SINGAPORE: When 28-year-old Nicholas Oh decided to propose to his girlfriend earlier this year, he wanted the moment to be special, memorable and something out of the ordinary.
To do this, he sought the help of professional proposal planner Derica Goh, creative director of HYM Proposals & Weddings, which began offering its services in 2012.
“I was very clear about what I wanted, so I gave her specific instructions,” said the IT consultant. “Because I knew what I wanted and she had the experience to give me something similar, I trusted them to execute the whole thing by themselves.
“On the day itself, everything was planned and arranged quite well, and I just had to turn up.”
The eventual proposal involved Mr Oh surprising his now-fiancee, Lim Wanyi, with a Korean song which he performed with the help of a live band and backup singers.
He forked out about S$6,000 for the entire proposal, which apart from Derica’s service fee, also included the fees for the live band, venue rental and decoration as well as engaging a videographer to document the occasion. But Mr Oh said it was all worthwhile.
“They made it seamless and effortless - everything was coordinated so well, down to the videography and how my fiancee was going to enter,” he said. “She loved it and was laughing so much ... all her friends were very impressed that I went all out to do this, which wouldn’t have happened if not for Derica’s help.”
COSTS CAN GO UP TO S$20,000
Mr Oh is not alone: Those in the industry CNA spoke to said there is an increasing trend of grooms-to-be hiring professional vendors to help them with their proposals or, as in the case of Mr Oh, plan and execute the whole thing.
HYM’s Ms Goh said when she first began offering her services in 2012, the company received about one enquiry every two months. Today, the number has gone up to four to five enquiries a month.
“I believe it’s a very niche market,” she said. “Before we came in, I don’t see many people putting in much effort for the proposal. But with the help of social media, I believe more people are exposed to many different ways of expressing their appreciation and love to their special someone.
“We also see that more people are moving towards proposals that are meaningful to the couple, rather than just a beautifully decorated proposal spot,” she added. “It is now becoming a way for the couple to reminisce on their journey and a gesture and agreement to start their next phase of life together.”
She added that apart from seeing more enquiries, she has also seen a trend of clients being more willing to spend on the occasion. On average, Ms Goh charges S$3,500 to S$4,200, including the cost of materials required as well as the services of external vendors she works with such as photographers or videographers.
But costs can go up to more than S$20,000, Ms Goh said. “One client of mine rented an entire venue ... it was an old bungalow, where he staged a photo gallery walk-through on the top level, and after the proposal, everyone went down to the first level for a sit-down dinner,” she said.
Buoyed by the rising demand for such services, others in the wedding industry have also began offering their services for proposals.
Celebration stylist Invited, which started out in 2015 working primarily on weddings, began offering its services for proposals in 2017 after photographers started reaching out to them asking for their help to create Instagram-worthy sets for their clients.
According to its founder and chief stylist, Loretta Chen, enquiries for their services came up once every two months. However, they now receive enquiries every week. A basic styling package starts from S$800, including props and flowers.
Every year, videographer Daniel Tan says he receives an increasing number of requests or enquiries about shooting proposals ever since he entered the industry five years ago. Mr Tan, who runs his own company Patchwork Pictures, charges about S$1,000 to shoot and produce a proposal video.
Explaining what goes into the service he provides, Mr Tan said he finds proposals are one of the “toughest things” to shoot well.
“I have seen proposal videos where right from the beginning, the videographer’s presence actually lets the cat out of the bag, and that really bothers me because I feel the surprise element and experience is dulled,” he said, adding that prior to shooting proposals, he will include a site recce and consultation.
“Often, I’ll need to find creative solutions on how best to capture the process and moment while being as ‘invisible’ as I can,” he said. “I will also sit the guy down and discuss his proposal concept to craft a video that is both memorable and meaningful.”
Similarly, Ms Chen added that they will also visit the site with their clients to talk about how the process will unfold from start to finish.
“Clients enjoy the planning process very much and they like to brainstorm on ideas,” she said. “They do like to surprise their partners with non-traditional surprises like hiring professional flash mobs, a four-piece orchestra or even taking a cable car to the proposal site - we have seen all this happen with our clients.”
GROWING AFFLUENCE, RISE IN SOCIAL MEDIA BEHIND THIS TREND
But what’s behind this rising trend? For one, academics and experts pointed to growing prosperity and affluence in society, which allow people to spend more on such events.
