[Interview] Singapore Airlines brand strategy goes back to the basics: Singapore Girl in focus

Of late, there’s been a surge in airlines highlighting their flight attendants, like we saw with airBerlin’s weather girl on TV. And now, the most famous flight attendants of all – the Singapore Girls, are back at the forefront of a renewed Singapore Airlines brand strategy.

In advertisements released this month, there are no A380s. No business class beds. No gourmet food. No lounges. But just the Singapore Girl. I bet some of you would recall that in the late 70s and 80s, this was precisely the brand strategy for Singapore Airlines – something that set it a class apart from the rest. Here’s what the new ad looks like:

Of course, we were more than curious about the latest move, and managed to get an interview with the spokesperson at SIA. And here’s the interview, verbatim.

Interview with Nicholas Ionides, VP, Public Affairs, Singapore Airlines

Q: It’s refreshing to see the Singapore Girl being the center of SIA’s brand. What led to the re-think?
A: The Singapore Girl has always been central to SIA’s branding, and she was never excluded from our ads as we recognize the strong emotional connection our customers have with our brand as a result of her iconic image.

Sure, our ads and campaigns have taken varying forms as they carry different messages over the course of time, but through it all, the Singapore Girl was always present, whether we were promoting our latest products, introducing a new aircraft or launching a new destination.

Q: The focus now seems on the Singapore Girl icon, and the destinations – what about the product?

A: As explained above, our on-going marketing campaigns would naturally take varying forms and carry different messages over the course of time. The focus of each advertising campaign is determined by the message we want to convey during that period of time.

Previously, we have had advertisements featuring our cabin products, which worked well to inform the traveling public about our new innovations. We also had destination advertisements that showcased the many locations to which we operate. Similarly, the latest Singapore Girl campaign aims to reinforce our forte – the world’s best in-flight service.

Q: Previously, SIA’s ads focused on the price and the product – are these out of the picture now? Why?
A: No, we are well aware that price and product are strong factors that influence consumer patterns. By building an ad campaign around the Singapore Girl, we are highlighting what she, and SIA have come to symbolize – our Asian hospitality and world-class service standards, epitomizing the warmth and caring that customers have come to expect of SIA.

By having the Singapore Girl front the latest campaign we hope to remind our customers and the public of these attributes that set SIA apart from others.

Q: How has the SIA brand evolved over the years, and what does this latest re-incarnation signify?
A: SIA first used the Singapore Girl to front our ad campaigns in the 1970s and this continues to today. Despite the progression of time, the essence of the Singapore Girl and what she represents remains timeless. The details and presentation may have varied slightly through the course of time, but we’ve always sought to be contemporary while holding on to our traditional values of service and the warm hospitality that is associated with Singapore Airlines.

The latest campaign is a continuation of our long-standing Singapore Girl ad campaigns, showcasing the Singapore Girl’s Asian hospitality while bringing the romance of travel to life. To present the diversity of the destinations that we serve, we filmed on location in four different locations – San Francisco,  Paris,Jaisalmer in India and Wuzhen in China. The unique character of each location comes across strongly, and each is a fitting iconic backdrop for the Singapore Girl herself.

Q: The advertisement was first released on Youtube, and the video now has over 220,000 views. Why was the decision taken to launch Youtube, given how conservative SIA has been in social media use?
A: We adopt an integrated marketing campaign approach to advertising and digital platforms play a key role in all Singapore Airlines promotional campaigns. Online activities including selected social media channels, where relevant, complement the traditional media channels used to ensure that the advertising message reaches consumers at various touchpoints.

At the same time, we recognize that people are increasingly obtaining information, furthering their interests and sharing their thoughts through new media. As such, new media platforms like YouTube are dynamic mechanisms with which to get the word out.

Q: Four making-of videos were also released on Youtube – what purpose do they serve? Will this be a regular feature of all future advertisements?
A: We have over the years, seen great interest from the general public on how our ads are put together, so we thought what better way to share “behind the scenes” moments than as an introduction to our latest ad campaign?

Platforms like YouTube are borderless in nature, in that you don’t have to be in a fixed geographical location to access an ad, and you don’t have to wait for it to come on at a certain time or day. So those who are interested to find out what we’re doing, can do so very easily, and that allows us to further bridge the gap between consumer and service provider.

Q: Some say that the ads are sexist – what’s your take on that?
A: The iconic Singapore Girl has long been a cornerstone of the Singapore Airlines brand philosophy and world-class service standards, known for her warm Asian hospitality and affable, caring ways. She represents not just the Singapore Airlines flight attendant, but service-focused qualities that our cabin crew – male and female – all possess.

In her distinctive sayong kebaya uniform, the Singapore Girl has become a global marketing icon recognised as one of the airline industry’s as well as Singapore’s most prominent figures. Together with her male counterparts, all our Singapore Airlines cabin crew members are ambassadors for the Airline and Singapore.

