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…

NV Residences

The biggest creative challenge faced when marketing a property development is clearly differentiating it from its nearest competitors. So, imagine how much more challenging it is when your client is in fact competing with itself.

This was the case in point when CDL began selling off a massive land parcel in Pasir Ris in five separate stages. We had barely finished marketing Livia, their first project in the area, when we were tasked with launching its immediate neighbor.

Our concept was inspired by this particular development’s elegantly understated architecture which subtly echoed Miami Modernist Architecture (MiMo) and its well planned communal facilities which included a series linear pools and a boardwalk that had an almost catwalk feel to it.

To our minds, although this project was marketed to HDB upgraders, it imbued an undeniable sense of glamour and sophistication. We felt the best way to portray this would be to showcase the project as a place where residents would feel like movie stars.

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NV Residences Launch DPS

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And so we developed a TV commercial that showcased a family’s glamorous lifestyle in this condominium and a series of print ads that were designed like movie posters.

This movie star concept extended into the brochure we designed with playful elements including a plastic band designed to look like a strip of film and copywriting that played up this celebrity theme.

NV Residences Outdoor-Sales Office

The concept was also extended throughout the showflat and sales gallery design and even on feeder busses from the nearest MRT station.

And then of course, the name. With its elegantly styling – but affordable pricing – this project represented a new standard for upgrader condominiums in Singapore. A New Vogue for living if you will. We shortened this statement down to just two letters and very simple but memorable name: NV Residences.

Citibank SMRT media

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Let’s face it, even at the best of times, banks make for challenging clients.

Putting aside all the legal requirements that the Monetary Authority of Singapore has put in place, you will have countless  hurdles to leap over as your precious concepts work their way through a very complex and unwieldy approval process. By the time every t has been crossed and every i dotted, little if anything is left of your original concept.

Which is why little real bank work ever makes it to a creative person’s portfolio.

This outdoor execution, promoting the use of Citibank Credit Cards throughout the Great Singapore Sale (GSS), is, I think, one of the few exceptions to the above rule.

There were a few things going for it.

1. There was very little time  – 3 weeks – in which to approve and execute it.

2. As a result, approval became the responsibility of just one individual as opposed to the usual countless layers of bureaucracy it would normally have to go through.

3. The concept  – transforming Orchard and Somerset MRT stations into what looked like department stores – was literally sold to the client as a rough sketch (and believe me, because I drew it this was a really rough sketch) at a coffee shop table.

4. This meant that we could refine the concept as we executed it. So instead of having to put all our efforts into a really beautiful initial visual, we could focus on making the final product as good as possible without being distracted by an over finished and thus limited initial concept.

Of course this narrow time frame meant everything was put on an accelerated schedule – photography, digital imaging and final layout. Over the next three weeks nobody slept very much and weekends were completely burned. There was the usual last minute dramas, screaming matches, hysterical tears and panic attacks. And that was just me.

But the result was an outdoor campaign that really broke the mold of the way banks typically advertised.

And it helped earn Citibank their first ever regional bank marketing award.

A typical property pitch – The Panorama

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Open the Straits Times on any Saturday you choose and you’ll be greeted with page after page of property ads.

They pretty much all look the same – a large image of the building with a suspiciously verdant and un-Singapore-like background, a location map that is anything but accurate and a star burst indication that this project is now 60% sold.

Apart from the differences in architecture – which usually aren’t really that different – all these ads are pretty much interchangeable. Swap the logo and the perspective and you’re good to go.

So, obviously these kinds of ads are easy to do, right?

Wrong.

Sure, the final ad might look pretty straightforward but the path you take to get there is long and usually very winding.

Every successful property pitch requires you to come up with a very strong idea. A positioning for the condominium that somehow makes it stand out from all the other projects that are in reality just like it.

Naming the damn thing can be an exercise in increasingly desperate futility. Virtually every name you can think of (and certainly all the good ones) has already been used. And the last thing you should do is tie the name too closely to your creative concept because if the client doesn’t like the name, your concept is screwed too. Then of course there is the “Taxi Driver Test” as in: will your typical taxi driver be able to understand the name? (To be honest, this is one test just about every condominium fails.)

If by some miracle you mange to tick all these boxes, you might actually win the pitch.

Congratulations.

Now watch as the client and their marketing agent change everything.

This proposal for a condominium located on the very edge of the city is a good example of what I do to try and win a property pitch. Although we were unsuccessful in winning this assignment, to my mind we achieved something quite special with our proposal.

The name we came up with – The Panorama – was very strong and reflective of the magnificent views the development offered.

The positioning very cleverly redefined the meaning of a location close to the city as one that actually gave you the most precious gift of all: more time.

The resulting creative executions depicted here in all their lorem ipsum glory were stylish and elegant yet still depicted a luxury lifestyle combined with a strong emotional message.

Even the slogan – A New Dimension in Luxury – was pretty clever (time is a dimension – geddit?), catchy and yet accurate.

I’m particularly happy with the way the mock TV commercial we created for the pitch turned out. Stitched together from many different video sources, backed by a superb read from a true VO professional (thanks David!), I think this would have made an awesome commercial if it had ever been produced.

I was very proud of this work. Alas the client decided they needed something more straightforward so this campaign never saw the light of day.

But that’s advertising.