“In the past, the majority of people were poorer and therefore more likely to keep things simple,” said NUS sociologist Tan Ern Ser. “But with growing affluence, there is an emphasis on displaying a middle-class lifestyle and a big staged show, complete with multiple visual images of love and romance for a live audience and on digital media.”
Lim Tai Wei, an East Asian area studies specialist and historian who studies topics including local heritage and social trends, also pointed out that there are more young people today who have the resources based on their earning power to carry out such proposals.
This works hand-in-hand with the rise of social media, which he describes as a “macro-general trend” in which people have begun to use social media to curate their daily lives.
“A proposal is a milestone in anyone’s lives, so it is in accordance with this social trend that some of them have chosen to curate this event as well,” said Dr Lim, who is also a senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).
“They want to appear sleek, creative and to outdo their friends’ proposal events, an implicit competition which could do with some help from a professional proposal planner,” added Dr Tan from NUS.
Ms Umah Devi, a senior lecturer in marketing at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), noted that some might feel the need to turn to professional help as they lack ideas, or when their significant others start dropping hints about proposals they’ve seen on Facebook or Instagram.
“When you have all these celebrities putting up their proposals on social media, you can't deny that you wish you would have something special for your own,” she said, also pointing out that social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have a “very powerful storytelling ability”.
Ms Devi also noted that people tend to turn more to social media as their first port of call when looking for ideas for their wedding or proposal.
“It’s the easiest to go to ... you just go online and start scrolling, you get ideas then you start bouncing it off your friends and family members,” she said. “I think you still have the traditional way of proposing over dinner, but with all these visuals on social media, I think more is expected of the guys,” she added.
IS IT ANY LESS MEANINGFUL?
But does it necessarily mean that getting professional help makes the proposal any less meaningful?
For some, the significance and meaning of the proposal lies in the fact that they chose to handle it all by themselves. Researcher Jerome Lim, 29, noted that while he has heard of such professional vendors, he chose to plan and execute his proposal to his fiancee Eileen Liu himself, as he felt it would be “more special this way".
The “simple and intimate” proposal involved Mr Lim cooking Ms Liu a meal, making her a scrap book and a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle with the words “will you marry me?” He also presented her with a bottle of folded cranes that he had made when he was 15, with his future wife in mind.
“I think it’s more romantic than him hiring someone because I know it’s all his own effort – from planning each item and setting it all up,” said Ms Liu, a marketing executive. “I’m not saying that other guys are lazy, but I just find this meaningful.”
Nonetheless, those who got professional help stressed that their efforts would ring hollow if they did not put in the effort themselves.
“You still need to put effort into it, such as learning the song ... so she can really feel the sincerity,” said Mr Oh. “If you engage the services and don’t put in the effort, it’s the same thing as just doing it yourself.”
HYM’s Ms Goh added that they always work closely with their clients to create a tailored, customised proposal. “Our idea derives from what the guy shares about their journey … we just add a little magic and make it happen,” she said. “Without their stories, we would not be able to do it.”
To financial adviser Joshua Mok, it was of paramount importance that the amount of effort he put into the proposal was a reflection of the importance of the question he was asking – which is why he decided to enlist the help of professional vendors to put together the ultimate “spoil market” proposal in 2017 to his now-wife, Joanne Lo.
“I’m asking someone to marry me, which is one of the most important things you can ask someone to do,” he said. “The person needs to know that you’ve done everything you could into the asking of the question … and it has to draw from your best parts.”
The 30-year-old spent more than S$5,000 on the proposal, which involved him creating a photo exhibition set up in a rented venue to showcase two sets of photos: The first, places that were meaningful to the couple, and the second, the exact same photo, but with the couple in the frame.
Mr Mok said he hired “four to five” professional photographers to shoot the couple without Ms Lo’s knowledge, and also commissioned a behind-the-scenes video of the whole process, culminating in him popping the question to Ms Lo.
He explained that while he conceptualised the proposal himself, he chose to get professional help not because he was lazy, but because he wanted the quality of the final product to be better than anything he could do himself.
“I used them because I either couldn’t do it myself, or I couldn’t do it as well,” he said. “She knew that if I were to do anything at all, I would do it in a way that would ‘spoil market’.”
“Whatever I did for her needs to be at a level that is beyond anything I do for my clients, boss or anyone else,” he added. “Because at the end of the day, she is my wife, and my most important stakeholder.”