Singlish is not just funny words made famous by PCK.
Dig a little deeper, and the Singlish I love is even more fascinating. For example, no one thinks of the word “scold” as Singlish, it is a perfectly normal English word that I very rarely hear in common usage outside of Singapore. The word forms part of the cultural fabric that is unique to Singapore. Why is it that “scold” is in common usage in Singapore when it has ceased to be in any other country?
In case you are wondering whether my hobby is pedantic linguistics, analyses of this sort are the basis for how I think about marketing or copywriting aimed at Singaporeans. Words play a critical role not just in conveying understanding but in emotional meaning.
Take the following two examples of marketing slogans;
Superficially, the words mean the exact same thing. Emotionally the words are oceans apart in terms of meaning. It is the emotional meaning that words have on people that forms the basis of all marketing.
I find most marketing in Singapore to be a bizarre form of cargo cultism. Put bluntly, words do not trigger the same emotions in Singaporeans as they do in Americans. The vast majority of marketing literature is written by Americans for Americans. The majority of marketing done here is based on that literature but with very little awareness of the cultural differences words can have on the emotional understanding of Singaporeans.
I am not suggesting that marketing has to be like this. But everyone has to stop communicating like we are in the US.
We face this communication challenge everyday at lobangclub. Here would be a typical conversation with a user;
User: What does lobangclub do?
Guyi: It is a price comparison service for Singapore.
User: ahh ok, I understand.
Guyi: So do you think you would use it?
User: No, I not price sensitive.
This is a word for word transcript of dozens of conversations that I’ve had. Lets analyse this.
Lets take the term “not price sensitive”, it does not resonate in Singapore what it means in the US. Being “not price sensitive” to most Americans suggests “despite knowing that the same product is on sale somewhere else at a cheaper price, you would buy it at a more expensive price because of convenience, kinship or service”. What most Singaporeans mean is, “I am not willing to spend time to search around for a cheaper price and I am not willing to switch to a cheaper brand for a lesser price”.
Consequently, the term “price comparison” also differs in emotional understandings to Singaporeans vs the US. To most Americans, price comparison means “I want to buy a Sony Plasma TV model xyz, I want to find where the best value place to buy it”. To a lot of Singaporeans the term “price comparison” means “I want to buy a TV, and I am price sensitive, so I compare the prices between various different brands, and possibly consider getting the cheaper brand if the cost is too much.”
No wonder not many Singaporeans are willing to identify themselves with the phrase “price comparison”, it subtly contains a certain cheapo kiasu quality to it.
So why does this gulf between different emotional meanings exist?
I suspect it is because Ecommerce as a concept in Singapore is purely theoretical, the culture at large has not experienced price transparency, price competition, and 10 second price comparisons that Americans have. Every other developed nation has experienced almost 10+ years of ecommerce stores using price as the wedge to compete against offline retailers. The grand-daddy of ecommerce Amazon.com still uses price as a core strategy even today, see their iPhone app aptly named Amazon Price Check.
What does this mean for lobangclub?
We can’t rely on using the words “price comparison” and expect that to have the same resonance amongst Singaporeans.
Let me know what you think…