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Why Singapore and Finland should boldly promote popular local cultures on the global stage.


Thank you so much for the enthusiastic response to Finngapore’s first facebook contest! There’s still 5 more days left, do remember to join if you want to win the 3-in-1 SKII electric bath set! ^^

Honestly, I cannot believe Finngapore managed 500+ organic likes in 7 days, with zero marketing budget! It’s really like a social media manager’s dream come true.

Today I want to write a bit about the importance of “soft power” to young nations like Singapore and Finland. “Soft power” is a concept first popularized by Joseph Nye. In particular, using the case studies of Iceland and South Korea, I want to talk about why Singapore and Finland should boldly market their popular cultures on the global stage.

He defined “soft power” as such–

“the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion.”

This is a logical form of power, which goes for the heart of the masses. If the masses like a particular country, why would they attack or want anything bad to happen to it?

So–How can any young country like Singapore or Finland acquire such “soft power”? It’s through:

  • Presenting of popular local culture overseas;
  • Romantic mass media/movie/ films made on the country or its culture–which is then presented and popularised on the global stage;
  • Culture studies–here, we can learn from the Japanese. “Japanese studies” is even a popular and legitimate discipline in a lot of schools, and there are a lot of scholarships provided for students to study in this area. Why not then, start “Finnish studies” and “Singapore studies”?

Example #1 of soft power: Why is there such huge interest in Iceland and Northern lights from Asian tourists these days? If the premise of “wanting to see Northern lights” is true, why do MORE Asian tourists go to Iceland and not Finland/Norway instead?

Possible answer: High profile, high budget movies that were launched on the global scale, with filming that took place in Iceland.

These movies ignite the imagination of Asian tourists, and make them want to visit Iceland. The movies associate tons of positive connotations and possibilities with Iceland, and increase tourism. It’s not so much of just “Northern lights” they want to see, but “Northern lights in Iceland“.

And this is why people associate “nature” and “northern lights” more with Iceland than with Finland, or Norway.

Example #2 of soft power: Why are there Korean-style bridal boutiques springing up these days in Singapore?

Possible answer: Song Joong-Ki LOL. Not kidding at all, the Chinese government actually recently issued a letter warning Chinese citizens to NOT be addicted to popular Korean dramas. Korean-style bridal boutiques are popular recently because of Hallyu, which means the “korean wave”. The Korean government actually spends A LOT OF MONEY on marketing popular culture and bringing them overseas.

Remember this?

Or this?

It’s popular culture propagated via the mass media that makes Korean culture popular, thereby increasing tourism to Korea. And because of the “romantic” drama plots in popular Korean dramas, guys and ladies in the masses all over the world start to regard the “Korean way” as the most ideal.

This translates into huge business for tourism, bridal, the food and beverage industry, and in general national prestige. It’s cool these days to be associated with Korean-stuffs in Singapore, and many Singaporeans are so enthusiastic about learning the Korean language!

Now the marketization of “popular culture” actually follows a formulae. Music that is supposed to be played on the radio is obviously different from music written for self expression, for instance. For K-pop, the formulae is “good looking people + catchy music + product placement + a lot of strategic mass media appearances”. Test this formulae out on 10 celebrity groups, and see which succeeds, then put more money into those groups.

The South Korean government gets its objective of using soft power via mass media and popular culture to gain more cultural capital. The Korean popular music industry is, therefore, a strong system set up to benefit South Korea as a nation. ^^

So the question is now:

Can Finland and Singapore, as young nations, work more on their soft culture to raise their global profile, power and prestige?

The answer is a definite YES. We just need to figure out exactly how. First, this starts from seeing the value of marketing, promoting and communicating popular local culture, fashion, literature and the art on the global stage.

And this value is even more important for young nations. Let us not be afraid. 


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