of a new product has been stigmatized. Onlookers have accused queuers of being self-centered and silly. But perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to judge them. Such a phenomenon could be the true societal reflection of people following their hearts to fulfill their innermost desire to experience something unique and – to them, at least – necessary.

So how can brands work to resolve such negative social perceptions of queuers that could potentially ruin their product launches? I have a suggestion.

Pledge to donate to charity a dollar for every person in the queue. Any social activity that goes towards a charity contribution could never be perceived as something detrimental towards society, could it? Especially in Asia where acts of charity are extremely well-respected.

This could encourage more consumers to join queues for product launches without much fear of attracting social criticism. Brands could create a virtuous circle out of the lines that snake endlessly along Orchard Road.

Timothy Tang is a research writer who blogs at The Think Tank Guide for Smarter Living.


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