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Spotlight on Singapore: MSIG, ShopBack, Essence and Rice on important local trends


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

June 4, 2019 | 17 min read

The Drum's 'Spotlight' is a bi-monthly series that take a look at the key trends, influential people, rising stars and important events in interesting Asia Pacific countries. This month, we are starting with Singapore.


MSIG, Rice, Essence and ShopBack weigh in the happenings in Singapore for June.

Singapore, the small city-state in South East Asia, is one of the most important hubs in the APAC region for entertainment, finance, innovation, technology and trade.

This edition, we ask the industry, namely the likes of MSIG, Rice, Essence, Quantcast, Shootsta, Dataxu, Mobvista and ShopBack, what to expect from the vibrant city in the month of June.

What are the current trends in Singapore?

Lee Jun Kiat, country general manager for Singapore at ShopBack

Consumers are increasingly spoilt for choice when it comes to making purchase decisions. This leads to the rise of a hyper-optimization approach that creates customized deals formats to best suit the needs of individual customers. ShopBack, for instance, has become an important marketing channel for many of our platform partners.

By tweaking the marketing mix from content to cashback, ShopBack has been successfully supporting the growth of our merchant partners in a cost-efficient way.

Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer, MSIG Asia

One of the trends that I have noticed is the use of augmented reality (AR) and it seems like government organisations are stepping up the use of this technology to engage the community. For example, we’re seeing AR being used as part of Singapore’s bicentennial events to educate the public about the nation’s history, and also to create interactive, curated walking experiences for the community to appreciate some of the parks and park connectors in Singapore.

James Brasher, managing partner, Rice

What I’ve noticed often coming up in conversation is how people in our industry, especially on the agency side, feel it’s very difficult to strike a balance between work and life. They’re ambitious individuals unafraid of hard work but are also looking for time and energy to do what’s important outside of work. For me and the rest of the Rice team, it is really about striking a sweet spot between ambition and balance.

Everyone approaches work-life balance differently, so it’s important for a company to help each individual achieve that balance. Easier said than done when expectations across the industry are, at times, not aligned with leading a balanced life, but it benefits the business when people have the time and headspace to do what’s important outside of work.

Gary Koay, creative consultant, Shootsta

From a government perspective, it's all about being 'future ready,’ which translates to anything the government can do to help Singapore’s people and businesses ready themselves for a technological future.

There is a massive effort to upskill older workers, empower the disabled to get them into the workforce, build and implement technologies into every single mom and pop mini-market, provide more outlets for the younger generations to learn skills around technology and to encourage the integration of technology into every aspect of their businesses.

If you take the time to look, you'll see a lot of small technology advancements scattered around Singapore. These range from FAQ bots, to tray collections (in some food courts), to automated cleaning machines.

There has also been lots of talk about cryptocurrency, and you can eavesdrop on technology-based conversations just by sitting down anywhere around the city.

Abtin Fanaeian, agency partner for Asia Pacific, Quantcast

Traditionally, brands have used data to activate campaigns, but now we are getting asked by clients to help at the planning stage; they want to better understand their audience first before committing to a marketing direction.

We are also working a lot with agencies to train and upskill their planners, buyers, and clients on the basic principles of programmatic buying. According to a recent World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) poll on programmatic proficiency, a third of respondents said they only had a basic understanding of the space and that they are looking for opportunities to become more knowledgable on the subject.

Externally, advertisers have been focusing more on programmatic brand budgets as they understand it is essential to target the right people at the top of the funnel where, traditionally, it has been all about environments or ad formats. That being said, brand safety is still an area where education is needed to build an advertiser’s trust.

Before I moved to Singapore, everyone would tell me that Asia is behind the U.S. and Europe when it comes to programmatic buying, but the fact is that the Asian market is growing much more quickly.

Advertisers are investing more in marketing infrastructures and data to optimize programmatic activity, while brands are also pressuring agencies to make sure they are getting maximum efficiency for each dollar spent. Agencies are consolidating the number of partners they are working with by running near-constant head-to-head tests across most accounts, thus spotlighting the performance and individual value each vendor adds to the plan.

Unfortunately, there are still many larger brands that focus on softer metrics such as clicks to measure performance. Agencies are working hard to change this mindset, but brands also need to make the necessary internal changes to work towards more meaningful metrics.

Suki Lin, senior business development manager, South East Asia, Mobvista

Marketers are seeking new platforms where consumers are sharing their daily stories. We’ve observed a growth in live-sharing of bite-sized videos, especially among the younger consumers, facilitated by apps such as Instagram. Since Instagram’s launch of its Stories function, the use of Stories has risen sharply in Singapore - the number of brands implementing Stories in their marketing strategies has increased by over 400% in 2018. Unsurprisingly, Instagram Stories is becoming very popular with marketers, due to its effectiveness in engaging users.

