Singapore Airlines Will Retain ‘Singapore Girl’ In Brand Refresh

When I think about the history of aviation there are some iconic images that come to mind.

TWA, Pan Am, the Concorde…

And the Singapore Airlines ‘Singapore Girl.’

For those of you who aren’t aware, Singapore Airlines has been using their famous female cabin crew uniform in their marketing campaigns for almost 50 years. The uniform was remained the same for that period.

While in 2019 some might say using only female crew in marketing is outdated and sexist, there is something so undeniably iconic about the image of the SIA sarong kebaya — I would argue it’s the most recognisable airline uniform in the world.

Ben wrote a post about the history of the Singapore Girl back in 2015.

A large part of Singapore Airlines marketing in recent years has been to incorporate their Singapore Girl into their marketing campaigns while both showcasing Singapore Airlines’ route network as well as the premium experience they provide.

I still get goosebumps when I see a ‘Singapore Girl’ in a campaign in, say, Paris — it instantly reminds me of the fantastic cabin crew I have had on Singapore Airlines over the years.

Singapore Airlines has been under pressure financially as both Chinese and Middle Eastern rivals flood their markets with cheap seats and innovative products. They have announced they will be undertaking a ‘brand refresh’ this year and have appointed two new marketing companies to help them do this.

So, as Singapore Airlines looks to the future, they are faced with a choice in their marketing campaigns — stick with tradition, or innovate for the future?

I’m happy to see that they have decided to retain their iconic Singapore Girl in their marketing campaigns, with SIA explaining:

As we carried out our review it was clear that our underlying branding approach, which consists of the iconic Singapore Girl and an emphasis on customer service as a crucial differentiator, remains current and continues to set us apart in our industry.

Bottom line

While it may seem old fashioned (and even sexist) to feature an almost 50 year old female only uniform in their marketing, for me, it is what makes Singapore Airlines what it is — a warm, welcoming comforting, familiar experience.

I can’t say whether this will help their financial performance, but there are very few airlines in the world that have such an iconic image that they can continue to promote almost half a century later.

Singapore Airlines has also had the same livery for decades now — I would assume this will not change as part of their brand refresh.

Do you think Singapore Airlines should keep marketing the Singapore Girl image?

Comments

  1. I think the “Singapore Girl” remains a truly iconic part of the Singapore Airlines brand, and one of which I have authentically fond travel memories.

    Yes, “girl” is rather dated, but it was created in a different era. Yes, one can associate certain “Singapore Girl” traits with an “Asian women’ stereotype – but this is arguably a reflection of her origin, of where and when she came from and the audience for which she was created.

    James, when you say that she represents Singapore Airlines as “a warm, welcoming comforting, familiar experience” , you have nailed it. It’d be a sad day if some vocal PC-brigade managed to retire the Singapore Girl.

  2. “it may seem old fashioned (and even sexist) to feature an almost 50 year old female only uniform in their marketing”

    That’s because the whole schtick *is* sexist.

    As the comedian Pamela Anderson so memorably satirised it a quarter of a century ago, playing the subservient yet sexy F/A dealing with the demanding old man passenger, “and would you like to rub my tits, too?”

  3. Honestly I don’t know where the hype came from about SQ service. It’s really bad on the few flights I had with them, especially SQ22. The service flow is really screwed up, and efficiency is unbelievably low. Waking everyone up mid flight and then have us wait 45 min to be served just a cold salad, taking 5 mins to respond to call button, etc etc.

    They don’t need a brand refresh, they need to catch up with the brand they’ve set up in reality.

  4. I disagree with your spin that it’s the “uniform” that is being featured in the ads. It’s the female flight attendant wearing the uniform that is being featured. It seems like deflection to try to make it just about the uniform when it clearly is not.

    I think a compromise would be to keep the female flight attendant in the branding and ads but stop referring to her as “Singapore Girl”. At least call her a “Singapore Woman”. Referring to them as “girls” is anachronistic, not respectful and perpetuates stereotypes of Asian women.

  5. They are going for the subservient vibe. It’s not about history or the uniform or iconography. Call it what it is.

    And it’s either ok with you or it isn’t. I know that those who are ok with it believe the other side is just too PC. They like the subservient vibe. Fine.. But at least own it.

  6. i’d consider myself a feminist and i don’t really see anything wrong with SQ’s marketing icon. she’s covered neck to ankle, and i don’t see what’s so sexist about it.

    don’t lump SQ with those worthless SE Asian LCCs using cleaveage and hooters will sell seats.

