Why Singapore Airlines Isn’t Featured In “Crazy Rich Asians”

Filed Under: Media, Singapore

Last week I finally had the chance to see “Crazy Rich Asians,” which has been an incredibly popular movie. It has been the top movie in US theaters for the past three weeks. The movie has already grossed over $100 million in North America.

When I wrote about having seen the movie a few days ago, I mentioned how this movie was such an amazing ad for Singapore. Perhaps the biggest takeaway many people had from the movie was a desire to visit the country.

Some people may be disappointed when they actually visit, though at the same time the movie does show off some “real” parts of Singapore — the incredible Changi Airport, hawker stalls, Gardens by the Bay, Marina Bay Sands, and more.

In my previous post about the movie, I wrote the following:

One thing that surprised me is that they didn’t use Singapore Airlines branding for their plane scenes. I’m not sure if they just couldn’t get permission, or if Singapore Airlines wasn’t willing to pay, or what.

They fly an A380 from New York to Singapore with incredible first class suites nonstop, though the airline is called “Pacific Asean Airlines.” Given Singapore Airlines’ incredible first class suites, you’d think they would have just used the “real” airline.

As it turns out, there is an interesting backstory as to why Singapore Airlines wasn’t used, in spite of the fact that the book that the movie was based on specifically references Singapore Airlines.

The Wrap has the backstory about how very few people had faith in the movie, so in many ways they were going at it all alone. According to the story:

The world of “Crazy Rich” is nothing if not jet-setting, which gave an easy layup for product placement in the form of a major airline (deals like these happen all the time in studio films, like a recent Turkish Airlines partnership on “Batman v. Superman”).

But no one bit, producers Jacobson and Simpson said, specifically a natural partner in Singapore Airlines.

“We were shocked,” admitted Jacobson, whose Color Force Productions partner Simpson was equally gobsmacked.

“It was going to be an ad for Singapore Airlines!” Simpson said. “But they were not sure the movie would represent the airline and their customer in a good light. People want what Richard Curtis’ movies (“Love, Actually,” “Notting Hill”) do for England — they make you want to visit the country.”

Chu said, “People didn’t have faith in this movie. They didn’t know what this movie was. It seems obvious now, but when we were making it, everyone thought it was a little movie and they were very suspicious about what we were trying to do.”

In retrospect I can’t imagine the degree to which Singapore Airlines is kicking themselves for not having taken this product placement. The airplane scenes would have been an amazing advertisement, so what a loss that it’s an ad for an imaginary airline — Pacific Asean Airlines.

They could have just as easily showcased Singapore Airlines’ incredible double bed in the sky and the iconic “Singapore girls,” but clearly the airline didn’t have faith in the movie.

Bottom line

In business, no company is going to have the right instinct regarding something 100% of the time. So companies will take on something that they may end up regretting, while they may regret not taking on other things.

This was such a huge missed opportunity for Singapore Airlines. Large airlines spend million of dollars on advertising, and being featured in this movie is something that had the potential to be more successful than any other ads they could possibly run.

Are you surprised no airline took the opportunity to be featured in “Crazy Rich Asians?”

(Tip of the hat to Curtis)

  1. I thought I read there is an outstanding arrest warrant for Kevin Kwan…the author of the book. Apparently he skipped out on military service so maybe Singapore Airlines may have questioned the whole project if they knew about it.

  2. Not surprising given Singapore Airlines ultra-conservative -and some may say insular- decision making in the upper levels of management. Massive missed opportunity. Sad!

  3. @markj – that is true, but Singapore Tourism Board was fully behind this movie so I can’t imagine that is the reason Singapore Airlines didn’t jump onboard if a government agency was positive about the movie.

  4. It’s as if the Park Hyatt Tokyo said no to Lost in Translation. Though this movie is far from that I think…

  5. Typical backside-covering corporate conservatism. Their loss. All they had to do was read a copy of the script under NDA, and they could have seen how the airline would’ve been used in the movie. Of course, Singapore Airlines and many other airlines will benefit significantly because now Americans are going to want to visit Singapore.

    Funny how so many ignorant Americans (the majority of whom don’t even have a passport) have to see a place on TV or in the movies before they will visit anything outside of Canada, the Caribbean and Europe! They want to visit New Zealand because of “Lord of the Rings”, Thailand because of “The Beach”, Croatia because of “Game of Thrones”, Dubai because of “Mission Impossible”, etc. There are so many places in the world which will not be seen in American movies which are still worth visiting, believe it or not!

    And of course, if you mention Turkey to many American, they’ll say they want to go because of “Midnight Express”, and they won’t want to go to Kazakhstan because of “Borat”.