The social video model is also a popular choice among marketers today, due to the surge in popularity of using video in content marketing. Platforms such as Tik Tok, a global video community, have seen significant growth in 2019. In Singapore alone, TikTok has recorded more than 1.5 million installations – and was the sixth-most downloaded app here in 2018. On top of that, live video has picked up speed in recent years as viewers relate it to authenticity, especially with its live transmission and spontaneity.

What are some of the best works you have seen in Singapore this month/recently?

James Brasher, managing partner, Rice

Jewel at Changi Airport has certainly got a lot of attention in Singapore and around the world. Like many people who didn’t manage to get preview tickets in April, I’m waiting for the crowds to die down before visiting (mostly to compare the Shake Shack to New York’s!).

Changi Airport Group has done a good job driving awareness of Jewel’s opening and what it offers. The previews were effective in encouraging people, particularly locals, to make plans to visit.

Lee Jun Kiat, country general manager for Singapore at ShopBack

The campaigns from Circles.Life come to mind. Their level of agility and provocation delivers meaningful impact in shaking up the competition for the benefit of all Singaporeans. Huge admiration for companies that share similar values of having the courage to be experimental!

Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer, MSIG Asia

One of the more interesting AR applications that went viral recently was Snapchat’s gender-swapping filter where everyone is posting their best selfies. A conversation starter, this feature has definitely revived the app to encourage those who previously deleted it to download it again, and in attracting new users.

It also achieved the intended effect of driving user engagement and bringing mainstream attention back to the platform. While this is all good fun, it’s still a question of how long users will find the feature novel before they get tired of the app again.

Abtin Fanaeian, agency partner for Asia Pacific, Quantcast

I think Dentsu and Green is the New Black did a great job educating people on the presence of microplastics in food. It was a great way to highlight the disconnect of what we are saying and what we are doing when it comes to plastic pollution.

Plastics was the largest category of waste disposed of in Singapore in 2017 - 763,400 tonnes - according to data from the National Environment Agency (NEA). To put things into perspective, only 6% of the generated waste was recycled.

An analysis of the NEA data by Reuters shows that plastic waste per capita has increased by nearly 20% over the last 15 years.

Athena Bughao, senior media activation director for search and biddable platforms in APAC at Essence

Chatbots which provide services have become available. For example, a chatbot called SARA (short for Social Automated Responsive Assistant) at M Social Singapore allows hotel reservations to be made via Facebook Chat without needing actual human interface.

Other chatbots like Flight Auntie and Bus Uncle, which enable daily conveniences in transport, are technologically-driven and not necessarily monetised, but provide a great service to the Singapore community which can be well-leveraged by companies.

What are some of the key events in Singapore this month and over the year?

Lee Jun Kiat, country general manager for Singapore at ShopBack

It has to be ShopBack’s rendition of the Great Singapore Sale (GSS) that one has to look out for. We are challenging the philosophy of what makes a great Singapore sale, while delivering an online retail experience that encourages locals to enjoy a slice of shopping heaven anytime, anywhere – all from the comfort of their couches. No crowds, no queues, no heat.

James Brasher, managing partner, Rice

Pink Dot Singapore is an impressive annual celebration of diversity and inclusivity. More power to the organisers of Pink Dot for putting the focus of this year’s rally on ending discrimination against LGBTQ individuals. Anything that encourages and supports a more open-minded and inclusive society is taking steps in the right direction.

Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer, MSIG Asia

One sports event that I’m looking forward to is a race that combines technology, engagement and gamification called District race, coming up this October. I became aware of this digitally-led race when I experienced it for myself in Hong Kong last month and am excited to see how AR, sports and gamification are all combined to be brought to life right here at Gardens by the Bay.

Hannah Luai, campaign manager, Dataxu

Industry events like ATS Singapore and The Drum Digital Advertising Awards are always a hit with the Dataxu team. It’s exciting when everyone in adtech and across the media world come together. The after parties are usually the best part – especially if we have also been nominated or won an award at the same event!

The Singapore Bicentennial to celebrate Singapore’s 700-year rich history is not industry-specific but something exciting to look forward to.

Who are the key influential business people in Singapore?

Athena Bughao, senior media activation director for search and biddable platforms in APAC at Essence

The first person on my list is Hari V. Krishnan, the chief executive at PropertyGuru Group.

