As part of our “Go Canadians, Go” project, Marketing asked dozens of Canucks working abroad (or those who’ve returned with a few years of international experience) to give us their impressions of the differences between Canada’s industry and others. Does being Canadian give you a leg up?
The best part about being a Canadian working in Singapore is that, for the very first time in my life, I’m somewhat exotic. Sure, there are lots of Australians and Brits in Singapore, even decent French representation, but Canadians seem to be relatively rare, at least in the advertising industry.
We’re seen either as slightly more civilized Americans or as a hardy Northern people, like Norwegians or Finns. In a country where the thermometer bobs between a scorching 30 and 32 degrees Celsius every day of the year, I can instantly gain respect for my Canadian fortitude by talking of sub-zero temperatures, shoveling driveways and knee-length down coats. I have personally introduced my local colleagues to the previously unknown weather condition called an “ice storm.”
Despite the differences in weather, moving from Toronto to Singapore was a bit like stepping into a parallel universe where the world of advertising is almost exactly the same. Singapore is often referred to as “Asia lite.” It’s considered a comfortable introduction to the region for Western expats, especially when compared to the pace of Shanghai, the late-night drinking culture of Hong Kong or the traffic jams of Jakarta.
All the usual players are here – BBDO, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy, Publicis, Leo Burnett and so on – and they’re all fighting for a piece of the same global brands as they do in London or New York. Much is familiar ground: the pool tables, drinks in the office on Fridays, the conference circuit, Agency of the Year awards.
Yet Singapore is still very much situated in Asia. Business cards are presented with two hands and studied closely. Junior staff are exceptionally quiet in meetings. English is the primary language but, to really drive a point home, conversations are frequently peppered with Mandarin and Singlish, a local variety of English that borrows from Chinese and Malay.
Lunch is eaten at communal tables instead of hunched over a keyboard. The workday starts late and ends even later: The office is empty at 9 a.m. but going strong at 7 p.m. and onward. Christmas is celebrated, but nothing compares with Chinese New Year when red envelopes are handed out and dragon dancers take over the office to bring good luck.
One of Singapore’s defining features is its wealth, particularly as compared to the emerging economies that surround it. Singapore is ranked 10th in the world by WealthInsight for the most number of millionaires – quite a feat considering the population of only 5.3 million. On a practical level, that translates to high rents – $3,000 to $4,500 CDN for a basic two-bedroom condo – and equally impressive restaurant bills.
One evening I had dinner at a mid-level tapas restaurant where a dish of three asparagus and a drizzle of sauce cost $18 CDN. The final bill came to an amount that could have easily been used for a weekend in Thailand.
Meanwhile, just outside Singapore is a diverse collection of Asian countries where middle class could mean owning a scooter and a smart phone. And that’s my primary reason for being here. The advertising industry in Singapore offers something that Canada can’t: the opportunity to solve marketing challenges across markets that vary wildly by culture, religion, income levels, brand understanding, digital uptake and more.
Singapore serves as a marketing hub for the entire region, taking over Hong Kong’s traditional role. In Canada, if advertising is crossing borders, it’s usually heading north from the U.S. Here, I get the opportunity to advise global brands on which social network is most relevant in Korea (it’s KakaoTalk, by the way) or how to connect with twentysomething year-old Muslim consumers in Malaysia.
And if that’s not reason enough to enjoy being a Canadian in Singapore, just think how much I’ll appreciate cold weather by the time I’m ready to come home.
Stephanie Myers is the engagement director for Possible Asia Pacific