  6. I am not sure SQ needs the extra publicity anyways. And I am not sure how popular the movie will be in Asia and Europe to begin with.

  7. @ Airways and Travels — They don’t “need” the extra publicity? The company pays millions of dollars for all kinds of print ads. Do they “need” those, but not these? The airline spends a ton of money to uphold their reputation as one of the best airlines in the world, and this would have no doubt contributed to that. And Singapore Airlines is a huge airline in the US, with flights to JFK, LAX, SFO, IAH, and soon EWR. They spend a lot of money on ads in the US.

  8. Second article about the same subject. Singapore is an extremely conservative top down ruled country. The movie didn’t fit the agenda. Simple as that. Who cares.

  9. Every time I see the phrase “Singapore girls” I cringe. It’s sexist AF and I hope that in the future that phrase will be long forgotten and never used. I’d rather fly United where at least my flight attendants aren’t expected to be sex objects.

  10. Are you sure about the nonstop A380 nonstop from Singapore to New York? I thought it stopped in Frankfurt.

  11. Lucky, as an advertising executive I can tell you there’s a world of difference between brand comms that you control and direct yourself and then product placement. Your dismissive tone is not warranted here.

  12. This is similar to the Sex in the City 2 film several years ago when Carrie and her friends went to Abu Dhabi. I was surprised Etihad nor Emirates wanted to be part of that film as it would have been a great way to advertise the airline to the North American market (and perhaps the world.)
    As for SQ, I agree this was a missed opportunity for them. Kudos to the design team of the movie for recreating a First class cabin! I read another article that they based those first class seats from high-end massage chairs!

  13. It’s really hard to blame SQ. Hindsight is always 20/20. What if the movie turned out bad or associated with some improper, controversial matters? Then they would have regretted participating in the movie.

  14. I’m thrilled. I don’t want all the award space to evaporate 😉

    On the other hand, I can understand Singapore Airline’s reluctance. Many of my Asian friends were uncomfortable about the premise of this movie, worrying it would trap their culture in a frivolous light. There is a difference between understated luxury (SQ) and ostentatious idiocy (women who have everything fighting over clothes they don’t need on a private island resort, as portrayed in the move and book.)

    BTW – I’m home sick this weekend, and am on the third book of the trilogy. If you want to read about over-the-top materialism you’ve never imagined anyone could imagine, you’re in for a fun, gossipy treat.

  15. Last note: if you think my Asian friends were being paranoid about worrying that people would read this book and/or see this movie, and all be painted all with the same unflattering brush dipped in stereotypes, consider what you think of when you see or hear the words, “Jersey Shore.”

  16. I think that airlines tend to stay away from this kind of product placement. I can’t remember the last time i saw Lufthansa or AA featured in a major movie or TV series. My only memory of TWA is kidnapping and crashes from movies.

    SQ must have had some very good reasons not wanting to be involved in this and i doubt they’ll be in the sequel either.

  17. @Sam have you seen Up in the Air? That movie seems practically paid for by AA there is so much product placement and AA discussion in it.

  18. A lot of you are completely missing the potential for outcry here. You can’t at the same time buy into outrage culture and SJWism while not acknowledging this movie could’ve sparked a lot of negative publicity about omg racism, sexism, cultural appropriation and so on.

    Or is it only when it works in your favor that such things exist? The only actual bigotry here is seeing everything through California-tinted glasses.

  19. @ Joey But that film didn’t do as well as Crazy Rich Asians. So maybe it was for the best? ‍♀️

    I’m surprised that no airline wanted to be featured in this movie. Especially Singapore Airlines. They totally must be kicking themselves right now.

    Thank God there is a sequel! Maybe time to right some wrongs?

  20. @markj
    You mean how Kevin left Singapore at the age of 10 and didn’t go back?

    Stop passing on stupid useless gossip.

  21. The depiction of the airline’s coach class in the penultimate scene wasn’t very flattering to the airline at all. It’s not entirely surprising Singapore Airlines wouldn’t want the movie to end on that note without giving the director a bunch of mandatory script changes. I loved the interview Brian did with the production designer and how the First Class seats were actually just massage chairs they bought at a store.

  22. It reminds me of when the movie ET was made and Spielberg asked if M&Ms wanted to be the candy ET would eat… and M&Ms said no way. So Spielberg went with the unknown candy Reese’s Pieces instead. It launched Reeses Pieces into a full blown competitor and to this day M&Ms acknowledges how stupid they were.