Given that property is highly valued in Singapore, property technology company PropertyGuru has certainly made its mark as the digital go-to option for real estate in the country. Leading a team of over 1,000 employees across Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, he has proven himself to be influential in the market.

He sits on the board of the Singapore chapter of TiE, an organization focused on fostering entrepreneurship and is an advisor to multiple innovative startups. He also showed support for Asian Women in Leadership by being one of the male champions at this year’s summit.

The second person on my list is Krystal Choo, the chief executive and co-founder of Tickle.

A prominent figure in Singapore, she drives women-led entrepreneurship and encourages female representation in tech and tech-enabled startups via her own app development. Her newest app called Tickle is an experience marketplace - the social experience app allows like-minded people to come together in passion projects and shared experiences.

Lee Jun Kiat, country general manager for Singapore at ShopBack

From an e-commerce perspective, the people leading largest marketplaces in Singapore are my list. They are Pierre Poignant, the chief executive of Lazada, Chris Feng, the chief executive​ of Shopee and Ku Youngbae, the chief executive of Qoo10 Singapore.

Rebecca Ang Lee, chief marketing officer, MSIG Asia

A key influential business partner in Singapore would be Grab, who is not only a digital innovation leader, transportation provider, food delivery service provider, but also a financial services ecosystem.

They have built a very strong foundation and would be considered one of the key influential businesses in Singapore because of their wide network, strong partnerships and ever-growing list of services focused on meeting the needs of their users.

Hannah Luai, campaign manager, Dataxu

I feel Karl Mak and Adrian Ang, the founders of SGAG, are shaping what good content can do for brands and influence others. They developed the company from a local spin-off of 9GAG to expanding in Malaysia and Philippines, and their own YouTube channel.

SGAG has exposed brands to a new marketing tactic – adding humor to their ads.

Brands tend to promote their products with a corporate tone to be more in line with the brand image, however, SGAG manages to use memes and humor to make dry topics such as government initiatives more light-hearted.

In my opinion, this is a breakthrough for the advertising industry - it makes ads more engaging which contributes to a better value exchange with customers (and hopefully limits ad blocking too!).

Gary Koay, creative consultant, Shootsta

In terms of tech, a friend of mine, Alvin Lim of C-Gangs is leading the development of VR integration for events here, among other things. They provide services around next-generation video technologies like 360-video, VR and AR. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a 360-video/VR project two years ago and they built a high production value service to capture and create 360-degree videos.

You need to understand the complexity of the technology to really appreciate what they're creating. They build their own rigs and everything. They’re definitely one to look out for as Singapore doubles down on its tech sector and leverages on cutting-edge businesses.

Another animation company called CRAVE FX is single-handedly raising the bar for animation, motion graphics, and visual effects in Singapore. Ever watched the Singapore Art Gallery projection shows? They did that. The new hologram effect at Resorts World Genting? Yeah, they did that too. On top of state-of-the-art 3D, they also produce top-notch animation for kids shows, TVCs, and the like.

Who are some of the rising stars in Singapore we should look out for?

Lee Jun Kiat, country general manager for Singapore at ShopBack

We are seeing traditional grocer titans making a concerted push into the online space. I’ll keep an eye out for Benjamin Koellmann from Dairy Farm Group and Raphael Zennou from Fairprice On and see what they can do this year for the businesses.

Athena Bughao, senior media activation director for search and biddable platforms in APAC at Essence

The first person on my list is Anna Vanessa Haotanto, who founded The New Savvy, a leading financial, investments and career platform for women. The New Savvy uses engaging and relevant language to help women make smarter decisions, and delivers high-quality content through education, media and conferences.

The second person would be Charmaine Tan, who is a strong senior manager in paid social performance at Essence. She co-leads the social practice for the agency across the APAC region, covering all clients. This includes building social media best practices globally, syncing with counterparts around the world.

She has also enabled key mobile testing initiatives on Facebook that allowed the agency to understand the incrementality of mobile sign-ups in Australia through matched market testing.

Gary Koay, creative consultant, Shootsta

Jonathan Chua is another friend of mine who runs GRVTY Media, the company behind YouTube channels like Millennials of Singapore and Vulcan Post. We’ve known each other for a few years now. The last time I checked, they were getting over 400-500 thousand views per video.

On a personal basis, I know that his Millennials of Singapore channel is getting such traction because he and his team aren't afraid of speaking frankly on subjects normally considered taboo in Singapore.

They’re using their platform to publish and promote awareness of the positive contributions that the cool, young “Millennials of Singapore” have made in mental health, technology, education, and the aging population, among other subjects. His content is sparking conversation around these issues and I think it's working.

If you would like to nominate your country for this series, please get in touch with Shawn Lim.


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