Singapore’s budget is the most important event of 2018’s first quarter because it will determine the state of your bank account for years to come.
Unfortunately, it’s off to a bad start thanks to MOF’s heavily-criticised influencer campaign.
Yesterday, the Straits Times published a story about the Ministry of Finance using influencers to promote 2018 Budget. There were no details on how much this campaign cost or whether MOF’s targets were met, but it didn’t stop the Straits Times from throwing shade at the influencers for using ‘pretty pictures’ to sell policy.
For once, everyone in the comments agreed with the ST article. Netizens lambasted the influencers for being ‘cringeworthy’ and ‘bad’, while MOF was scolded for wasting taxpayer money.
I do not like the campaign. However, I do not like the popular criticism levelled against this campaign either, because it basically boils down to: ‘Influencers suck. Government wasted our money.”
The judgment is a little too vanilla. We must go deeper.
Let’s examine the first part of the backlash: Influencers Suck.
This is both trite and untrue. If I had a like for every time someone told me that ‘Influencers Suck’, I will have more followers than Benjamin Kheng and would not have to write for a living. With thousands of adoring fans, they are clearly resonating on some basic level with their target audience.
The problem is that they are all lifestyle influencers without a shred of political credibility. They can promote makeup or hipster burgers but they cannot sell policy in the same way that Minister Goh Chok Tong cannot sell eyeliner.
In the west, influencers and celebrities are often outspoken about social issues and therefore, capable of influencing political opinions. It is not unusual or awkward for someone like Lady Gaga to shill for say, Hillary Clinton, because everything she does leans liberal, and the marketing is totally in step with her brand.
‘Political’ influencers like Gaga or Beyonce simply do not exist in Singapore, and it is their absence that undermines such outreach efforts, not the concept of ‘influencers’ itself.
In short, influencers are forks. Don’t blame the poor fork for being useless when the menu only serves soup.
Okay, if influencers are innocent, then should we sharpen our pitchforks for MOF instead?
This is not exactly right either. As a former PR slave, I can understand why MOF is spending on influencers and Instagram. They simply have no choice.
The upcoming Budget clearly impacts the youth demographic and instagram influencers are literally the only way you can reach this all-important younger crowd.
Most millennials do not read ST or watch Channel News Asia because they DGAF. They will only see your budget announcements if CNA inadvertently appears on their Facebook feed, or if their job title happens to be PR Slave.
Political apathy is deep and ingrained in Singapore, especially amongst the youth. After living in decades of political stability (or stagnation?), where all desires for agency are curtailed, most people under 30 simply do not care about government or politics. It’s much more fruitful to just ignore it and focus on lifestyle.
MOF cannot change this climate overnight and must therefore live with it. Using influencers to talk about the budget looks like a stupid waste of money, but you can’t fault them for trying. Producing a commercial to put on Channel 5 will spend more money for less results.
With influencers, you can at least guarantee that a few more millennials now know of the budget’s existence, even if they are not meaningfully engaged in any way.
Yes, the end result is very awkward because it’s bunch of beautiful hipsters talking about finance, but that’s the best you can do in a political climate ruled by indifference.
So if you’re looking for a scapegoat, don’t look at the influencers or MOF’s PR department.
Blame the Straits Times for failing to engage and letting influencers into the mainstream. Or blame our OB Marker Minefield for creating a millennial culture of ‘who gives a f***?’
It’s definitely a lame campaign, but it’s the one that Singapore deserves.