  23. @Ray you have got to be kidding! HA! That’s the best laugh I’ve had today, maybe USA flight attendants should just try service. When was the last time a US carrier was in the global top 10?
    @Julia the comment from @Dan Rainin is true, americans went to Australia because of Oprah and Ellen that’s why the tourism office engaged their shows.
    @Sam sounds like you are not aware of marketing strategies

  24. @Dan Nainan thanks for showing us all what a racist idiot you are, spewing out tired stereotypes about Americans. The fact that people pay you to get on a stage and speak is proof that there are stupid morons all over the world, not just in the USA.

  25. @William Y – I really enjoy how you comment on Lucky’s “dismissive tone,” given the tone of your own posts. Also, I don’t see how there could be much product risk here. It’s not like the Singapore Tourism Board would put its seal of approval on a potentially problematic movie, and contacts can easily be written to allow the brand out if it doesn’t like something. Lucky and everyone else is right, this was an obvious opportunity missed.

  26. It would have been perfect publicty timing for the relaunch of the nonstop to New York beginning October 11. SQ is really the only airline it would work for. United flies nonstop from SFO and no first class configuration (actually SQ will only fly Business and Premium Economy). Also no lounge that I am aware of. Emirates might have worked, but they would probably be even less likely to want to do it and not a nonstop. In fact, the plane’s lounge in the movie looked like an Emirates copy. Look forward to flying the new nonstop. I flew it when it used an A340. Flew it to New York on my birthday and they brought me a small cake which I shared with those around me. My birthday lasted 36 hours given the time difference. Looking forward to the A350.

    @Lucky. Thank you for the backstory. I was wondering why it was not in the movie, especially as Singapore tourism office was involved.

  27. @Brian Kusler that’s a good point about the economy scene… I wonder if that was a factor.

    @Ray you’re outraged by a traditional name that the people who are called it embrace? If they like it and are proud of it, who are you to say otherwise? Being called a girl isn’t a negative thing and many of them work extremely hard to look the way they do because they want people to like how they look. Or is that possibility too complex and outside of your agenda? Not everything requires outrage, bitchboy.

  28. Did you notice that Nick and Rachel were met at the curb by an airline rep at JFK by name? That is not available at JFK. Also, they arrived at Changi on the departure level, right in the center of T3 and then exited door 5.

    Whether the film was bound to be a hit or a flop, Singapore, the country, was guaranteed publicity. That, in turn, wiouod generate more demand for travel so SQ may have been content with that upside alone. Marketers refer to this as the “halo effect.”

  29. To all of you hens pecking at me.. Yes, thank you for pointing out Up In The Air. I can hardly remember that movie.

    Tom Hanks did ‘Terminal’. Was a major airline featured in that film?

  30. Sam, also in XXX, you see Lufthansa’s 747 when he flies from Cali to Prague ( which obviously it’s misguiding since he would have to connect in FRA or MUC).

  31. @Lucky — Any word on how much the movie producers were asking SQ to pay to be featured? Product placement is not free. Just curious because the price may provide some context as to whether this was worth it or not for SQ.

  32. Mindef didn’t announce that Kevin Kwan (the author) was wanted for not doing his national service after leaving Singapore at the age of 11 until a couple weeks ago, so doubtful that cause SQ to be skittish about being in the movie. TBH, when you look at the name of the movie and the book, it seems kinda offensive and racist at first. It’s not until you read/watch it that you realize it’s not.

    To many people this was a popular movie because it is funny, beautiful, and sweet, but it touches a lot of cultural points and has many more layers of deeper meaning for us Asian-Americans. Tons of fun easter eggs in the details too if you read about the background and making of the movie.

    I am so glad that so many people love it though, especially fellow frequent travelers!! Make sure you all read the mahjong explainer to fully understand the end of the movie! http://blog.angryasianman.com/2018/08/what-was-really-happening-in-crazy-rich.html

    Read more about the cultural nuances:

  33. Malaysian…. that is who I am and very proud of it!! What more now with the Crazy Rich Asians movie…. ah… so many things Malaysian in that movie….. and it became a BIG part of the Hollywood film! Malaysian -British Henry Golding, Malaysian Michelle Yeoh, Malaysian Carmen Soo, Malaysian Calvin Wong (Peik Lin’s awkward brother) and Malaysia-born Ronny Chieng, Co-writer Malaysian Adele Lim & Singer for the soundtrack “Money” Malaysian Cheryl K. Malaysian fashion designer for some of the outlandish outfits. Malaysian jeweler and so many locations shot in Malaysia!!


