As one of Singapore’s most versatile artistes, Michelle Chong, has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene. You might recognise her as Lulu or Barbarella from local comedy programme The Noose, but Chong's extends beyond these personas.
From comedy acts to appearing on the silver screen, Chong has gone from in front of the camera to sitting in the director's chair. In the process, she produced not one but three movies. After her departure from mainstream television stations, Chong started her own film and TV production company, Huat Films, along with artiste management agency, Left Profile.
Juggling acting, theatre and multiple hosting gigs is not an easy task. On top of that, Chong also works tirelessly to maintain her own personal brand online.
In this edition of Now following, Chong shares with Marketing on how her experience with marketers has evolved. Some brands Chong has worked with include OKI Cooking Oil, Health Promotion Board, ASUS Mobile, The Body Shop and Lucky 8 Restaurant, to name a few.
Marketing: What is your “claim to fame”?
I suppose my "claim to fame" would be The Noose, where I created and acted as several characters which people thought were funny yet relatable at the same time. They were also likeable personae who became regulars in the show and their taglines such as "Tanks Everybirdy Tanks!" (Barbarella) and "Speaka Engalishi, yes-si yes-si." (Lulu) became iconic.
Having said that, many of the older Chinese-speaking crowd has not watched The Noose, and still recognise me as a former Chinese host-turned-movie director. I have written, directed and produced three movies: the first one, Already Famous, was chosen as Singapore's entry to the Oscars 2012 for Best Foreign Film. My second movie, 3 Peas in a Pod, is a road trip movie filmed in Australia. On top of Singapore Airlines, the movie was sold to many other international airlines such as Emirates, China Airlines, Air Niugini, Garuda, South African Airways, Silkair, Fiji Airlines, to name a few. My third movie, Lulu The Movie, hit SG$2 million at the local box office last year.
Marketing: What was the transition like from the silver screen to the digital screen?
Transitioning from the silver screen to the digital screen has worked out amazingly for me, because I am quintessentially a content maker. And now with digital media becoming commonplace, clients come to us because they want creative ads in the form of digital videos starring a familiar face from TV.
I have a production house (Huat Films) with a PR arm (Left Profile) so we are a one-stop shop really, because we help you plan your campaign from conceptualising the theme to coming up with the content of your videos and to advising the number of social media posts to even planning activations (artiste appearances), to name a few.
Most recently I collaborated with Netflix where I came up with an original character and wrote the script for the promotional campaign of their anchor series, Orange Is The New Black. They flew me to the film set of OITNB in New York to film with the cast and the two online videos went viral (1.5 million views within days) and garnered much coverage in the press.
Marketing: How has your experience with marketers changed as a result?
In the past, the budgets for branded content productions were higher because they were meant for TV and a certain video quality and standard was expected. Because of the way advertising has evolved from traditional to digital platforms, video content now takes higher priority over video quality, and so production budgets have come down.
But because we come from a TV and film background and have produced three movies, our unique selling point is that we produce funny yet quality branded content. Some clients find that important because it aligns better with their image.
More clients are also coming to us directly nowadays, instead of going through the ad or media agency.
This is because we are able to plan and conceptualise the whole advertising campaign for them and also advise relevant ad buy.
Marketing: What are some of the challenges of being an influencer?
It is very important to continually keep up with social media trends and really be in the thick of things. For example, Facebook recently made changes to their policies on branded content, and posts which violated these policies were hidden in news feed.
If you didn't know about these policies, your post's views would have been affected. I haven't made any boo-boos as an influencer because we have a team who takes care of the details and liaising with the client and also I'm very meticulous when it comes to my own sponsored social media postings.
Of course I am constantly trying to keep abreast of the times and pop culture to see how we can attract the younger demographic. We just started a YouTube Channel in February this year called "The Michelle Chong Channel".
It serves as a good platform to introduce my new original characters and also create content for my Left Profile artistes. Pornsak hosts a talkshow called "Court Porn" where he interviews controversial online personalities while Ethen Lee Teng stars in a variety infotainment show, "Ethen By The Babes", with a different babe in each episode.
My father also has a cooking show, Papa Chong Cooks, where he simplifies and demonstrates how to cook his family recipes. The other shows feature my new characters Chiang Yingwen, an RGS schoolgirl who teaches Singaporeans how to properly pronounce English words (#OWAAT), and Venus Seow who is a self-proclaimed fitness guru whose style and antics are reminiscent of the 80's Step Aerobics era (Venus Seow Fitness).
Marketing: How do you deal with difficult clients?
We don't really have difficult clients because essentially brands come to us for smart, funny content so our clients are inherently the open and progressive type. They also understand what it takes for a video to become viral and hence give us a lot of creative freedom.
Marketing: What should clients take note of when it comes to working with celeb influencers and content creators such as yourself?
Clients are very welcome to come to us with a clean slate, but be clear about what it is they want to feature or achieve, and be very open.
Because we do this on a full-time basis, we have a good understanding of our audience's taste and habits.
For example, some clients might think that Friday nights are a good time to post because people are more free during the weekend to look at them. But statistics have shown that Friday night posts receive the least number of views because most social media users are actually out socialising in real life than on social media!
By the time the weekend arrives, the algorithm makes it such that the posts appear less in news feed because much time has passed and these "old posts" must make way for new ones.
Marketing: How important is a social media following today in the eyes of client marketers?
I think it is important when it comes to influencers who are purely on social media because you don't know them from anywhere else. Hence, their social media following is a good gauge of what kind of a reach you can get if you engage them. That being said, followers can be bought so it's more important to look at their content and audience engagement.
In the bigger scheme of things, an influencer's social media following is not that important if you are using someone who is already a famous star or popular personality. This is because it's more about the association with your brand, and boosting the video will get you the desired reach and mileage.
Marketing: What do you do to strike a connection with your followers/fans?
As cliche as it sounds, it's important to keep it real and to put effort into your posts. A lot of the top social media influencers do well because their pictures are pretty and well-thought out.
For others, it's about the authenticity and they post and talk about what is real to them. For me, I try to keep my content interesting and funny, and I also try share with my followers a slice of my life, which is made up of mainly two things: working and eating (a lot)!
Marketing: What is next for you?
World domination. Just kidding. What's next for me is to try to keep my new house neat and uncluttered, so that I can concentrate on creating good original content for world domination.