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Singapore Airlines passing on Crazy Rich Asians was not a ‘brand fail’ – says expert panel

In an animated discussion on whether Crazy Rich Asians was good or bad for tourism in the Lion City, a discussion panel at the Mumbrella Asia Travel Marketing Summit arrived at a rare moment of consensus – Singapore Airlines was perhaps better off giving the film a miss.

Responding to a question from Mumbrella’s Dean Carroll, Ink executive editor Jalean Wong – who edits SIA’s inflight magazine – said: “I cannot speak for the airline, but as a brand SIA is very particular about the other brands it associates with.

“Personally, I think it would have been a great opportunity. But for a brand like SIA, if it cannot control the end product, then maybe it was something where it had to bite the bullet and say no. As a brand, you wouldn’t know what happens in the movie or if the messages sent out are going to be consistent with the branding.

“Considering all the marketing money spent, you could choose to be part of the movie, but if it comes out and you are not happy, then what?”

Her opinions were echoed by the rest of the panel who agreed that the film, while representing the life of a sliver of Singapore’s population, was not the most wholesome national image for the country.

SIA being familiar with the novel that formed the source material would have made the decision to opt out easier, according to the panel. J Walter Thompson’s Asia-Pacific director of JWT Intelligence, May Yee Chen said: “This particular movie was based on a set of novels. You knew it was going to be over the top and satire. You couldn’t control what that satire was going to look like.

“I think SIA made the right decision. It is very easy to say things like ‘we could have done this with the inside of the airplane’. But if you’ve read the books, better safe than sorry.”

Some of the panelists believed it was too early to fully evaluate the impact of Crazy Rich Asians in drawing tourists in, which would be felt only through 2019, considering the film was released in late August last year.

Responding to a question from session moderator R3 principal consultant Elfrida Szeto, PHD Singapore managing director Priya Jean Alexander said: “Even Bollywood movies showcase exotic locations and that results in travel uplift in the short term. But how do you sustain that interest in the longer term?”

Nielsen’s executive director of consumer insights Garick Kea agreed that the film may only evoke an interest in the short term. But he believed that was not necessarily a bad thing. He said: “Singapore being a small island state, the likelihood of someone coming back as a repeat tourist, going to the zoo multiple times, is not that likely. There are limitations as to what you can do. But having a film set here may make people curious to visit some of these locations. It gives a fresh perspective for a repeat traveller.”

TripZilla founder and CEO Winnie Tan considered the film akin to winning a marketing lottery. She said: “Millions go into producing films every year. Having a two hour feature film and people watching is a wonderful win for the country.”

She however had mixed feelings about the film being an advertisement for Singapore and felt that its lingering impact was likely to be a mixed bag: “It depicted Singapore as a gleaming cosmopolis full of dynamism and fun, which could bury our chewing gum and caning image.

“But do we really want to portray ourselves as a playground for the rich? There is already a view that Singapore is an expensive place, relative to the rest of South East Asia. So we could be shooting ourselves in the foot by portraying ourselves like this in the movie.”

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