  34. For the record – I haven’t watched the movie although did read the book (and found it nothing special, just some light mildly amusing beach read).
    I actually appreciate that Singapore Airlines passed on this “opportunity”. The customers that fly this airline regularly (especially in F) do not need advertisement (and the product speaks for itself), and those flying only occasionally probably choose their airlines not on the basis of what they see in movies but on the basis of convenience and balance between scheduling/routing/price.
    Besides, if you think how the “advertisement” of Emirates by that weird annoying YouTube guy cheapened the airline in the eyes of quite a few (and most of his followers probably can’t afford Emirates F anyway), you wouldn’t blame Singapore for not taking any chances.

  35. Um if you know Crazy Rich Asians. They Fly out of Seletar airport. G-550 G-450 GLEX-5000 GLEX-6000 or any number of other planes. I was a pilot flying out out of Seletar for 5 years. They do not fly commercial. You think SQ F is money HA HA it is not. Private Jets is money. SQ F is pennies to these people.

  36. i actually love the term “singapore girls”. its special to singapore, adds a feminine touch & it’s all good fun.

  37. 98% of the world doesn’t give a rats ass what airline they fly on. This forum represents way less than 1% of the flying public and then the other 1% might care. To most.. an airplane is an airplane is an airplane is an airplane. Singapore 1st class takes up about 1.5% of their aircraft.

  38. Hindsight. SQ did the smart thing by not risking attachment to a movie which could have gone all sorts of wrong image wise.

  39. They’re probably kicking themselves for this! There’s such a huge cult following for the book. They missed out

  40. Singapore Airlines will benefit from more tourists in Singapore and they didn’t attach themselves to a potential flop. That could have been really bad on the image.

  41. I agree with William Y. A lot of criticism being made here through the hindsight bias. This is only a ‘huge missed opportunity’ after the event once the film has been made and we can see what it’s like. Before the film has started shooting, it was a huge risk and Singapore made a decision accordingly in accordance with their local rationality.

  42. I believe they’re going to make a sequel, so SQ can get on the bandwagon there.

    I assume the ASEAN colors on the external plane shots were CGI, and if so those shots could be replaced if they wanted on the current film.

  43. They may not have taken up the offer but what’s happening now is that all the hype and media coverage is referring to SIA as the fictitious one in the movie so job done, people will know it’s SIA. Though definitely a lost opportunity for big time advertising.

  44. To what extent does *mass* marketing that highlights first class luxury increase sales of the product that the target audience can actually afford – economy seats?

    THAT could be one reason why SQ passed up the offer. They already target the luxury consumer with other forms of marketing. Maybe the mass market consumer would just be turned off by the idea that somewhere in the front of the plane, people are fast asleep on double beds, eating lobster and caviar, and being waited on hand and foot – while they themselves suffer in their cramped seats for 16 hours across the Pacific.

  45. SQ doesn’t really need added publicity – does it?

    A well established brand should be careful of its use in a mediocre and tacky campaign, such as this movie. So, I applaud SQ for passing on the offer.

  46. Their instincts were 100% correct in this case. The movie sucked and was a shallow piece of Hollywood trash that promotes Asian stereotypes and oversimplifies and dumbifies an entire country and culture. It did no justice to the novel, which was amusing and enoyable. And it glosses over all the fascinating cultural (and culinary!) nuances of the melting pot of Singapore. Good corporate decision.

  47. @Kirk Benson – unfortunately for SIA, the sequels do not have as much flying in/out of Singapore. The next book, China Rich Girlfriend, is mostly set in Hong Kong and Shanghai with a smattering of Paris and SoCal. They could maybe squeeze SIA into Rich People Problems (depending on how CRG) does but this was mostly the one chance in the series SIA would get for such product placement.

  48. Are you aware that the second book opens with Eddy, the investment banker, flying British Airways First Class from Beijing to London to locate a client. He is feeling uncomfortable because it is used to private jets only. Even worse, his very rich client is flying BA Economy.

    Opportunities if the sequel gets green lighted!

  49. @Ray:
    “Every time I see the phrase “Singapore girls” I cringe. It’s sexist AF”
    That clothes and that flight attendants are part of the culture of Singapore. You should stop being racist and don’t tell other countries how they deal with there culture. That’s not your business.

  50. With digital technology I’m surprised the movie’s producers couldn’t go to Singapore airlines and say “Hey, we’ll change all of the branding from our fake airline to Singapore airlines on all future showings and Blu-Ray versions of the movie for $x million dollars.”

  51. I think Singapore airlines will be ok. They are consistently among the to rated airlines in the world and most international travelers are aware of their reputation. They probably make more money keeping their planes in the air rather than being used as props.

  52. The final scene in economy class looks like it is shot in an actual Airasia X A330, with the cramped 3-3-3 layout, tiny aisle and grey/red seats.

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