  7. Unless the “girls” in question find these ads sexist, don’t you think that all of these concerns expressed by Western men are a bit comical? Is there any evidence that the female Singaporeans oppose this?

  8. @VitaliU: My female Singaporean partner definitely opposes this and has to deal with sexist/racist crap regularly living in the West.

  9. To each their own. If you find it sexist, you are to blame. She isn’t exposing her body or making any controversial gestures. Warm and welcoming is all I can see about her.

    Do you find it sexist as well when you are served by a woman in a restaurant?

  10. The PC brigade will call this sexist but I have no issue at all with my SQ fillies being referred to as “girls.” Believe me, when you arrange a rendezvous with them at 5 star Singapore hotels there’s no pretence of moral rectitude then, and I speak from experience if you catch my drift.

  11. I’m curious why they think a brand refresh will help. I have nothing but positive connotations with the Singapore brand. Maybe I’m confused what exactly a brand refresh entails considering:
    – Singapore just refreshed their first class
    – Just refreshed their business class
    – Wont change their livery (according to Ben)
    – Wont get rid of the Singapore Girl

    …so what exactly is there to do? Change the logo? Introduce the Singapore Boy?

  12. Just have a look at this commercial from a while back:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXiH9EMZmIA

    [Lyrics]
    I saw you first in New York where you looked so fine,
    Or was it in the Paris summertime.
    I see you everywhere I go,
    Your smile, your grace, that face, in Tokyo.
    You make me feel at home upon those sunny Sydney shores,
    Just like you always do back in your Singapore.
    I know I’ll see your caring smile wherever in the world I go.
    Oh Singapore Girl, you’re A Great Way to Fly.

    Most Singapore Airlines commercials are centred on the Singapore Girl, as well as on the various destinations she will take you, rather than on the aircraft or cabin product themselves. Not many airlines can actually pull this off.

    It is clear that the Singapore Girl will continue to be the face of Singapore Airlines. In fact, she was enshrined as the epitome of Asian grace and hospitality at Madame Tussauds in 1993. I’m not sure if any cabin crew from other airlines ever made the cut. The Singapore Girl is timeless in every way, and will continue to see Singapore Airlines into the future.

  13. The thing that creeps me out in 2019 is that they continue to call them Singapore “Girls.” It’s a very well defined kind of sexism called infantilizing. They can keep the sarong kebaya, hell they can even keep using exclusively women. But for god’s sake, please don’t call them girls.

  14. “What’s wrong with ‘sexy’?” 😉
    I am glad to see them promote the wonderful FAs they have. My wife also admires them at that image. Yes, the term “girl” is not PC so I don’t object if that and some other adjustments need to be made.

  15. The rationalizations that people engage in to avoid having to look too closely at themselves are so transparent. So much of this is all just a fig leaf. No boobs. Ergo, not sexist!

    Why “girls”? This really isn’t rocket science, guys. Because what they are trying to sell is an appeal to chasteness or concepts of being “unspoiled,” etc.

    If that’s your thing, ok. But own it.

  16. I dont know what kind of spell the rest of the world is under, but I never give the “Singapore Girl” a second thought. EVER!! It’s a beautiful uniform/outfit. Thats it!

    Also, I do not buy into advertising/marketing/image etc so that could be why…but I’m very aware. Utilize the flight attendants in your ads by all means, but drop the label.

    Singapore Airlines still thinks we all exist in the colonial era, smh the current oldest generation need to leave this planeT quickly.

  17. I am the “Chris” who wrote the original comment way back, prompting the original article, asking if the airline could not update its marketing just a notch or two. I was not asking for a revolution. Sure, keep the service focussed on the “Singapore Girl”, as the article says, it’s iconic. But could we please just have the occasional image of a guy in the ads, serving customers, and the occasional image of a businesswoman being served on the flights? I don’t see that as asking for a revolution.
    I have just read with interest the recent comments on this article, about the airline today. Earlier this month, I did a Lon-Syd-Lon with Singapore in economy. The service was excellent, the crew did a fabulous job, the aircraft was clean, new, etc etc. But I have to say the food was very gelatinous and terrible, and the selection of films and TV was poor.
    Singapore is a fabulous airline, and I paid a premium to fly it this month, and I want it to stay up there as one of the world’s best, but I think they need to pick up the pace a little. And that is more than just their advertising, it is also the soft product. Dear Singapore, don’t let your position slip. There are lots of other excellent airlines (eg, currently Thai) directly completing with you. Don’t get complacent…

  18. The ‘Singapore Girl’ of old no longer exists. The modern girl in ultra-rich Singapore today wants to be a high flyer in international finance or the like, not a subservient glamour-puss slinging drinks and food on a dated airline. No wonder many of the crews are from places other than Singapore!

