Singapore: Passion made possible?

NOVEMBER 5 — The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) released their new tagline and marketing campaign a few weeks ago.

“Passion Made Possible” is now our nation’s battle cry in the endless war to woo as many dollars (and yuan) as possible.

Now, granted in the days of social media no one visits a country because of a tagline or jingle no matter how catchy. Even watching a two-minute promotional video is beyond the contemporary attention span.

Instead, people just wait and watch other people’s envygram snaps and plan their trips calibrating how much envy they can generate for every buck spent.

But more than marketing, they play another secondary role: these campaigns offer an insight into how we see ourselves; what is it we want to present to the outside world, what do we see as unique and worthwhile about our country?

From that perspective, here’s what some of our past slogans possibly said about us:

Instant Asia (1960s): Come on Western tourists, take photos! Lots of different coloured Asians in one place — quick and cheap!

Surprising Singapore (1980s): Hi again Western tourists! We’re not as Third world as you think.

New Asia Singapore (1990s): Hello Western ALL tourists! We have arrived — we’ve got the money! This is a new and improved Asia. So, if you’ve got money now too — come here and spend it. It is time to go shopping!

Uniquely Singapore (2000s): There is no place like this — so come here and actually, I like this one because this one is true. (And I am not alone, an online Straits Times poll shows this one leading by far).

Singapore is a unique combination of modernity and cultural diversity... can this be captured in one marketing tagline? — Reuters pic
Singapore is a unique combination of modernity and cultural diversity... can this be captured in one marketing tagline? — Reuters pic

There really is nowhere like this. Even from an aesthetic perspective; Seoul looks something like Tokyo and they both look a little like Taipei. Havana looks like Cartagena and even the great European cities — Paris, Vienna and Madrid resemble each other more than they’d care to admit.

But Singapore? She looks like nothing else. Rigidly planned, extravagantly green, ludicrously clean and tropical. Orchids around an industrial park, raintree-lined HDB heartlands, English style greens on the equator.

We are also the world’s only major city state — so we are unique. Dense, prosperous, liveable, tropical, multi-ethnic and modern, even conceptually the only thing vaguely like us is Hong Kong but HK looks nothing like SG.

It goes beyond ethnic diversity — you can find a similar mix in KL but you can’t find the same layout, aesthetic and attitude.

So, what does passion made possible say? On this basis you could say passion made possible is a little worrying as it doesn’t really say anything.

It could just as well be a tagline for a new phone, a car, or Rome, Lisbon or wherever. It really isn’t very distinct or memorable. (It also doesn’t say Singapore.)

Some commentaries have pointed out the Chinese version of the tagline — xin xiang shi cheng, which apparently conveys both the desire to travel to the Lion City and a proverb about passion is stronger than the English one.

Perhaps the English version was an afterthought? Which makes some sense if you consider most of Singapore’s visitors come from China (if you include Hong Kong and Taiwan). But perhaps there should then have been two distinct taglines, not just a translation?

Regardless of the language, I’m not sure about the core premise. I suppose most of us have made out under the block a few times but making passion possible?

Let’s get real — this isn’t exactly Buenos Aires; the lion dance isn’t the tango and look at the birth rate.

However, I have to say I enjoyed the supporting video a little more than the tagline. A fast-paced sequence featuring Singaporeans following their dreams. This is real progress: we see individuals and not just a dancing, exotic ethnic background.

Which to me is the weakness of this campaign. It misses the absolute uniqueness and inimitable quirkiness of this city.

Singapore is eccentric and contradictory. It is tiny but with enormous economic clout, it is rigidly ordered but Singaporeans are hilarious and irreverent.

We’ve got the highest end retail and a soaring skyline, but our soul is definitely in flip-flops sweating, slurping up noodles under the block.

We call ourselves Chinese, Malay and Indian but we are strongest when we start to borrow from and meld with each other.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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