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Commentary: Stories of Brand Singapore missing from bookshelves

Singapore has strong brands that have made a mark at home and abroad. But if nobody writes their stories, readers won't know what they're missing, says author Sue-Ann Chia.

Commentary: Stories of Brand Singapore missing from bookshelves
While Singapore’s top companies may not have the same brand recognition as international brands, their stories are still worth writing about.

SINGAPORE: Walk into a bookstore, a disappearing sight in Singapore, and you will notice another glaring omission. There are shelves of books on global brands, from Apple to Amazon to Starbucks and Nike. But where are the books on Singapore brands?

Oh, Singapore does not have brands of similar scale to these mega corporations that everyone knows by their first name, some will say. Or Singapore does not have a large enough base of non-fiction readers who will support the publishing of such books.

The subtext is: Nobody will buy or read these books on Singapore brands. Non-fiction readers here seem more enamoured of self-help books, going by the weekly bestseller’s non-fiction book list. Titles such as Surrounded by Idiots and I Want to Die but I Want to Eat Tteokbokki remain evergreen favourites here.

These points are valid. And yet, they are not fully accurate. If there are no books on Singapore brands, how will readers know what they are missing? The adage “build and they will come” could hold some truth. So write and they will read.


While Singapore’s top companies may not have the same brand recognition as international brands, their stories are still worth writing about. Indeed, some have even faced off with the global giants.

Among them is Creative Technology, which launched its famous Sound Blaster cards, changing the way people listened to music on their computers in the 1990s. It also won a US$100 million settlement after suing Apple in 2006 for patent infringements over the iPod, before eventually losing ground to these technology behemoths.

Like Creative Technology, many other Singapore brands have similar stories that should be written, filling the current gap in local literature on homegrown brands.

In fact, the Singapore story of how the country got to where it is today, an economic powerhouse that is a hub for many sectors, can be told through the grit and gumption of local enterprises - why they started, challenges confronted, failures faced, and breakthroughs in business

For instance, how did DBS bank, set up to finance the country’s fledgling industries and grow new ones, get involved in the development of Plaza Singapura and Raffles City, and eventually acquire POSB to become Southeast Asia’s largest bank?

How did Singapore Airlines become a great way to fly, earning global accolades such as the best airline in the world awards for consecutive years?

There were many stumbles and sacrifices along the way for each enterprise to scale such heights, and many interesting lessons learnt that should be shared. These stories of success and failures will only strengthen the Singapore brand, encouraging the belief that a small nation can dream big. This will also encourage more entrepreneurial efforts.


Similarly, when we decided to write and publish a book on local household brand FairPrice Group (FairPrice), which runs the ubiquitous NTUC FairPrice supermarkets, among other things, we discovered that it is more than just a supermarket.

The stories that were shared for the book are instrumental in not only understanding the 50-year-old consumer cooperative but Singapore as well.

Younger brands also deserve the spotlight, such as fashion label Charles and Keith, which was founded in 1996 by a pair of brothers with S$100,000 and is now present in more than 30 countries; F&B empire BreadTalk Group whose pork floss buns have gone round the world; or consumer electronics company Prism that is seeking to make premium technology accessible to all.

These stories of local brands not only enrich our sense of history or heritage, but also shape Singapore - creating a unique brand story for the country that is more than just about destination tourism (attractions and food) or the efficiency of governance, which are now well-known traits of the nation.

Ultimately, these stories are a good reminder - contrary to popular belief and even lament - that Singapore has strong local brands that have made a mark at home and abroad. But if nobody writes their stories, who will know?

Sue-Ann Chia is co-founder of content agency The Nutgraf, and co-editor of the book The Price of Being Fair - The FairPrice Group Story.

Source: CNA/el


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