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Brand Strategy Marketing

McCann study helps marketers get under the skin of Singaporean consumers

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

June 21, 2024 | 9 min read

The Drum dives into a new study from McCann Worldgroup Southeast Asia that unveils the truth about Singapore and its evolution from a small market to a uniquely positioned critical regional hub.

Marina Bay Sands luxury hotel in Singapore

Singapore / Adobe Stock

Of all the Asian markets, Singapore is possibly unique. Despite being a tiny market the country is disproportionately large in its importance to the entire Asian business ecosystem. It serves as the hub for many multinationals looking to establish themselves in Asia and is the epicenter of much business for the region.

The country, a melting pot of many nationalities, enjoys a strong currency and high levels of safety and security for the residents. And yet, very little is known about what makes the local Singaporeans tick and what really matters to them.

Findings of a recent McCann Worldgroup study have unveiled some very interesting consumer truths about the Singaporean market.

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For instance, in a digitally advanced market, one in two Singaporeans expressed a willingness to build relationships with robots, while 81% of Singaporeans believe those not learning about AI will be left behind.

On the other end of the spectrum, a whopping 84% of Singaporeans showed concerns about the country’s aging population, which is a high number when compared to a global figure of 54%.

The Truth About Singapore deep dive was done by Truth Central, McCann Worldgroup’s consumer insights division and the findings were drawn from over 243,579 unique data points across a survey of 2,035 Singaporeans, spanning the complete demographic mix.

The Drum spoke to two of the key people behind this study, Charlie Lowe, chief strategy officer, and Valerie Madon, chief creative officer at McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific, to get their unique perspectives. Lowe is from Australia and Madon is a local Singaporean. Both Lowe and Madon believe the key findings can help brands and marketers understand the Singaporean consumer better.

Lowe says: “As an agency, McCann Worldgroup has operated in Singapore for almost 50 years, so we see ourselves as well-placed and a part of its fabric.”

Understanding Singaporean consumers

“Given that Singapore is such a small consumer market, it often doesn’t receive as much attention in the form of research and data as some of the larger markets in the region do,” suggests Lowe.

“We realized that the available data tells a fascinating story about the lives of Singaporeans, a story worth telling and one that people would be interested in hearing,” he adds.

Key lessons for marketers

Ageism is stark: “It’s quite shocking that 50% of people believe that society would be better if no one was allowed to get older than 70 years of age”, says Lowe. “Given how important family is to Singaporeans, and that it’s the number one thing that defines their identity, it is outrageous,” he adds.

Balancing work and life: “Given that Singapore has always been a meritocratic society with a considerable focus on schooling and careers, it’s nice to see that Singaporeans are placing greater emphasis on the importance of a balanced life and ensuring work does not consume them.

“73% of people want a job or work that lets them live the life they want outside of work, versus the belief that what they do for a living is critical to who they are and their life. This shocked me in a good way,” Lowe says.

No child’s play: “The power of the cost of living issue and the desire to maintain their independence is possibly more powerful than their sense of civic duty for the average Singaporean,” says Lowe. “The pain of the cost of living crisis is real, to the extent that it’s influencing people’s decision not to have children,” he adds.

76% of Singaporeans firmly believe that everyone bears the responsibility of having children. “Given Singapore’s birth rate is at a historic low of 0.97 and has been on a decline for years, it was surprising to hear that people still feel it’s their responsibility to have children,” says Lowe.

Despite the family being central to the Singaporean societal fabric and individual identity, the daunting responsibilities and the accompanying financial and emotional burdens of caring for both children and elderly parents have hindered many Singaporeans’ aspirations to start their own families.

“Brands should be conscious and empathetic, looking for ways to ease Singaporeans’ financial pressures and offer moments of joy through value-added initiatives,” Lowe adds.

Madon on what makes Singapore different and special

Valerie Madon, a celebrated marketer and ad woman, is a Singapore native. She has worked across the marketing ecosystem with companies like Meta, VML, Havas and Publicis over the years.

As a true-blue Singaporean who has never lived overseas, Madon is not surprised by most of the study’s findings, because, as she says: “I live them every day.” However, the real surprise for her is the truth about people feeling an emotional vacuum and seeking a sense of purpose in their daily lives and jobs, she says.

“This is interesting because I have generally observed that much of career progress is often linked to financial and material gain to ‘survive’ in a country that’s perceived to be expensive,” she says.

“Even our parents and grandparents, who may have worked for a long period with their employers are driven by a certain sense of loyalty towards their employer and place, but never about how they can be contributing to a bigger cause.”

Singaporeans have a lot of pride in doing their roles well, but they will never consider making an impact beyond their role in the organization and feeling a sense of purpose at work, she adds.

The role of the job is simply to bring home the bacon, in Madon’s view. Especially during the Covid WFH period. “We’ve experienced how relationships at work can be dangerously transactional and usually these do not last long because of the lack of emotional fulfillment,” she adds.

“It’s good to see that many people are now more driven by a sense of purpose and how they can make an impact on society, the world or even a more meaningful role in their organization, and it’s a truth that should be leveraged for the brands we work for.”

What makes Singapore consumers so unique?

“Many often forget that Singapore is a very young country, less than 60 years old,” reminds Madon. “Most countries develop an identity over centuries, so I liken us to being in our ‘teenage’ phase, still shaping into who we are. It is also difficult to spot a clear style of creativity because we are truly a melting pot of many races, unlike other countries that may have a dominant culture.”

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Madon concludes that there are certainly signs of what the world has come to know and love the small but influential country for.

“Whether it is due to the academic system, the values passed down from parents, or strict rules and regulations, it’s clear that we are creative in a considered manner. It is a balance of heart and mind. We are not a Van Gogh, but more like a Leonardo Da Vinci,” says Madon. “Many would identify Singapore as being innovative, which is a dimension of creativity. There is often pragmatism baked into our output, hence our ‘crazy’ will always still have a purpose.”

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