Low Crime Doesn’t Mean No Crime

Probably the greatest accolade a copywriter can achieve is to have a slogan they wrote enter the national vocabulary.

Let’s face it: not that many people will remember who won a gold last year at Cannes. But a cool phrase that somehow ends up on everybody’s lips and lasts for decades? A slogan that will in all probability outlast the career of the person who wrote it? Well, I for one will happily take that, thank you very much.

I was fortunate enough to manage just that with my slogan for Singapore’s 1996 National Crime Prevention Campaign.  And while I thought it sounded pretty good when I coined it, even I was amazed about how popular it became. Not that I’m complaining though!

Now, if only I got royalties for it…

(Apologies for the pixelation and low resolution footage. The original file source was a VHS tape. Remember those?)


The Launch of Far East SOHO

When you are tasked to launch an entirely new property brand for Singapore’s largest developer, you need to find the most effective way to stand out in a very crowded market place.

(Just look at the Straits Times on any Saturday to see what I mean.)

In this case, Far East Organization had created a sub-brand called Far East SOHO. Inspired by the warehouse apartments of the uber-fashionable SOHO (South Of HOuston) district of Manhattan, these residences are very stylish, compact high-ceilinged homes in various parts of Singapore that offer buyers the opportunity to create inspiring living spaces where they could work as well as live.

The challenge was that until very recently, SOHO (as far as most Singaporeans were concerned) actually stood for Small Office Home Office – a very commercial and distinctly non-luxurious definition.

So, not only did we have to launch an entirely new property brand, we had to redefine in no uncertain terms the very meaning of SOHO.

Clearly we couldn’t do this by following a traditional conservative property marketing approach.  And, all kudos to the client, they were only too happy to venture into very unexplored territory with us.

So, at a time when other property developers were busy zigging, we zagged.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this TV commercial reinvented the way property brands could be marketed.

We pushed the boundaries on every aspect of this commercial. Carefully crafted visuals, unusual camera angles, unconventional talent casting, a cool sound track that utilised a very indie music sound and feel, and no small amount of edginess resulted in a TVC that grabbed everybody’s attention.

Indeed, everybody involved in the Singapore property scene sat up and took notice. From other developers to marketing agents to the home buying public.

Our print ads were equally striking. Again we adopted an unusual tone and manner for a relatively expensive property. Cool, desaturated imagery and unconventional talent. A high camera angle looking down that emphasised the height of the typical SOHO apartment. And apartment interiors that were carefully dressed up to reflect the individuality of each of our Far East SOHO home owners.

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The brochure we created for Far East SOHO took an equally unconventional turn. We gave it a distinctly rugged, industrial appearance and, instead of the usual perfect binding, we used spiral binding – almost like a note book. For one of the centre pieces, where we showcased the spatial possibilities of double volume living spaces, the centre fold not only folded out, it folded upwards and back across to really bring across the concept of expanding SOHO spaces. Please click on the link below to see the brochure PDF.

SOHO Brochure

Singapore Sports Council Pitch

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If I’ve achieved anything at all over the last 20 years in Singapore, it’s a certain notoriety for being a dab hand at winning government pitches.

The life blood of most local ad agencies (and not a few international ones too), the challenge is always to come up with a concept and slogan that resonates with everyone – but doesn’t lapse into the usual lowest common denominator stuff.

Obviously this is easier to say than do – but I’ve had a fair amount of success ‘doing’.

Low Crime Doesn’t Mean No Crime is the slogan I’ll always be associated with. But I’ve also come up with plenty of other successful ideas for Clean & Green Week, Senior Citizens Week, Quitting Smoking, the Courtesy Campaign (yeah, I know it didn’t work) and many others.

This pitch for the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) is a good case in point. The challenge was to come up with a concept and slogan that would inspire Singaporeans to take up a brand new sport.

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But the fact is, most people are dubious about taking up a brand new sport because, well basically, they don’t want to make a fool of themselves.

(I know how it feels. I still have painful memories of been the very last to be selected for team sports back in secondary school.)

Our idea was simple. There are activities we do every day, without even thinking about it, that translate very easily into sporting activities.

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The well groomed office lady who manages to sprint for the bus in the rain – while wearing precarious high heeled shoes. The busy executive – obviously late for work – who runs up the escalator. The coffee shop uncle who tosses empty drink cans across the room and into the bin with unerring accuracy.

All of these people are demonstrating abilities and skills that could easily be applied to sports like running, track and field and bowling.

And so we developed a series of ads that showcased examples like these.

And our slogan, BE A SPORT, captured perfectly the essence of our communication.

I personally think the work we produced was spot on.

And I’m sure the client would have too – if only our account service had managed to submit it on time…

The Scotts Tower TVC

The Scotts Tower was the very first project launched under the Far East SOHO brand. Targeted to high net worth individuals who desired a luxurious city centre lifestyle with a certain edge to it, this TVC combined traditional elements of luxury with a distinctly urban attitude. You might find it interesting to compare the soundtrack of The Scots Tower TVC with the music that underscores the Far East SOHO commercial.

Citibank TVC: “You. Powered by Citi.”

Picture this.

It’s 8.00 am on a cold Friday morning in Ireland about a week before Christmas. I’m happily snoring away,  enjoying one final lie-in before I have to fly back to Singapore the following day.

The phone rings. It’s my traffic manager.

“Sorry to disturb you but when will you be back in Singapore?”

“Sunday,” I reply, trying to sound more awake than I really am.

“Eh, you can’t come back any sooner?”

“Um, no. Do you know how far away Ireland is from Singapore? My return flight’s not until tomorrow.”

Heng.* Never mind. We’ll figure something else out.”

Less than 10 minutes later I get a text message from my art director partner.: “I’m really sorry to disturb you but…”

And that’s how I began working on Citibank Singapore’s first TV commercial in 7 years.

I spent the rest of the day trying to find an internet cafe (my dear mother has many wonderful qualities but being connected to the world wide web is not one of them) and then brainstorm via email with my partner. As you can imagine, my (far) better half was not particularly thrilled with this rude interruption to our last day in Ireland.

I managed to knock out 4 scripts on the flight back to Singapore which arrived about 4pm on Sunday. I went home, showered and was in the office by 5 pm. By 1.00 am Monday, the storyboards were ready and we actually had a script (sort of) approved by 11 am.

Oh well. At least I didn’t have time to suffer from jet lag.

* “Heng” is a Hokkien phrase meaning ‘fortunate’ – as in I was fortunate to be far enough away that I couldn’t be dragged into whatever drama was happening back in the office. Of course in the end I wasn’t really that fortunate.