Cashing in on Singapore's 'SG50' jubilee

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Media captionBranding Singapore's 50 years of independence

Singapore is celebrating 50 years of independence and everywhere you look in the city, there are posters, banners, bus ads and post boxes marking the event.

The government-led brand sums up the jubilee with the acronym SG50.

It is the city state's biggest and most expensive effort to drum up nationalist fervour.

The celebrations will culminate on 9 August, National Day, the date of Singapore's independence 50 years ago.

An extravaganza costing nearly $15m (£9.6m) will take place on the historic Padang - the large field in the middle of the city - as well as on a platform that overlooks the picturesque waterfront where 150,000 people are expected to fill the stands and watch from the city centre.

The show has been put together by 12,000 participants and crew - among the highlights will be 20 fighter jets forming the number 50 in the sky.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Fighter jets were rehearsing their formation ahead of the big day
Image caption National Day 'fun packs' are being sent to 1.5m households

Companies have also piled in, desperate to be associated with the "feel-good" factor.

Honav Singapore is one small firm hoping to do this. They've produced around 300,000 flag-themed temporary tattoos, as well as more than a million mini Singapore flags, erasers and games for the National Day 'fun packs'.

Around 1.5m of these packs are being distributed free to households and to spectators of the national day parade rehearsal shows over the last few weeks. The fun packs are estimated to have cost the government around $7m, though part of this cost is picked up by sponsors such as Honav Singapore.

Chief representative officer Marilyn Lai says it's a chance too for her firm to get more exposure and be associated with a 'memorable once in a lifetime event'.

SG50 planes, cars and whisky

Jubilee branding has also turned up on Singapore Airline's A380 planes. Two of these have been flying the globe since July, flanked in the red and white colours of the Singaporean flag with SG50 on the turbochargers of its wings.

Singapore Airlines, who were the first to fly the A380 planes when they debuted in 2007, says one of these flag themed planes will be flying past over the parade on the day.

The airline says that its growth has been so closely linked to the development of Singapore that having the special Singapore-flag themed livery would be a 'unique way to help celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday'.

Image copyright Singapore Airlines
Image caption Singapore airlines put the SG50 logo on two of its A380 planes

Even supermarkets are in nationalistic overdrive, trying to sell shoppers everything from 50 grams more bacon and fishcakes shaped in the number 50 for their noodles.

It's not just Singaporean companies, the fervour has hit big multi-national firms too.

Real patriots can order a bespoke SG50 Rolls Royce. The car company says it is the first time anywhere in the world Rolls-Royce has commissioned a car to commemorate the anniversary of a country.

Price is upon application for the one of a kind Ghost Series II which has hand painted details of Singapore's famous Merlion - a creature with a lion's head and fish body .

According to Paul Harris, the regional director of Rolls Royce Motor Cars, they did this because Singapore is an important market for the firm. It had its first Asian dealership there and it is where most of their regional employees are based.

It is one of the "top five markets in Asia for the Ghost Series II" and has a "loyal base of customers dedicated to the brand", he adds.

The Merlion turns up too on Johnnie Walker's high end Blue Label whisky. Diageo has commissioned 888 gold silk screen printed bottles for the nation's jubilee. The number 8 is considered a lucky number in Chinese culture as it sounds like the word for 'wealth'. Gold printing them is an intricate process involving a dedicated staff of up to 10 and curing for 48 hours before it's shipped off for sale.

The president of Diageo for the region, Sam Fischer, also says that Singapore is an important base for them. It's where their regional and logistical headquarters is based.

Singapore has "logistics efficiency" and "manufacturing excellence" he says.

"It's such an important part of Diageo and we felt the need to commemorate such an important occasion for Singapore."

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption As a true patriot you can now sip on SG50 whisky

Nation branding

But does this sort of patriotic branding work? Brand expert Samir Dixit, managing director of Brand Finance Asia Pacific, says the jury is out.

"Looking at our economic analysis, there's nothing to suggest that the companies will see any benefit. There's nothing to say that if they put the SG50 logo on the product, that they will sell more than before or if they are not using it, they will sell less."

Just how much is too much? SG50 has become so ubiquitous that it's spawned web sites mocking these efforts.

Search the acronym and you'll uncover them, including one called 'Simi Sai, also SG50' which describes the latest SG50 branding effort and tries to get online users to rate them as 'sai' (which translates as 'rubbish') or 'not sai' (not rubbish).

Singaporeans, too, feel that these SG50 marketing campaigns are aimed not so much at playing up their patriotism, but parting them from their cash.

'Overdone' and 'over the top' are what most of them said when asked about SG50. Yet many admit that it's a special time to look back at the nation's progress as one of the great economic successes of the 20th century.

While the effect on businesses may be limited, there may be some benefit for the nation.

"Events like this put the country through a rejuvenation mode, so that may be good going forward in the next two or three years," admits Mr Dixit. But he says those economic effects can only accurately be measured after the fact.

So the impact of Singapore's golden jubilee will most likely only be felt long after the last SG50 signs are taken down.

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