Free is the way to engage in Singapore marketing

FreeFree is the magic word in Singapore for any marketing campaign. If you use it you can promote anything.

I love Raffles Place in Singapore’s CBD as it’s always a hive of marketing activity. There are always a plethora of brands trying to capture the attention of busy business executives who are dashing around. You soon learn that “free” is the only message that truly works to achieve this objective.

Nespresso had a marketing booth there recently for an entire week and there were queues dozens deep all day long. The reason? Free coffee. This is the ultimate freebie in Singapore where they queue for local coffee far more than they queue for Starbucks.

What was contradictory about the free Nespresso promotion was that it was taking 20-30 minutes according to the Nespresso team on the stand for people to get there free coffee. Work that out. Is 30 minutes of your time worth more than a small free cup of coffee? Highly unlikely. So why queue for it?

Status, one-up-man-ship, kiasu as the locals call it. The fear of missing out. The ability to post it on your facebook page and say you got a freebie, any freebie, is more important than the 30 minutes (not including travelling time to and from the booth) of your time.

Starbucks have been using this trick for many years in Singapore. If you ever see a queue outside of Starbucks at 3.30pm and people coming out with bags of Frappuccino’s it’s because they’re running a buy one get one free promotion. Not only is this sugar and caffeine overload but the time it takes for the poor staff to create all these drinks and deal with the queue can be 20-30 minutes. Is your time worth less than a free Frappuccino?

Shouldn’t you be at work during that time? Fine if your work is based from a Starbucks but most of the people I see taking up these promotions are going straight back to their offices. That’s almost like a second lunch break.

Krispy Kreme recently opened their first store in Singapore. Such was the excitement at being the first to get their hands on kkdoughnuts (which of course no company in Singapore previously sold….oh wait they did…everywhere) that people queued overnight. Yes that’s right people queued overnight to get some free doughnuts.

Not only did they queue overnight (which in anyone’s time and energy is worth more than some doughtnuts) but these lucky people didn’t actually get to pick the doughnuts being given away. So people could queue overnight and end up with a dozen doughnuts that they couldn’t eat because they didn’t like the flavours.

However the status/kiasu in the queuers kicked in. It didn’t matter. It only mattered if they could facebook it and take the doughnuts back to their friends/office and show that they were first and they got free doughnuts.

The fact that most people being told this would think what an idiot is almost neither here nor there in the thinking of the people queuing.

I even saw OCBC have a stand in Raffles Place and they were offering ‘Free Ice Cream’ as long as you talked to them about their new bank account. Of course this led to a stream of people queuing for the free ice cream without any notion of taking up the bank account. What is the connection between free ice cream and a bank account? None.

I saw the same thing happen in Vivo City with Ted Baker. They were offering free candy floss which caused a massive queue of people but only for the free candyfloss. Rather than at least having the free candyfloss stall inside the outlet so that at least people would have to walk through the shop past the merchandise to reach the freebies they bizarrely stationed it outside the shop. This led to people queuing for the free candyfloss and then disappearing into the mall to enjoy it. Zero benefit to Ted Baker.

What exactly is the brand benefit to Ted Baker of this cheap trick? None.

image (2)Of course the masters of free are McDonalds in Singapore. The free Hello Kitty toys have been well documented as causing riots and mayhem to both on and off line operations but recently this moved into a whole different ball game.

During the World Cup when cycling past a McDonalds near the SportsHub at 6am, I noticed that this McDonalds was absolutely packed. Standing room only. Usually this McDonalds is empty at 6am. Singaporeans are not known for getting out of bed early so this was a double surprise. What was the reason for this life changing behaviour?

Free World Cup coverage. Yep if you can stand the smell and taste of fast food for two hours you too can get free World Cup screening. That magic word again, free. It achieves everything in Singapore.

  • Rahm

    So the most expensive city in the world is full of cheapskates and the only way to engage folks there is to induce a false sense of FOMO and social media envy…is what you are saying?

  • RachelBull

    Great post, Chris. I see it in London too when people queue their entire lunch break just to get a free half cup of coffee. It’s free, so it’s got to be good, right? I think marketers could do worse than appeal to our ever-intensifying sense of FOMO – if nothing else it shines an interesting light on our behavioural economics!

  • Miss VB

    A very interesting post, especially your mention of Tad Baker’s freebie fail. I noticed something similar in London just last week when Flora were handing out free tubs of butter on the hottest day of the year
    Free samples: the very good and the very bad

  • Hiren Joshi

    It is very Interesting. I also noticed something similar in London just last week when Flora were handing out free tubs of butter on the hottest day of the year

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