Icons of lost appeal

May 21, 2013

SINGAPORE – In the 1980s, when IT professional Shirley Sim was in primary school, mascots were a big deal – they taught you how to save money, and to be caring and polite.

Among them were the courteous Singa The Lion, the charitable Sharity Elephant and the thrifty Smiley Squirrel who encouraged children to save. Ms Sim, who is now in her mid-30s, still recalls drawing her own version of Singa The Lion – with a pointy chin – during art classes. She also took Smiley Squirrel’s advice and opened her first bank savings account when she was in primary school.

She says: “They are very nostalgic for me and a big part of my childhood. A lot of mascots were introduced in the 1980s and I still remember them.”

Branding expert Sharon Ng, 39, an associate professor of marketing in Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School, says that mascots are a good tool for creating emotional connections.

She adds: “There are lot of companies out there competing for attention and mascots break through the clutter and allow brands to connect to their target market.”

But while these local mascots were effective in their heyday, have they lost their appeal today?

Earlier this week, Singa The Lion, which represents the Singapore Kindness Movement, posted his resignation letter online, saying that he was tired of dealing with an increasingly angry and disagreeable society. The move on Wednesday prompted an outcry from netizens here. Reactions ranged from sadness at his departure to accusations that the mascot was pulling a guilt trip on Singaporeans.

The following day, The Straits Times reported that the faux resignation is part of a campaign to examine the relevance of the mascot.

Ms Celine Tan, 33, a teacher, was surprised to learn that Singa The Lion was still active. She says: “Frankly, I thought he had already retired. He was from my era, so when I see images of him, I think to myself, ‘so vintage, so retro’.”

Loss of relevance is one of the main reasons for a company or brand to retire its mascot, says Ms Lynette Lim, a lecturer in Temasek Polytechnic’s School Of Business.

She adds: “This could be due to changing lifestyles and other factors such as social media. In my opinion, Singa had more success in the courtesy campaign than the Singapore Kindness Movement. This could be due to the movement coming after many years of campaign which could have contributed to fatigue.”

Singa was the mascot of the National Courtesy Campaign from 1982 and was adopted as the Singapore Kindness Movement’s official mascot in 2001.

Other local mascots have come and gone over the years. There was also Teamy The Productivity Bee, launched in 1982 by the former National Productivity Board (now Spring Singapore), which was active until 1999.

Teamy’s mission was to urge Singaporeans to raise productivity in the workplace. But with increasing competition from the global market in the 1990s, it retired to make way for a new icon – a stylised “i” that represented innovation.

Singa The Lion is an iconic character, but compared to Teamy and other mascots such as POSB’s Smiley The Squirrel, the lion does not have a strong enough association with its kindness message, says Ms Ang Swee Hoon, 51, associate professor in marketing at the National University of Singapore’s Business School.

She says: “People can associate bees with being industrious. Or a squirrel with being thrifty and saving food for winter. There needs to be a tighter connection. What does a lion have to do with kindness?”

By Cheryl Faith Wee

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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