The World: Insider's View - Singapore

Singapore's geography has made it open to the world. This has helped it develop flexible advertising that taps into common emotional truths, Calvin Soh says.

Singapore is a small island, about the size of zones one to four on the Underground. There are roughly four million people living in an area equivalent to that stretching from Burnt Oak to Barking.

We are not agriculturally self-sufficient; we have no oil or minerals; our army is trained abroad due to land constraints and we even have to recycle our own piss.

The realisation that we'd never survive without the outside world has made us open to it. Being at the crossroads of the East/West trade route and making English the official business language in the 70s helped as well.

This attitude was vital for our only resource, our people. And that has affected how our advertising has evolved. In the industry's formative years, we cop-ied the classic British copy-driven style.

But well-written ads full of witticisms don't travel so well when they are translated into other languages.

Singapore's racial mix - Indians, Malays, Eurasians and Chinese - has forced us to look harder for universal truths that bind us, rather than the cultural idiosyncracies that differentiate us. We developed a visual style that revolved around common emotional truths; ads, such as Fallon's for P2 contact lens solution, that didn't have to rely on wordplay or a subtle turn of phrase. And the work travelled a lot better, with nothing lost in translation.

This was a huge boon to marketers who were looking for bases for their regional Asian HQs. Access to arguably the highest number of advertising agencies per capita in the world, a global mix of ad talent and a cross-section of Asian races on whom to test products made Singapore an attractive location.

Today, I don't feel there's a distinct Singaporean style of advertising. If anything, it has a cha-meleon-like versatility. Witty copy still exists. There are punchy, in-your-face American jokes and visual exaggerations of human truths.

That flexibility has won us many awards across the globe, and has made Singapore a great place for creatives; a springboard on to the world map.

You only have to look at the meteoric rise of David Droga and Craig Davis for proof. As a result, more Singaporeans are working and thriving abroad and popping up as judges at the international award shows.

More than anything else, Singapore debunks the cliche that "East is East". Not when we're switching between The Office, Chinese dramas, Malay variety shows, Indian comedy and US reality, it isn't.