Those who watched Channel 8 in the last few weeks may be aware of an elephant in the room. No one seems to want to talk about it, but when someone does, everyone has an opinion. Including some strong views. I am referring to the commercial for the Pioneer Generation Package – the Mandarin Musical. I first saw it on television immediately after the National Day Parade. At first, I could not make out what it was. I thought it was a follow-through of the Parade, a Mandarin national song of sorts. It also crossed my mind it could be an early mid-autumn commercial for moon cakes. Towards the end of the commercial, the logo of the Pioneer Generation Package appeared. Those who do not know what I am talking about can catch the musical on Youtube. There are various versions of the commercial, in different dialects and languages, as well as a variety of formats. The Mandarin version is a musical and it stands out, for good reasons to some, and for all the wrong reasons to others.
It features Mark Lee and Sebastian Tan singing about the Pioneer Generation Package, with seniors dancing in the background. Tan cross-dresses as a woman. The Government has been concerned that it may be difficult to communicate the Pioneer Generation Package to seniors – the pioneer generation. That is why the Government has a deliberately elaborate campaign for it. The Mandarin musical has sparked discussion about whether it can really do the job of communicating the package to seniors. Many in the group said they did not get the full message, if at all. What is the Pioneer Generation Package really? To be fair, outside of the target group, many Singaporeans do not know it as well, at least not the details. This is not unlike the CPF issues, where a lot of people, not just older people, do not know the specifics. The discussion about this musical, however, is not really about the effectiveness of communicating the package. Rather, the question is, why do it as a musical, and why have a cross-dresser in the musical?
I posted about the Mandarin musical commercial on Facebook with a comment that I was not sure if I liked it, nor if the musical could enlighten old folks on the Pioneer Generation Package. The reactions were fast and furious. The likes and dislikes were equally and vocally aggressive. Many said their parents would stop what they were doing to watch the commercial every time it came on. A few even said their uncles and aunties were asking for the Youtude links to it, saying that they were captivated by the song and were very entertained by the musical. There were others who liked the performers, especially Sebastian Tan. There were also some who did not know the woman singing in the musical was a man. Some thought the woman was Jack Neo in drag. And then there were some who thought it was bold to have a cross-dresser in a musical for the pioneer generation.
Those who disliked the commercial thought using a musical made it even more difficult to communicate what the package was about. Some felt it was inappropriate to have a cross-dresser in a musical targeted at seniors. Why not someone the older generation looks up to, they asked. With all these talk, I checked out the other dialect and language versions. There is even a ‘Making Of’ for the Mandarin musical. So, do I like this Mandarin musical? I found it catchy. I was not sure if I was entertained. But I was drawn to it. I have grown to like it. And I am entertained by Sebastian. Because I like it, I progressively knew more and more about the Pioneer Generation Package. From a marketing perspective, any campaign that solicits strong responses is successful in some ways. If a campaign entertains and informs, then it is unusually effective, even worthy of an award.