Jul 4, 2010
Ad oomph for govt campaigns
Soft sell approach to promoting family values creates a buzz
The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports is behind television commercials such as Filial Piety(above), Family and Funeral, which it uses to promote family values. -- PHOTOS: MCYS
Madam Sally Chan was watching television one night when a short film about a patient son caring for his difficult but sick mother came on.
By the end of the three-minute clip, she was in tears. It reminded her of her relationship with her mother who brought her up single-handedly, but was sometimes testy in her old age. 'If she were still around, I would have liked to make amends for the times I lost my patience. But it's too late now,' said the 63-year-old housewife, whose mother died last year.
For the rest in more fortunate circumstance, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is hoping this new soft sell will work.
It is the ministry and the National Family Council's latest campaign to promote family values, and this year's $1.6 million advertisement budget goes to filial piety.
Produced by advertising giant Leo Burnett, the soft-focus narrative, done to the stirring strains of an emotive cello- and piano-led soundtrack, is designed to tug at heartstrings. Hong Kong director Richard Tsui was roped in for the project.
Since its debut two weeks ago, it has managed to bring a red eye to more than a few folk.
Just as the Singapore leadership has hired public relations firms to help polish its image and make it a palatable brand name, its various bureaus have also cottoned on to the effectiveness of soft power.
Whether it is to promote strong family ties, to encourage people to be nice to others or to remind them that smoking kills, television commercials have become an essential public communication tool.
To help spread its road safety message, the Traffic Police first produced a TV commercial in 1990 to complement its anti-drink-driving campaign. It decided to go with a TV ad because, through its research of other countries, it had found that such TV spots were effective in conveying the message.
Since then, it has added more than 15 televised messages on road safety and courtesy to go with its other outreach channels, which include radio broadcasts, print and new media platforms.
Its newest TV commercial will be launched next week together with its Road Safety Outreach and Courtesy Campaign.
The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) has also been a big proponent of TV ads. Over the years, it has consistently pushed out slick works showcasing the nation's military capabilities in the name of inspiring pride and driving recruitment.
TV commercials for national campaigns started as early as the 1960s. The pioneers were those for the national courtesy and productivity campaigns.
But these government ad campaigns have come a long way from those nascent days of didactic commercials big on exhortation with spoof-worthy jingles.
By the 1980s, government departments were already looking to advertising agencies for help. The first was Mindef, which hired J. Walter Thompson in 1984 to help publicise its Total Defence concept.
The agency designed a campaign which included TV, radio and newspaper ads featuring a group of multiracial Singaporeans with the tag line: 'Total Defence... Because a generation's effort can be destroyed in days.'
Mr Anand Vathiyar, who heads boutique creative agency Up BrandBuzz, said government agencies are a lot more enlightened these days and understand that preachy doesn't sell.
He singled out MCYS' 2009 commercial directed by the late Malaysian film-maker Yasmin Ahmad, which featured an Indian woman talking about her Chinese husband's endearingly imperfect qualities, like snoring and farting in bed, at his wake.
The Funeral ad recently received two Gold Lion awards at the 57th International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France for direction and copywriting.
'This commercial probably did a better job telling people our Government is trying to do things differently, more than it actually did for relationships and family.
'It achieved a bigger objective than what its intended message was,' said Mr Vathiyar, who has produced award-winning commercials for the Education Ministry, Singapore Prisons and Singapore Customs, but was not involved in Ms Yasmin's ad.
Ms Yasmin's ad made viewers sit up and showed that even the authorities were willing to stray beyond traditional out-of-bounds markers.
It preached the importance of family by using death, focused on one's imperfections and featured a mixed-race married couple.
Ms Yasmin had previously directed another short film for MCYS, centring on a widowed father's relationship with his teenage daughter.
Dr Srinivas K. Reddy, professor of marketing at Singapore Management University, agrees, calling this trend a welcome change from the usual campaigns that are more prescriptive.
'These are very powerful messages. I don't think anyone would not be moved,' he said about the Filial Piety ad.
'This is ahead of the curve. The Government is sensing the problems that are potentially going to crop up, like caring for the aged, and taking a progressive move to say, let's put this on the plate so people can be aware of it.'
This series of ads which reinforces family values is also something that is unlikely seen in the West, where government TV spots take the form of recruitment ads more often than not, said Dr Reddy.
But ad agencies say working on government projects are no different from corporate jobs.
'Advertising is largely about bringing about change either in consumer purchase habits or perceptions, so in that way there isn't a radically new approach that's called for,' said Mr Farrokh Madon, executive creative director of McCann Erickson Singapore.
The agency is responsible for the new Youth Olympic Games campaign which includes TV, press and outdoor ads and a viral campaign online.
The tack was to make it inspiring, said Mr Madon, whose creative team decided to go with the theme of 'I Can'. The ad has resonated with young people, he said, with many giving it the thumbs-up on the official website and in messages to him on social networking site Facebook.
Even so, Filial Piety has drawn some brickbats from netizens, who belabour the state for spending millions on a campaign to indoctrinate the importance of family.
It also drew debate in The Straits Times' Forum, with at least one reader questioning if the ad promoted the right values. The reader pointed out that the son had disregarded his wife's feelings in a bid to appease his difficult mother.
Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made mention of it last week, saying friction within a family is par for the course.
But how does one actually put a value on a public service message like this, or one warning of the dangers of drugs or drink-driving?
'If an ad can save even one life, then it could well be worth it,' said Dr Reddy.
Jul 4, 2010
Ads with impact
The Traffic Police's TV ad last year gave a light-hearted touch to a heavy subject matter. A man on his way to a night out looks around the house for his car key but has to settle for a cab when he can't find it. Turns out, his responsible pet dog hid it. The ad took home the Viewer's Choice Bronze Award.
Directed by the late Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad, this predecessor to the Funeral ad tells of the relationship between a single father and his teenage daughter. He buys a cheap pair of shoes for her. Its heel comes off after a night of partying and she is upset. The next morning, she sees the shoes back on the rack, heel mended.
Commissioned by the Ministry of Education, this 2009 series of ads features Singaporeans reminiscing about the seemingly annoying quirks of their teachers. But it is also these quirks that have made a difference to the lives of these Singaporeans.