Opinion

With Crazy Rich Asians, Trump-Kim and F1 – Singapore has ‘had a great year’, but what’s next?

The year 2018 has been a winner for destination marketing in Singapore, but it must be a springboard rather than a high water mark – says Maureen Tseng of The Hoffman Agency

Singapore’s cityscape is rapidly becoming world famous

Singapore must have done something right for the publicity gods to smile on our tiny island nation. Between the Trump-Kim Summit in June and the breakout hit, Crazy Rich Asians, I don’t think that the Singapore Tourism Board could have planned it any better.

In the last few weeks, my social media feed has been bombarded with Crazy Rich Asians-mania. The stars of the rollicking all-Asian romantic comedy have been featured on everything from The Ellen DeGeneres Show to the covers of Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter.

A quick Google Search on Crazy Rich Asians shows up close to 100 million hits and the official trailer has garnered a respectable 13.3 million views on YouTube. Public relations value-wise, we are talking about tens of millions of dollars of golden publicity.

 

Everything to do with the movie has been touched by Midas. Warner purportedly spent US$11.1 million on American television promos since May, but the US$35 million in sales that were generated in the first five days of opening has more than recouped that investment.

Globally, theatres are filling up and the film is on track to be a winner. As far as rom-coms go, it has been the most successful debut in years.

This glitzy, gleeful vignette of the lives of the uber-rich in Asia has offered the perfect PR opportunity for Singapore to build its brand internationally.

Marina Bay Sands gets great product placement in the film

Stunning aerial shots of the Marina Bay skyline greet the heroine, Rachel Chu, as she flies suite-class (I was surprised that Singapore Airlines didn’t push for product placement) into Changi Airport.

“I can’t believe this place has a cinema and a butterfly garden,” marvels Chu of the airport, before being whisked away to another well-known tourist spot, Newton Food Centre.

There she is treated to a rich smorgasbord of Singapore’s mouth-watering hawker delicacies, everything looking so exotic, colourful and mouth-wateringly good that it’s guaranteed to titillate the senses of the audiences.

Newton Food Centre also features in Crazy Rich Asians

The best part of the movie is that the richness of the scenes are as intrinsic to the storyline as the drama being played out by the characters. Crazy Rich Asians artfully follows the challenges of a traditional love-story arc between Rachel and Nick, while capering through an over-the-top tropical church wedding at Chijmes, followed by decadent evening celebrations at Gardens by The Bay and then culminating with Happy Ever After fireworks at the Marina Bay Sands rooftop.

The Singapore Tourism Board could not have made a better promotional video. It was pure genius, a feature-length advertisement that viewers have lapped up.  

 

However, the good must always come with with the bad. Locally, detractors of the movie take issue with under-representation of Indian, Malays and other minorities that make up a quarter of Singapore’s population, while focussing overwhelmingly on the travails of the wealthy Chinese elite.

Additionally, news of the author, Kevin Kwan, defaulting on his national service duties have cast a pall over the exuberant triumph of the film. One thing is for certain – Crazy Rich Asians has definitely moved the dial in positioning Singapore as a playground for the rich and a destination for the luxe traveller.

The upcoming F1 Night Race in September will be the next marquee event on the calendar of the well-heeled. Last year, the event got a record attendance. With all the publicity for the country in 2018, this year’s turnout could be even higher.

In terms of KPIs, I think Singapore Tourism Board can sit pretty. The STB has had a fantastic year.

When the dust settles however, the question is whether this Crazy Rich Singapore brand will sit comfortably with Singaporeans in the long run. Are tourists in danger of perceiving our island nation through the eyes of the 1 per cent of elites, who reside here and will this risk alienating the rest of the population, who are already chafing at the increasingly high costs of living?

The next challenge will be to add depth to the Singapore brand. We’ll need to find another publicity platform that will celebrate the everyday Singaporeans. HDB Havoc, anyone?  

Adding depth to the Singapore brand is the next challenge, says Tseng

Maureen Tseng is general manager of The Hoffman Agency in Singapore, a multinational public relations firm

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