#PRAwards highlight: How NHB boosted the love for SG's hawker culture

National Heritage Board (NHB) is the custodian of Singapore's shared heritage and has been playing an active role telling the Singapore Story through the years. In Marketing's and A+M's PR Awards 2020, the brand highlighted Singapore's iconic hawker culture with a social media campaign that won it a silver award for "Best Use of Social Media". 

In its campaign #OurHawkerCulture, NHB together with its PR agency Tate Anzur, set out to increase community engagement and understanding of the hawker culture among Singaporeans. It also aimed to show quantifiable support for hawker culture, which was chosen as Singapore’s nomination for the UNESCO’s representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity. 

Challenge

They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, and this cannot be truer for Singaporeans. While Singapore’s foodie residents have a diverse palate, there’s one thing in common - the love for hawker food. In a survey conducted by National Environment Agency in 2016, 9 in 10 respondents agreed or strongly agreed that hawker centres are an important part of Singapore’s identity. This shows that it is not just about what Singaporeans eat, it is also who Singaporeans are. So when it comes to Singaporeans, it’s not just the stomach that matters, it’s the heart as well.

It is this love for food that landed hawker culture as Singapore’s nomination for the UNESCO’s representative list of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity in March 2019, for its next edition to be released end 2020.

However, it is not as simple as submitting a nomination form and hoping for the best. The nomination committee - comprising NHB, National Environment Agency and Federation of Merchants' Associations Singapore - needed to demonstrate large-scale community support and appreciation for hawker culture, and efforts to preserve this intangible cultural heritage beyond this one-off campaign.

So while NHB knew that there is tremendous local love for hawker food, it needed to engage the community to better understand #OurHawkerCulture beyond the food Singaporeans enjoy, as well as show quantifiable support for #OurHawkerCulture.

To tackle this challenge, NHB tapped on the expertise of its PR agency Tate Anzur. As NHB’s PR agency for many years, Tate Anzur was well-placed to understand the nuances of the topic, but also challenged to do things differently and think beyond its usual media relations remit.

Strategy

As many mobile-first Singaporeans will tell you, their “phone eats first”. So when considering the social media platform to use to spread the message of #OurHawkerCulture, NHB and Tate Anzur chose Instagram to launch @SGHawkerCulture, a virtual “hawker centre” of food pictures contributed by 1.9 million active users in Singapore.

Launching @SGHawkerCulture on Instagram complemented NHB’s existing social media reach on Facebook. It aimed to reach new Gen Z and younger Millennial audiences, as well as senior social media users who are long-time hawker culture lovers. This came about as research revealed 33% of all internet users in Singapore aged between 55 and 65 years old are now conversant with Instagram.

Bearing in mind NHB’s goals to encourage greater appreciation for hawkers and the important role hawker centres play as part of the community and neighbourhoods, as well as ensure that “hawker culture” in Singapore will continue into the future for future generations to enjoy, NHB and Tate Anzur adopted a social media strategy that would not just create an engaging social media page, but also an engaged social media community.

In developing the content and community engagement plan, the brand and agency were guided by the need to:

  • Feature real people

While investigating the best ways to leverage influencers to gain pledges of support for the nomination, the team first examined the biggest stakeholders behind the nomination - the hawkers themselves. These include veterans who have been at this for decades, family members who made career switches to be a next-generation hawker, and youngsters who stepped up to the call to continue our hawker trade. NHB and Tate Anzur looked on social media, and found that they too were influencers with large and loyal followers. They also have authentic stories to tell about the hawker culture, as well as what the nomination means to them.

  • Put social in social media

It was essential to also bring the campaign from online to offline - and bring out the true “social” element of #OurHawkerCulture. The community engagement would have to involve a real walk of the grounds to reach real Singaporeans and invite them to show their support. It also had to find a way to translate online support to offline action.

NHB and Tate Anzur also wanted to be social in the way content is curated. It wasn’t all about what NHB had to say but also a platform to share meaningful user-generated content (UGC). This was a page that the community can feel they are part of, and not just another government campaign.

  • Emphasise the intangible

While food would be the easiest way to talk about hawker culture on social media, the brand and agency were mindful that the nomination is around hawker culture as an intangible cultural heritage. Going beyond the food pictures not only helps them to stand out from the lip-smacking explore feed, it also helps deviate from the debates with neighbouring countries on food origins and focus on what hawker culture means to Singaporeans, and the benefits of being inscribed in the UNESCO representative list.

