National Campaigns in Singapore
by Lim, Tin Seng
Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has conducted many national campaigns. These have covered a wide range of topics such as public cleanliness, family planning, courtesy and workplace productivity. Other campaigns include ones that encourage people to be good neighbours, live a healthy lifestyle and observe good personal hygiene. Collectively, the purpose of these campaigns was to instill certain social behaviours and attitudes regarded by the government as beneficial to both the individual and community. They are also used as instruments for policy implementation.1
Campaigns during the 1960s and 1970s
Most of the campaigns that were conducted during the first two decades after independence were designed to lay the foundation of a young nation.2 For example, the “Keep Singapore Clean” and “Tree Planting Day” campaigns, launched in 1968 and 1971 respectively, were to establish Singapore as a country that was clean and full of greenery.3 In fact, the two campaigns were part of a larger public cleaning plan that included strengthening public health laws, the relocation and licensing of itinerant hawkers, the development of a proper sewage system and the introduction of better disease control measures.4 The campaigns were also one of the key drivers to turn Singapore into a tropical garden city.5 The government believed a clean and green environment was important to the country’s development as it would not only enhance the quality of life and cultivate national pride, but also paint a better image of Singapore for foreign investors and tourists.
Besides the environment, another major focus of campaigns in Singapore during the 1960s and 1970s was family planning. With slogans such as “Plan your family”, “Singapore wants small families” and “Small families, brighter future – Two is enough”, these campaigns advocated smaller family units among Singaporeans.6 Initially, the campaigns did not dictate the ideal family size. But with the launch of the two-child policy in 1972, a two-child family norm was endorsed.7 These family planning campaigns came at a time when the government was facing the formidable cost of providing education, health services, and housing to a population that was growing rapidly due to the post-war boom. As such, family planning was regarded as a necessary measure to slow the country’s birth rate. Furthermore, the government also rationalised that a smaller family unit among Singaporeans would be beneficial as it would help reduce financial expenditure in households.8
Campaigns during the 1980s and 1990s
As Singapore became more affluent in the 1980s and 1990s, improving the qualitative values of Singaporeans became one of the focuses of campaigns. Leading this was the National Courtesy Campaign. Inaugurated in 1979, the aim of the campaign was to create a pleasant social environment where people were cultured, considerate and thoughtful of each other's needs.9 The campaign was initially represented by a Smiley logo and the slogan “Make courtesy our way of life”. This was subsequently replaced by the mascot Singa the Courtesy Lion in 1982.10
The Speak Mandarin Campaign was another campaign introduced to develop better qualitative skills for Singaporeans, particularly the communication skills amongst Chinese Singaporeans.11 When the campaign was launched in 1979, it was believed that the use of Chinese dialects was hampering the bilingual educational policy for the Chinese in Singapore. As a result, the government felt that there was a need to simplify the language environment of the Chinese by encouraging them to speak Mandarin in place of dialects.12 The government also held the view that a strong Mandarin-speaking environment would help the Chinese better appreciate their culture and heritage.13
To improve the qualitative skills of Singaporeans in the workplace, the government launched the first National Productivity Campaign in 1975 followed by the Productivity Month in 1982.14 Fronted by slogans such as “Productivity is our business” and later the mascot Teamy the Productivity Bee, the aim of the campaign was to raise the productivity of the labour force through various means.15 These included reducing the wastage of materials and time, improving the quality of products, enhancing work efficiency, and promoting closer relationships between management and labour.16 The productivity campaign was introduced when Singapore was beginning to move away from labour-intensive to highly-skilled and technology-driven activities to maintain its competitiveness. The campaign had a positive effect on the workforce’s productivity level.17 In fact, between 1981 and 1990, Singapore’s productivity registered an average increase of 4.8 percent annually. Since then, Singapore’s workforce has been assessed to be one the best in the world.18
During the 1990s, the government yet again expanded the reach of national campaigns when it launched the National Healthy Lifestyle Programme in 1992 to promote a healthy lifestyle among Singaporeans. Officially inaugurated by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, the programme was centered on an annual, month-long campaign called the National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign. One of the campaign’s most iconic activities was the Great Singapore Workout.19 First introduced in 1993, the workout was a specially designed low-impact aerobic programme comprising 15 exercises, which are safe and suitable for anyone between the ages of seven to 70.20 The campaign’s aim was to promote the message that exercise is necessary to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.21 Over the years, more health-related campaigns were added to the National Healthy Lifestyle Programme, such as ones that promoted healthy eating habits, encouraged people to quit smoking, stress management and the practice of healthy behaviour such as greater community interaction.22
