The thinking behind the Asian global brand that ‘Works where it hurts’

Tiger Balm logoUp there with Singapore Airlines and Tiger Beer, Tiger Balm is one of Singapore’s most famous exports. The ointment that “works where it hurts” has been delivering “health and well being through proven oriental wisdom” for just under a century, to more than 100 countries worldwide.

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks, A. K. Han, the executive director of Tiger Balm’s owner Haw Par Corporation, talks about the evolution of the treatment’s distinctive logo, whether the brand is more powerful than the product, and what he says to people who ask if Tiger Balm contains actual tigers.

What’s been the most challenging thing about managing the Tiger Balm brand over the years?

A K Han

A K Han

There are many features of the brand to tackle. One of them is the tiger device – the logo. It has evolved over the years. Originally, it was a resting tiger, with legs crossed and not particularly well defined. We thought it was more realistic to change it to a leaping tiger that was more muscular. Now, the tiger has a white belly and we’ve graded the background colour of the logo to a unique shade of orange, Pantone 137, which has become synonymous with the Tiger Balm brand.

As for the tiger itself, it gives an aura of power and energy, and it’s recognisable by everyone young and old. It stands for soothing and healing; the same thing in each of the 145 countries in which it is sold.

Corporate video explains the company’s history – from China to Burma to Singapore – and vision to put a jar of Tiger Balm in every household worldwide.

Do many people wonder if your product contains extract of tiger?

Does not contain real tiger

Does not contain real tiger

Quite a few. We used to get letters accusing us of killing these poor tigers. My reply has always been: thanks for letter, but please note that we do not use tigers in our products. If we did use tigers, you could not afford it. Our product is registered with all the medical authorities around the world, which would not allow us to put tigers in Tiger Balm. We would not be able to register the product.

Tell us about the re-design of Tiger Balm.

Tiger Balm used to be handled by a licensee until 1992. When we took back control, we wanted to start afresh. The first thing we did was to overhaul the brand identity. We worked with Batey Ads (now part of WPP ad agency Grey), which designed the Singapore Girl for Singapore Airlines.

We used a hexagonal glass gar – we’re the only brand that uses glass and this distinctive shape. The bottle cap is gold to give a premium look. The packaging uses seven colours. We changed the font, from Arab Bold to Helvetica New Bold. And we feature Chinese symbols more prominently, as we wanted to convey our Chinese heritage.

The evolution of the Tiger Balm logo, from the 1930’s to present day:

Tiger Balm logo in the 1930s


Tiger Balm in the 1960s


Tiger Balm logo 1991-2010


Tiger Balm logo 2010 to present day

2010 – present day

How have you countered copycats?

There have been many counterfeits, and we’ve spent a lot of money countering them in the courts. Anything that looks like a tiger, for instance a cougar or another sort of cat, on a small jar is not acceptable. We have to defend our brand vigorously. It’s taken 100 years to build.

Which is more powerful, your product or your brand?

Both are powerful in their own right. The product is strong for a few reasons. It’s a 100 year-old formula that works, we sell 50 million units a year – and 50 million people in more than 100 countries worldwide can’t be wrong. Sixty per cent of the product is made from active ingredients – it’s not all wax and petroleum. That’s why a jar last between six and 10 months, as only a little is needed each time. And it’s versatile, hence the slogan “Works where it hurts”.

As for the brand, it’s been well known for its reliability for many years, and any brand launched under the same name has the same authenticity.

Without the product we wouldn’t have the brand, and without the brand we couldn’t launch new products.

So, the Tiger Balm brand – how far can you stretch it?

Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch ad

Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch ad

That’s the 10 million dollar question. What we’ve done to date has worked. We launched a Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch in 2008, and after only four years it was the biggest selling product in its category in Singapore.

Tiger Balm’s major brand extensions in recent years:

1992 Tiger Balm Medicated Plasters
2005 Tiger Balm Neck and Shoulder Rub
2008 Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch
2011 Tiger Balm ACTIVE

Tiger Balm’s brand extensions fall into four product categories – Classic, Balance, Active and Junior. Brand extensions take a long time to launch, as pharma products take a long time to get registered. We do not believe in launching more than one product a year, otherwise we would lose focus. We launch in Singapore first, see how the product performs, then roll it out in other markets.

We have been doing a lot of consumer research, and we’ve found that the brand means more than pain relief to people. Consumers think we’re a well-being brand, which is comforting. This means we can launch products beyond the realm of pain. Watch this space.



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