Execution

The main ingredients that made up the recipe for the #OurHawkerCulture campaign were:

  • Great visuals and stories of hawkers

As an official social media platform for NHB’s nomination efforts, it was important to ensure a high quality and diverse library of assets that could be stretched throughout the year-long calendar, and re-purposed for other publicity needs such as earned media stories or above-the-line marketing.

Partnering with Objectifs’ group of budding photographers, NHB and Tate Anzur carried out 43 photoshoots and interviews with social-media-active hawkers, which included a fellow hawker they would like to thank for being part of their journey. This could be their family member, their co-workers, or even a neighbour hawker who has lent a helping hand.

Rather than the usual success stories, this approach highlighted the community aspect of Singapore’s hawker culture. It also gave the hawkers an impetus to post on their own social media platforms, since it was not just a self-serving story, as they invite their own followers to say #ThankYouHawkers in support of the UNESCO nomination.

hawker culture 4

  • Great community engagement

Beyond the posts by hawkers, NHB and Tate Anzur also wanted to encourage quality UGC to highlight the #ThankYouHawkers message and demonstrate community support for the UNESCO nomination. In the weeks leading up to the March deadline, weekly hawker centre walkabouts and contests were organised to promote the movement and encourage a steady stream of community content on the hashtag.

More than just dishing out prizes to followers, NHB and Tate Anzur sought to help the community give back to the hawkers. In addition to winning creative merchandise for themselves, winners would also be gifting customised #OurHawkerCulture aprons and supermarket vouchers to their favourite hawkers. The gifts were personally delivered as a surprise to each hawker, and winners were invited along as well. Influential personalities, such as Masterchef winner Zander Ng, were also invited to surprise their favourite hawkers with customised aprons.

hawker culture 2

  • Great educational content

While the “soft stories” are a hit, it was also important to use the platform to educate on the intangible aspects of Hawker Culture and the UNESCO nomination.

NHB used @SGHawkerCulture to set straight any hearsay around the campaign, and also highlighted its unique role in the process by introducing the history behind beloved hawker centres and spotlighting its evolution from previous generations till present time. Such posts also made use of a Linkin.bio feature to lead users to its online site “oursgheritage.sg” or “Roots.sg” for further reading. This often came with great clickthrough success.

hawker culture 2

  • Great community content

Finally, beyond creating owned content, NHB also turned to the hashtag #OurHawkerCulture, which became a fantastic repository for community content.

More than just a directory for Singapore’s hawker food favourites, the hashtag attracted great diversity of UGC such as artworks, hawker portraits, personal reflections, student-led projects, and even a hawker centre fashion shoot. Some of the content were also re-posted on @SGHawkerCulture with consent and credit to the users, should it be suitable to the colour or a season theme of the month.

hawker culture 2

Results

After running @SGHawkerCulture from January to December 2019, a vibrant Instagram home for #OurHawkerCulture was built, and a new community for NHB was grown.

On @SGHawkerCulture, there was close to three million total reach in a year, with close to 9,000 followers gained, and an active monthly engagement rate. On #OurHawkerCulture, there were also many positive reactions. The initiative also saw 30 prizes given out. Meanwhile, on the hawkers’ own social media, there was a flood of followers as well as engagements on its posts. There were also intangible results such as new audiences and advocates gained, seeing Singapore’s creativity and love, as well as the positive and on-message public comments received.

From 13 year old students who were inspired by #ThankYouHawkers to hand out their own appreciation cards to hawkers, to NHB’s top commenter and most senior fan Uncle Chong who dished out personal anecdotes and enthusiastic support for hawkers, the brand and agency was able to reach young and old audiences through a topic they all love.

The hashtag #OurHawkerCulture also became a home for Singaporeans to show their creativity in expressing their support for hawker culture in their own ways. This includes sharing surprise portraits with the hawkers, or going on a mission to eat at all 112 hawker centres. NHB and Tate Anzur will be keeping these content in their pockets for future PR opportunities to gain earned media stories.

Last but not least, the biggest win of the campaign was seeing the public’s comments and post captions that drove home NHB’s goals of encouraging greater appreciation for Singapore’s hawkers, highlighting the important roles of hawker centres, and the importance of preserving for continuing for future generations.

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