Superstars and Rice and Everything Nice

I am sure everybody would have noticed lately Singapore's biggest pop export Stefanie Sun's elfin face peeping out at you behind a bag of rice. Part of the New Moon advertising campaign for its new brand of rice, she beckons with a disarming "Ni chi fan le ma" which translates to "Have you eaten rice?"

It is interesting to note the marketing strategies of food manufacturers and importers in recent years. What is especially intriguing is how they can take a commodity item - like rice - and put a sexy spin on it to make it more palatable to the market.

Gone are the days where one simply looks at whether the rice is 100% Thai, fragrant, brown or mixed quality. Its no longer enough to just have "xin bi" (new rice in Teochew) to cook your porridge or "cho bi" (brown rice) if you are a health nut. Now you have the battle of the padi brands - Flying Man, Royal Umbrella, Songhe, Golden Phoenix, Royal Pagoda, Thai Hom Mali, Mamalor and what have you.

The question though is whether such strategies are viable over the long term. Celebrity endorsements are terribly expensive. I know because I have engaged one before in my previous organisation. Stefanie herself would be pocketing a cool six-figure sum from this deal.

You need to also consider that the overwhelming presence of A-listers may overshadow the unique value proposition of your product. What's more, Singapore's market is notoriously fickle. Today's Singapore Idol may become yesterday's sorry news in the blink of an eye. When the star endorsing your product falls out of favour, so will your brand equity.

So will Goh Joo Hin's latest gamble work? Well, my wife feels that having Stefanie's face plastered everywhere on TV, bus stops, MRT trains, newspaper advertisements, supermarket counters and so on would definitely attract attention. Some may even be overwhelmed by such "shock and awe" tactics and yield to her sweet and beguiling smile.

Personally, I found it a little ironical that a skinny as reed celebrity like Sun Yanzi can become a carbohydrate queen? Wouldn't it be better to use somebody more well fed and rotund - Moses Lim or Lydia Sum perhaps - to endorse the virtues of white grain? Both are certainly well known gourmets, at least judging from their sizes!

Then again, perhaps they wanted to attract a whole new generation of hip, young, Chinese pop lovin' rice cookers. I wonder if they bundle the rice with free posters or lyrics to her latest chartbuster? Hmmm....

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