Getting Everybody Kungfu Laughing

A number of recent government ads have got Singaporeans talking for their surprising use of humour. Challenge looks at how the funny bones were tickled.

A kungfu warrior throws a silver dart in the air, slicing a sugar cube cleanly in half. “Sugar-defeating darts!” she yells.

This comical scene might not be what you would expect in a government-made advertisement for diabetes prevention. But that’s exactly what the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) has done.

“Kungfu Fighter, Hidden Sugar” shows a “guardian of health” defending a family against a villain’s attempts to add sugar to their reunion dinner. The 90-second video features tropes from wuxia films, along with sleek CGI that highlights the sugar content in snacks like pineapple tarts.”

Screen grabs from one of the three STB ads featuring Justice Bao.

“For a serious topic like diabetes, we think that a good measure of humour will make the message more palatable to viewers,” says Ms Karen Tan, Senior Director of MCI’s Public Communications Division.

The team drew inspiration from kungfu classics that are popular during Chinese New Year. Their video has gone viral, with over 2 million views and 27,900 shares on the Facebook page.

Motivational humourist Scott Friedman thinks it’s “refreshing” to see the Singapore government using humour to get its message across. “When people laugh, you touch them on an emotional level, which increases their recall,” he says, adding that humour is useful to make “dry” topics come alive.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has also sought to help audiences remember important messages by making them laugh. Its campaign, launched in February 2017, features scenes from Justice Bao, a popular ’90s television series inspired by the eponymous historical character’s legacy as an upright magistrate. The nostalgic clips were dubbed in Singlish, creating an amusing juxtaposition. “You think, I thought, who confirm?” utters Justice Bao as he chastises people for failing to buy travel insurance, clarify terms and conditions of their travel package or check if their travel agent is licensed.

Screen grabs from the kungfu-themed Chinese New Year video by the MCI.

“These steps are important to ensure a fuss-free holiday, but we realised that the public don’t pay much attention to them. We thought that by introducing humour, we could better capture their attention and make our message more memorable and relatable,” says the board’s Travel Agents & Tourist Guides Division Director Ong Ling Lee.

The series of three videos have attracted a total of 174,000 views and 697 shares on the YourSingapore Facebook page. One clip was also shared by local humour site SGAG, getting over 195,000 views and 3,000 shares.

Both officers emphasised that humour, while useful, needs to be used appropriately to support a clear purpose, instead of as an end in itself. It should be based on consumer insight, says Ms Ong. “We need to know what kind of content would be relevant and how our target audience can connect with it.”

We need to know what kind of content would be relevant and how our target audience can connect with it.

Ms Tan at the MCI adds: “Humour can backfire if the subject matter is not appropriate.”

One way to check whether the humour works is to test the idea with a smaller group of people. Both teams did so and received positive responses.

Ultimately, ads should not be too much of a “hard sell”, advises Ms Tan. “More than just giving information, it must also tap into emotions and evoke empathy… People must first be able to relate to the story before we can get our message across.”

    Apr 4, 2017
    Tay Qiao Wei
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