Brand Health Check: Singapore Navy - Can Navy beat rivals in recruiting stakes?

The Navy has a tough job to communicate: asking recruits for 10 years of their young life as rivals step up their recruitment bids.

Despite being an integral part of Singapore life, the Singapore Navy's image in the eyes of residents is difficult to pin down.

It is not as elite as the air force, and not as mainstream as the police force or army. Its presence on the seas, furthermore, makes it much less visible than its services com- petitors. Unsurprisingly, then, the Navy has spent significantly on branding and recruitment communications.

In branding terms, it has tried to remind people of the key role it plays in protecting sea trade routes, which are integral to the health of the economy. However, since September 11, much public attention has instead focused on the aerial threat.

In order to boost recruitment, the Navy has launched a range of innovative direct marketing solutions, created by Saatchi & Saatchi, which has held the business for almost 20 years. These have been honoured at award shows and showered with critical acclaim; importantly, they have also boosted recruitment rates.

Particularly innovative examples of these include the 'Gear Up' action figures which have been changing hands on eBay, and the 'Stealth Frigate' model. The latter pack resulted in a 2.2 per cent recruitment rate, after being sent out to 10,000 graduating Poly and ITE students.

However, the air force and police force have also rolled out advertising campaigns aiming to garner a greater recruitment share among young people who appear keener to join the private sector. The Navy's branding challenge, then, is two-fold. It must convince potential recruits to give up 10 years of their life, rather than join one of its service competitors or the private sector. It must also effectively communicate its integral role in Singapore's economic prosperity to a populace that appears less than aware.

Long considered the most fraternal of the services, the Navy has creditably leveraged this competitive edge in its communications, which display a trademark sense of humour. Whether this will succeed in communicating its very serious message remains to be seen.


PHILIP BRETT, Joint CEO, TBWA\Tequila Singapore

I had never really considered a military force as a brand before. But the recent campaign from the Singapore Navy has certainly changed my view of that.

The Navy's toy soldiers and its model boats are packaged and presented as well as anything Mattel could hope for. I am sure also that it resonates well with the local youth who are faced with the choice of Army, Navy, Air Force or Police for their national service.

Unlike most brands, the forces don't really offer anything that the average person identifies with: War, defence, boats, guns and missiles. Not everyday stuff!

While the Navy is clearly communicating way better than any of its competitors, my concern is that the brand or the face of the Navy appears to be dramatically different to the reality of what the actual product is.

Cartoon soldiers are not real ones and 10 years in the Navy is a very real experience!

Having said that, I think that the Navy has totally understood the need for its brand to reach out to its target audience and talk to them in a language that they understand. The brand led approach has been evidenced historically through previous campaigns all of which have been fresh and different.

LUCINDA THAW, Planning director, Leo Burnett Singapore

Firstly, I must admit to being a fan of the Navy; my father served in World War II and he'd always tell great stories of the camaraderie on board.

When doing a straw poll around the office into general perceptions of the Navy it emerged that the Singapore Navy is a service with a long and distinguished history with only a recent collision tragedy to mar its spotless reputation. Apart from this there were some marked differences in the way men and women perceive the Navy. As reflected in the first broadcast of Sex and the City in Singapore, women see Navy men as a bit naughtier and more dashing than the other armed forces. However, men, who face the reality of serving, see it in a different light; generally it's considered a good career, more down to earth than the arrogant gentlemen of the air force and more fun and less grunt than the army.

The Singapore Navy brand is relatively healthy, but suffering from a somewhat indistinct image and personality. There's a sense that this brand has not yet shown its full potential. Beyond this we must consider that armed forces advertising tends to have two targets so we must develop a message that speaks to both, the general public (to convince them of the need for continuing investment and funding) and the recruits (those who are being asked to invest 10 years of their life).



- Keep up the same approach. Targeted, relevant and engaging.

- This is not a mass brand and the focused strategy allows it to be much more brave than perhaps it could be if it were trying to talk to the people at large.

- Let the target know what he is getting into. I remember a Sea Monkeys mailing targeting potential prospects, which while appealing was not directly relevant to naval service. So what ultimately is the prospect responding to?


- The Navy needs a more distinctive positioning; something along the lines of "defend/join the freedom and adventure of the high seas".

- The Navy needs a differentiating and contemporary personality: down to earth, cheeky, heroic. This is a serious business but that doesn't mean it can't be sexy.

- We need to reinforce relevance to Singaporeans and that today our Navy has a more vital role than ever in protecting one of the world's busiest ports from sea-borne terrorism and piracy.

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