Campaigns from the 2000s
From the 2000s, the government continued to use campaigns to communicate with the population. Campaigns that were introduced during this period include the “Speak Good English Movement” in 2000 and “Romancing Singapore” campaign in 2003.23 Further, during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), public education campaigns such as “Singapore’s OK” (SOK) were rolled out to educate Singapore residents about the disease, as well as encourage them to adopt better personal hygiene and socially responsible habits to prevent and combat the spread of SARS.24 When Singapore faced the risk of Influenza A (H1N1) in 2009, the SOK campaign was relaunched.25
As the frequency of campaigns grew, however, it was felt that Singaporeans were slowly becoming immune to the messages of the campaigns.26 In order to preserve and maintain the relevance of campaigns, the government started to revise the way campaigns were conducted.27 One method was to reduce the number of campaigns each year by merging existing ones. In fact, as early as in the 1990s, various “keep clean” campaigns including the Keep Singapore Clean, Keep Public Toilets Clean and Tree Planting campaigns were merged under the Clean and Green Week. This week-long movement was relaunched in 2007 as Clean and Green Singapore, a year-long initiative focused on three areas: clean environment; city of gardens and water; and energy efficiency and resource conservation.28 Besides the “keep clean” campaigns, another long-running campaign − the National Courtesy Campaign − was incorporated under the Singapore Kindness Movement when it was launched in 1997 together with similar campaigns that promoted graciousness and kindness among Singaporeans.29
Campaign promotion strategies
Campaigns in Singapore have been promoted in many ways. The most common were the distribution of posters and brochures as well as souvenirs like bookmarks and collar pins. An array of channels such as mass media broadcasts, forums and talks have also been used to raise the public’s awareness towards the campaigns.30 From the 1980s, some campaigns such as the National Courtesy Campaign began using catchy slogans and jingles to get the message out.31 They also started using television commercials, sitcoms, school activities and competitions to help raise awareness. Additional measures were also taken to ensure a campaign’s efficiency. For instance, when the Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched, dialect programmes over the radio and television were phased out.32
In almost every part of the island today, be it in a park, food court, building or any other public space, there is a high chance that a person will come across posters, banners, stickers or other collaterals promoting one campaign or another. And with the advent of new social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, it is not uncommon for Singaporeans to encounter campaigns being promoted on these platforms.
Lim Tin Seng
1. Quah, J. S. T. and Quah, S. R. (1989). The Limits of Government Intervention. In Sandhu, K. S. & Wheatley, P. (1989). Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAN)
2. Pan, H. (2005). National campaigns−a way of life. In Legacy of Singapore: 40th anniversary commemorative 1965−2005. Singapore: CR Media, p.104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEG)
3. The public must co-operate. (1968, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Ministry of Culture. (1968, October 1). Speech by the prime minister inaugurating the ‘Keep Singapore Clean’ campaign on Tuesday, 1st October, 1968. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Dr Goh plants tree to launch T-Day. (1971, November 8). The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Ministry of Environment. (1997). Singapore – My clean & green home. Singapore: Ministry of the Environment, p. 63. (Call no.: RSING 354.3095957 MIN); Ministry of Environment. (1973). Towards a clean and healthy environment. Singapore: Ministry of the Environment, pp. 1, 3, 7, 18. (Call no.: RSING 614.7 SIN); Long, S. (2003, May 25). Welcome to campaign country. The Straits Times, p. 27; The public must co-operate. (1968, October 1). The Straits Times, p. 10; Teo, G. (2003, May 11). Dirty pockets still exist. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lee, K. Y. (2000). From third world to first: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Times Editions: Singapore Press Holdings, p. 188. (Call no.: RSING 959.5705092 LEE-[HIS])
6. Chang, C.-T., et al. (1980). Culture and fertility: The case of Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 20–21. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.321095957 CHA); Yap, M. T. (2007). Singapore: Population, policies and programs. In W. C. Robinson & J. A. Ross (Eds.), The global family planning revolution: Three decades of population policies and programs. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, p. 205. (Call no.: RSING 363.9091724 GLO)
7. Singapore Family Planning and Population Board. (1973). Seventh annual report of the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board 1972. Singapore: Singapore Family Planning & Population Board, p. 44. (Call no.: RCLOS 301.426 SFPPBA)
8. Ministry of Culture. (1972, July 20). Speech by Mr Chua Sian Chin, Minister for Health, at the opening ceremony of the Family Planning Campaign 1972 at the Singapore Conference Hall on Thursday, 20th July 1972 at 2000 hours (pp. 1–3). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; Family planning in Singapore. (1966). Singapore: Govt. Printer, pp.1-26. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 FAM); Saw, S.-H. (2005). Population policies and programmes in Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 81. (Call no.: RSING 363.96095957 SAW)