Q: What about the SIA Guys? On my SIA flights, male FAs have been the most attentive and friendly!
A: It won’t be a stretch to say that consistency is one of SIA’s key strengths, and a lot of that comes from the fact that customers can expect a certain standard of service and delivery whenever they fly with us. It’s not easy for airlines to be able to replicate such consistent levels of delivery across their entire cabin crew population, but at SIA we’re proud to say that we’re able to so do even with some 7000 crew, more than one third of them male. The fact that the Singapore Girl is a fixture in our ads should not be read as taking anything away from the guys, because they are also key to our success and possess the core value of world class service.

Q: Having set such high brand expectations, what do you think might be a challenge in living up to the brand image?
A: Before you can create a great brand, you have to be able to live up to the service expectations that your customers have.  The advertising of Singapore Airlines serves to remind people about the high levels of service we provide to the customers, but it wouldn’t work if we didn’t live up to those expectations in delivery. We consistently strive to meet the highest standards of customer care and service, to fulfil our promise of being “A Great Way to Fly”.

Q: What’s next for the SIA brand and the SIA Girl?

A: Customer service, product innovation and network connectivity are the key pillars that form the foundation of our competitive offering. We are committed to constantly innovating and improving our product and service offerings to provide our customers with the very best premium air travel experience. As an industry leader, we do not rest on our laurels after the introduction of new products, but move forward by continuing to seek comments and feedback from our customers to improve on our products and services to stay ahead of the game.

Our greatest asset is also our people, and we will continue to invest in our people through training, just like how we will carry on growing our brand equity to ensure that the Singapore Girl – the hallmark of Singapore Airlines’ gracious service and innovative products – remains timeless and relevant in the hearts and minds of our customers.

A sustainable brand differentiation?

As with all new brand strategies, it is debatable whether the differentiation is sustainable or not. I personally believe that the focus on the Singapore Girl is much more sustainable for Singapore Airlines. After all, while they were the first to fly the A380, Emirates now flies more. While SIA had the widest Business Class bed in the world, Turkish Airlines has it now, while Oman Air has the longest. Product differentiation is seldom sustainable.

But I believe no other airline can duplicate a Singapore Girl – it’s difficult to take away her essence. Don’t you think?

Just try imagining a subservient, almost Geisha-like stewardess on an American carrier – yeah, I know it’s difficult.

I rest my case.

What do you think of Singapore Airlines’ latest re-incarnation? Is the re-focus on the Girl a sustainable competitive advantage? Or are they going back in time? Let’s hear your thoughts, over on Twitter (@simpliflying) and in the comments section.

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam

Shashank Nigam is the CEO of SimpliFlying and a globally sought-after consultant, speaker and thought-leader on airline branding and customer engagement strategy. He is also the youngest winner of the Global Brand Leadership Award and has addressed senior aviation executives globally, from Chile to Canada and from Sydney to San Francisco.Shashank's perspectives have found their way into major media outlets, including CNN Travel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bloomberg UTV, Mashable and in leading publications like Airline Business, ATW, Aviation Week, and others.Shashank studied Information Systems Management and Business Management at Singapore Management University and Carnegie Mellon University. Hailing from India, he splits his time between Singapore and Vancouver, among other cities.
Shashank Nigam
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Showing 8 comments
  • zkiraly
    Reply

    I applaud SIA going back to basics, and highlighting its key differentiator, which is unparalleled service. Other Asian airlines also have great service, but something intangible like that is difficult to brand. SWA managed to do it in an indirect way with “bags fly free”, but it's hard. SIA is fortunate to have a ready made brand in the image of the Singapore Girl that happen to accurately reflect the customer service values of the airline. SIA would be a fool not to use this brand to market itself.

  • Khoa Huynh
    Reply

    If only Nicholas would reply so forthrightly and directly to me….

    Anyway, Singapore Airlines has finally done the right thing. After years of neglecting solely-funded TV advertising and being complacent about their brand recall, it's nice to see investment specifically in the Singapore Girl brand once again.

    It will be more interesting to see how this affects the leisure segment. While ex-Singapore the market is still willing to pay a premium for flying SIA (to a certain extent), anecdotal evidence indicates this has been waning of late in many of the outstations. Will the Singapore Girl continue to entice people to pay for a product at the upper end of the market but still essentially in a seat at 32″ pitch ? Or will the leisure traveller be more attracted to an airline advertising a large route network, touchscreen PTVs and A380s ?

    Nevertheless, the Singapore Girl remains a unique differentiator and as long as she is complimented by common sense, innovation and excellent service provided by other parts of the airline, SIA should be OK.

  • Airlinologist
    Reply

    It is not going back to basics, it is going back to true elegance.
    The advertisement underscores the distinguished customer service of Singapore Airlines.

  • Pasqualina Petruccio
    Reply

    Singapore Airlines are focusing on what everyone remembers them for Singapore girls. They after all their brand recognition, an one that has severed them well , even if the girls have not been at the front of their campaign the public always remember the girls, and not for their looks but they way they are treated whether they have flown first class or economy and that is real testament to the way the stewardess undertake their duties.

    Singapore girls they are not subservient, nor 'geisha' like. they are the airline equivalent of a French trained waiter they are proud of what they do, they see their job as a joy, and they reflect that everyday.

    A competitive advantage definitely!

    A

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