  19. They shouldn’t get rid of this branding. Really don’t have time for extreme left groups who argue about sexism in everything. One thing that turns me off on a company is when I see the company bending over backwards for a small group of irrational people. SQ spent decades building their brand and they shouldn’t change everything just because a small group of people all of a sudden decides the branding offends them. If they were having their FAs wear bikinis or something there would be an argument but these are tasteful and iconic uniforms.

  20. This issue also came up in about 2006-07 and many of the female FA’s were upset because of the tight, restrictive nature of the Abya and the body size and height restrictions. I was on a flight between SIN and DPS and was asked my opinion, which surprised me because of authoritarian nature of Singapore and many of its companies.

    My response was “have your union deal with it”. She said they didn’t have a union. I said then strike. She said it was against the law. I said break the law. She said they would lose their jobs. I said, that’s what is sometimes necessary to bring about social justice, equal opportunity and economic benefit. If you’re not willing to sacrifice your job and/or maybe even die for your beliefs, don’t try to enlist me in your efforts. Good luck.

  21. Waitresses in southern (US) diners call me honey, sweetie and darlin. I’m none of the above. But I don’t give it a second thought. Also, I can appreciate and respect a short, thin, pretty young woman waiting on me. But I also appreciate and respect the older plumper women with and without seniority, who’ve fought for their job rights and support their union.

  22. Post and comments are soooo peevishly anglo-saxon centered. If you fly a lot, you probably stay at international hotels, speak english only, and have little idea of the realities in the world. Consider this :
    1. “Girl” is a translation into English. Singapore, as all other countries in Asia, have other official languages, in fact way richer. Whether you dislike “girl” is irrelevant to them, it is just the best choice for what they wanted to convey in their own language.
    2. The “Singapore Girl” motto has been hugely successful as a marketing tool over the decades, as much as EK’s fleet of A380s, which, has no sexy glamour at all. Think of the “Delta Girl” or “Lufthansa Girl” and you may actually go your way to fly EK or QR instead.
    3. Which brings is us to the real question, doesn’t it ? Male travellers, specially premium, appreciate youthful & pretty women around. If you are Gay, well, they also some have handsome male FAs.
    4. Asian and European societies appreciate sexual differences, they hate unisex thinking and uniforms.
    5. As a matter of fact, I know of many western women who do all they can to still look young, girly, even “girly girl”.

    So SIA had that right, they are smart.
    SQ has Sexy and QI, just sayin’ 😉

  23. Their uniforms are nostalgic and take us back to a time when flying was a luxury many only dreamed of. They are so beautiful and unique. What they want to call the female attendants is up to them. Just keep the uniforms.

    Kelcy

  24. I guess it is fair to say that the professionally oppressed twitter feminist Starbucks baristas being offended on behalf of other people won’t be doing noticeable damage to Singapore Airlines’ bottom line for them to do away with their marketing icon…
    The Singapore girl is a role and uniform and if anything, I hold them in much higher regard than FAs from any other Airline

  25. @the nice Paul, I rather suspect that was Pamela Stephenson. I’m not sure Pamela Anderson was ever intentionally comic 😉

  26. @schar I don’t understand this mentality of calling people who raise genuine ethical questions about things, “pc”. In my opinion, exclusively using women as marketing tools, along with the somewhat demeaning name of “Singapore girl” is treating women as if they were objects to gawk at. You are welcome to disagree with me, but please provide a reason, and an argument as to why it is not unethical. You seem like the kind of person who spouts “facts don’t care about your feelings” all the time, but ironically, you are the one making a purely emotional argument.

  27. It’s amazing how quick Western men act “offended” and call things sexist. This company isn’t from Europe, USA, etc. it’s from the East. This is how their culture operates. If you don’t like it don’t use it but to just call something sexist because you don’t understand it or believe it to be so doesn’t make it so (or right).

  28. Wow. Looks like One Mile At A Time could use a talent refresh…. Get someone whose ethics are from this millennium. I’ll be back when Grandpa has learned that this is the literal definition of sexism. But hey, to him it’s comforting, and males could never provide service like that!

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