9. Towards a polite society. (1979, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 1; Making polite behaviour our way of life... (1979, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Byramji, N. (1979, June 17). We'll make it within five years. The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, V. (1985, June 29). New-style courtesy campaign will last a whole year. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Nirmala, M. (1999). Courtesy – more than a smile. Singapore: The Singapore Courtesy Council, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 395.095957 NIR –[CUS])
11. Lee to launch 'use Mandarin campaign'. (1979, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Lee to launch 'use Mandarin campaign'. (1979, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 1; Panel set up to promote Mandarin. (1979, August 17). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Launch a promote-Mandarin campaign. (1979, August 16). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Woon, K.C., & Loo, Y. L. (2018). 50 years of Singapore’s productivity drive. Singapore: World Scientific Pub., pp. 24, 79 and 151. (Call no.: RSING 338. 45095957 WOO); Production drive displays at 10 C-Centre.(1975, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 9; Driving home need for higher output. (1975, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 6; Drive to make all aware of productivity importance. (1975, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Speech by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the launching of productivity month in Singapore Conference Hall. (1982, November 1). Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
15. Teamy the bee. (1982, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Production drive displays at 10 C-Centre.(1975, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 9; Driving home need for higher output. (1975, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 6; Drive to make all aware of productivity importance. (1975, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Woon, K.C., & Loo, Y. L. (2018). 50 years of Singapore’s productivity drive. Singapore: World Scientific Pub., p. 79. (Call no.: RSING 338. 45095957 WOO); Driving home need for higher output. (1975, April 5). The Straits Times, p. 6; Drive to make all aware of productivity importance. (1975, April 24). The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Woon, K.C., & Loo, Y. L. (2018). 50 years of Singapore’s productivity drive. Singapore: World Scientific Pub., pp. 110–111. (Call no.: RSING 338. 45095957 WOO); Productivity begins with a right mental attitude, says Mah. (1989, November 2). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Innovation & quality: Mastering the best practices: 15 years of the productivity movement, ’81–’96. (1996). Singapore: Singapore Productivity and Standards Board, pp. 19–20. (Call no.: RSING 338.06095957 INN)
19. Singapore. Ministry of Health. (1994). Annual report 1993. Singapore: Ministry of Health, p. 30. (Call no.: RCLOS 354.59570677 SMHAR-[AR])
20. Pereira, B. (1993, July 26). The Great S'pore Workout. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Lum, M. (1993, September 26). The making of a great workout. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (2000, September 7). Speech by Mr Lim Hng Kiang, minister for health and 2nd minister for finance at the launch of National Healthy Lifestyle Campaign 2000 cum the Singapore H.E.A.L.T.H Award 2000 presentation ceremony, 7 September 2000, Suntec City at 7.40 pm. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline
23. Pan, H. (2005). National campaigns - A way of life. InLegacy of Singapore: 40th anniversary commemorative 1965-2005. Singapore: CR Media, pp.105-108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEG)
24. Lee, H. C. & Gunasingham, A. (2009, May 2). New drive to Clean Up Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25. Lee, H. C. & Gunasingham, A. (2009, May 2). New drive to Clean Up Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Vaughan, V. (2009, May 13). Market, hawker centres at Sims Place are OK. The Straits Times, p. 24. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26. Quah, J. S. T. and Quah, S. R. (1989). The Limits of Government Intervention. In Sandhu, K. S. & Wheatley, P. (1989). Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 116. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAN)
27. “Life in Campaign City”. (July 2007). Challenge. Singapore: PS21 Quality Service Committee, Prime Minister's Office. (Call no.: RSING 354.595700147 C)
28. Ministry of Information and the Arts. (1990, November 4). Speech by Mr Goh Chok Tong, first deputy prime minister and minister for defence, at the launching of ‘Clean and Green Week... Green for Life’, at Esplanade Park on Sunday, 4 November 1990 at 10.00pm. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/; National Environment Agency. (2020). Clean & Green Singapore. Retrieved from National Environment Agency website: https://www.nea.gov.sg/programmes-grants/campaigns/clean-and-green-singapore
29. Singapore Kindness Movement. (2020). SKM Branding. Retrieved from Singapore Kindness Movement website: https://www.kindness.sg/skm-branding/
30. Pan, H. (2005). National campaigns−a way of life. In Legacy of Singapore: 40th anniversary commemorative 1965-2005. Singapore: CR Media, p. 104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEG)
31. Nirmala, M. (1999). Courtesy – more than a smile. Singapore: The Singapore Courtesy Council, p. 13. (Call no.: RSING 395.095957 NIR –[CUS])
32. Promote Mandarin Council. (2019, December 26). Who We Are. Retrieved from Promote Mandarin Council website: https://www.languagecouncils.sg/mandarin/en/about
The information in this article is valid as at September 2020 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.