In 2006, almost 490,000 Britons travelled to a country whose two most celebrated exports are its beer and its food.
Tiger Beer has been brewed in Singapore since 1932 and its roots are so firmly planted in Asian culture that it is currently brewed in seven countries across Asia. Chilli Crab is widely recognized as the unofficial national dish of Singapore. Together, they formed the ingredients for a unique festival in the heart of London's East End last month designed to increase awareness of the destination and expose the beer brand to its target audience of 'early adopters'.
The Tiger Beer Singapore Chilli Crab Festival ran across the weekend of 1-2 September. Managed by RPM on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board and Tiger Beer's UK marketing department, the celebration occupied three venues in Brick Lane: the Boiler House, Vibe Bar and 93 Feet East.
The festival was piloted in 2006 at just the Vibe Bar and attracted 7,000 people across the weekend. A year ago the food ingredients were mixed with paste because organisers were unsure how popular the concept would be, but resources still ran out by the second afternoon. This time around, agency RPM was drafted in to manage the process and expand the concept, resulting in all culinary dishes being prepared fresh on site.
RPM specialist events director Alex Webb says: "Queues of people were something we were not going to avoid in such a busy thoroughfare so we decided that if people were prepared to wait in line then they would be guaranteed that the food would be fresh and not cooked with paste.
"The chefs began preparing at 11pm the night before and then came on site at 3am each morning. On the first day alone we sold out of Chilli Crab dead on our 6pm close and served in the region of 9,000 people. Our brief was to double the amount of visitors from last year and it looks like we've far exceeded that."
By expanding the festival into Brick Lane's neighbouring 93 Feet East bar and the Boiler Room space within Old Truman Breweries' Boiler House, RPM could introduce more experiential elements. While the two bars focused on selling food and Tiger Beer, the Boiler Room acted as a window on to Singapore art, culture and entertainment.
Market stalls in the Boiler Room sold Singaporean products and Tiger Beer merchandise, around which visitors could experience traditional calligraphy demonstrations, henna tattoos and Singaporean art. On a main stage, lion dancing, martial arts, acrobatic tumbling and dragon dancing took place three times a day.
In the venue's outdoor space, RPM created a traditional Singaporean garden which featured celebrated chef Terry Tan conducting cooking demonstrations, also three times daily.
Singapore Tourism Board's area director for northern and western Europe, Divya Panickar, says: "The three venues in close proximity were perfect for creating an authentic environment that could reach young trendy consumers. For those who haven't had the opportunity to travel to Singapore, we are providing a touch of what they can expect and maybe they will then consider it as a future holiday destination. This is not about selling holidays, however. It is about branding and education. It's the longer-term benefits of this activity that will see increased travel to the region."
Tiger Beer is a brand that regularly embraces experiential activity such as kickboxing in disused car parks or celebrations of Asian grindhouse cinema, but UK marketing manager Steven Greaves is none the less grateful for an agency capable of managing the swelling crowds and sometimes hour-long queues for food.
He says: "Tiger Beer is looking to consolidate its activity so we're doing fewer small events and instead of focusing on a couple of larger events that attract greater numbers of 'early mass market' consumers. When I saw the food queues I was intimidated, but RPM has experience of this type of crowd management and it is important for us to have an agency of this type on board."
RPM's Webb redirected table magicians and origami displays from the bar tables to the growing food queues and ensured promotional girls in tiger dresses were interacting with the crowds and handing out competition cards to win a holiday. "The main thing for us was that everyone was being communicated to," she says. "When told that they had a 40-minute wait, they were then happy to remain in line."
Panickar echoes the sentiment and adds: "Looking at the response we've had this year, there is no way we cannot make this an annual festival. We will just need to find a bigger space."
Tiger Beer Singapore Chilli Crab Festival
Dates: 1-2 September
Clients: Singapore Tourism Board and Tiger Beer
Venues: Boiler House (Old Truman Breweries), Vibe Bar, 93 Feet East
Visitors: over 16,000 (unaudited)