On top of being known as “The Fine City” for being so strict with penalty enforcement, Singapore also has a reputation for having loads of government campaigns – preaching everything from being kind to one another and speaking good English to the age-old national duty of boosting the birth rate.
Whether it’s iconic Singapore mascots or SAF ads which are so moving that we feel inclined to sign on, we’ve got to admit that the government is capable of some pretty stellar marketing moves. On the flip side, here’s a look at some government campaigns that are so wacky, you’d question how they were even green-lighted.
1. Singapore Police Force: Rhymes, puns & imprisonment “price tags”
Image credit: AWARE
In a series of outdoor ads to combat crimes such as outrage of modesty, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) used visuals of price tags slapped onto the perpetrator. Coupled with the slogan, “It is not worth it”, the public expressed that the ads almost positioned the crime as something one would consider based on the resulting sentence.
Additionally, attaching a price tag and figure to the act made it seem like the crime itself – and in turn, women’s bodies – was something for people to purchase or trade in exchange for time incarcerated. This drew backlash from non-profit gender equality organisation, AWARE, for focusing more on the punishment than the harm suffered by molestation victims.
Image adapted from: Singapore Police Force, National Crime Prevention Council
In a similar snafu, a SPF campaign with rhyming slogans and puns like “If you molest, we will arrest” and “Don’t get rubbed the wrong way” drew the ire of netizens for being distasteful and making light of the crime.
2. I Love Children: Sperm & egg imagery on MRT stations & trains
Image credit: Behance
MRT ads are a great way to capture the attention of the masses, and the way that brands deck out entire trains and stations can often be a refreshing experience for commuters. Well, the fertility campaign by I Love Children was eye-opening, to say the least. And yes, that’s the actual name of the government body.
Image credit: Behance
A social service agency dedicated to boosting Singapore’s birth rate, I Love Children’s outdoor ad activation involved plastering MRT stations and trains with visuals of sperm and eggs.
On top of the in-your-face visuals, some of their slogans like “Fertility is a gift with an expiry date” drew backlash for making the female reproductive system seem like a commodity, and for using time as a fear-mongering consequence.
3. Media Development Authority: Senior Management Rap MV
Before IMDA became IMDA, they were known as MDA – the Media Development Authority. Under Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information, you’d think that a media statutory board of all institutions would have a firm grasp of what works in the media and marketing landscape and what doesn’t.
Then this ironic music video released in 2007, resulting in notoriety years before “going viral” was a mainstream occurrence. It featured stiff rap performances and Dr Seuss-esque rhyming schemes courtesy of MDA’s senior management staff, making its rounds on the internet and receiving heavy ridicule. Some even wondered if it was done as a parody.
4. Singapore Tourism Board: “Honey, look!”
This relic of an ad by Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is still referenced as an obscure meme to this day. It shows a foreign couple exploring Singapore’s top tourist attractions, where the key highlight is the woman exclaiming, “Honey, look!”, accompanied by an enthusiastic pointing gesture.
The cringe factor was so meme-worthy that it resulted in a parody by 987FM DJs, garnering almost 300k views to date. To make matters worse, the ad’s storyline culminated in the ultimate “Honey, look!” reveal: a positive pregnancy test in a box. Lots of ridicule ensued, with a barrage of comments about “gifting a wet pee stick in a velvet box” and the like.
Alas, the original video was deleted from the official STB YouTube channel.
5. National Council on Problem Gambling: World Cup 2014
Image credit: National Council on Problem Gambling
Call it bad timing or an ill-informed marketing team, but a series of web and outdoor ads by the National Council on Problem Gambling is now cemented in infamy. The anti-gambling ad was supposed to be a sombre depiction of a child sharing that his father bet all his savings on Germany in the 2014 World Cup.
As fate would have it, Germany ended up winning the finals that year, which would mean that this little boy’s dad actually made a killing. So instead of receiving the campaign’s message of problem gambling hurting those around you, people joked that they wished they were the dad in this scenario.
Bonus: Mentos National Night music video to boost birth rate
While it’s not technically a government-backed campaign, this was released during the National Day period and promotes the same message the government seems to always harp on: boosting our birth rate. We couldn’t pass up on featuring one of the most ludicrous local campaigns ever – the Mentos “National Night” music video.
It features cheeky, hyper local references like “Tap you all night like an EZ-Link card” and “Let’s get that baby bonus”. The aim was to boost Singapore’s dwindling rates of reproduction – which Mentos identified as particularly low during the night of August 9th. The pièce de résistance? A tagline encouraging folks to “Let their patriotism explode“.
Questionable government campaigns in Singapore
Whether it’s insensitivity which leads to backlash or just plain ol’ cringiness, these government campaigns in Singapore serve as a reminder that even with the purest of intentions, delivery is everything.
While causes like battling problem gambling and cultivating a sense of love and wonder for our Little Red Dot are nobel to say the least, the execution fell pretty flat and made these ad campaigns extra memorable for the wrong reasons.
Check out some local campaigns which ticked all the boxes:
- LGBT ad campaigns in Singapore
- National Day campaigns in Singapore
- Local brands with the best TikTok accounts
- Local brands with the best Instagram accounts
Cover image credit: National Council on Problem Gambling, Behance