Dis­ney, Dis­ney, ev­ery­where

The Straits Times - - FRONT PAGE -

When retiree Ju­lia D’Silva heard that Dis­ney char­ac­ters would pop­u­late the Christ­mas light-up along Or­chard Road this year, she was aghast.

See­ing the lights in per­son last week did lit­tle to change her mind. Asks the 66-year-old: “What does Mickey Mouse have to do with Christ­mas?”

That is prob­a­bly not a ques­tion that arises among those un­der 12, who are thrilled to get up close with the Dis­ney fam­ily, but shop­pers like Ms D’Silva won­der if this year’s Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions along the fa­mous shop­ping belt are too overtly com­mer­cial, with too lit­tle em­pha­sis on Christ­mas.

At this year’s light-up, or­gan­ised by the Or­chard Road Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion (Orba), more than 20 Dis­ney and Dis­ney-Pixar char­ac­ters, such as Dis­ney princesses Snow White and Cinderella, and Toy Story char­ac­ters Woody and Rex adorn the arches that span the road, and Mickey Mouse icons gleam in the trees on ei­ther side.

The Dis­ney theme is part of a three-year col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween The Walt Dis­ney Com­pany South­east Asia (Dis­ney) and Sin­ga­pore Tourism Board (STB) aimed at pro­vid­ing unique ex­pe­ri­ences themed around Dis­ney’s brands and char­ac­ters.

Asked if Dis­ney had paid for its char­ac­ters to be fea­tured in the light-up, Orba de­clined to comment, cit­ing con­fi­den­tial obli­ga­tions. Dis­ney did not re­spond to queries by press time.

Eight set pieces at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions let shop­pers pose for pic­tures with the fa­mous char­ac­ters.

This is Dis­ney’s largest Christ­mas street light-up in South-east Asia. Two malls – Or­chard Cen­tral and Whee­lock Place – are also decked in Dis­ney-themed decor.

Ms D’Silva says she does not have any­thing against Dis­ney, but adds: “I think there are other oc­ca­sions, such as the Great Sin­ga­pore Sale – which has a greater com­mer­cial el­e­ment – when such brand­ing might be more suit­able.”

She feels it would be more ap­pro­pri­ate if the dec­o­ra­tions used mo­tifs as­so­ci­ated with Yule­tide cheer, such as Santa Claus, rein­deer, colours like red, green, gold, or beau­ti­fully wrapped presents.

“Our Hari Raya Puasa, Deep­avali and Chi­nese New Year dec­o­ra­tions are usu­ally so beau­ti­ful,” she says. “I hope we can also fash­ion Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions that bet­ter res­onate with the Christ­mas sea­son and its spirit of love and giv­ing.”

Mr Rod­ney Tan, 73, shares her view. The Sin­ga­porean, who works in the IT in­dus­try, says: “All I saw were car­toon char­ac­ters. I could not see any­thing re­lated to Christ­mas.”

He adds: “Christ­mas is about the birth of Je­sus Christ. I think this mes­sage should not be lost in the dec­o­ra­tions, which seems to be what has hap­pened this year.”

While big brands ex­pect mileage out of events they spon­sor, this can be jar­ring to pub­lic ex­pec­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, a large logo of high fash­ion brand Yves Saint Lau­rent at the 1997 Christ­mas lights at Lon­don’s Re­gent Street drew crit­i­cism for its size and com­mer­cial­ism. A year later, when the lights were paid for by soft drink Tango, they bore the mes­sage “Tis the sea­son to be Tango’d” and were met with pub­lic scorn.

Asked for the re­cep­tion to this year’s Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions, Orba says it has had pos­i­tive feed­back from peo­ple of all ages – es­pe­cially fam­i­lies with young chil­dren.

Its ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Steven Goh says: “As with an­nual light-ups in past years, many look for­ward to en­joy­ing the bright lights and the unique fes­tive of­fer­ings, such as The Great Christ­mas Vil­lage and Christ­mas pop-up stores along Or­chard Road.”

Ex­perts in­ter­viewed say Orba’s partnership with Dis­ney is well thought out and will be quite ap­peal­ing to tourists vis­it­ing Sin­ga­pore dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son.

While Dr Se­shan Ra­maswami, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing ed­u­ca­tion at Sin­ga­pore Man­age­ment Univer­sity, cau­tions that the overt com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of Christ­mas does some dam­age to its un­der­ly­ing re­li­gious sig­nif­i­cance, he also notes: “Over the years and across the world, Christ­mas has be­come an oc­ca­sion for cel­e­bra­tion across re­li­gious and sec­tar­ian bounds – one marked by feast­ing, shop­ping, gift-giv­ing and trav­el­ling.

“In this con­text, per­haps the light-up should just be viewed and en­joyed, rather than cri­tiqued.”

As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Ang Swee Hoon, from the Na­tional Univer­sity of Sin­ga­pore Busi­ness School’s depart­ment of mar­ket­ing, says: “Is it overkill? I don’t think so. I think chil- dren can see or hear no end to Dis­ney sto­ries. Dis­ney has a large and var­ied port­fo­lio of char­ac­ters that it is quite dif­fi­cult to be Dis­ney-sa­ti­ated un­less all retailers have ex­actly the same con­cept and char­ac­ters.”

None­the­less, in the case of this year’s dec­o­ra­tions, she notes that the rel­e­vance of Dis­ney to Christ­mas could be made tighter by as­so­ci­at­ing each Dis­ney char­ac­ter with a Christ­mas icon, say for ex­am­ple, a Dis­ney princess with Ru­dolph the red-nosed rein­deer or Mickey Mouse car­ry­ing Christ­mas gifts.

“By in­te­grat­ing icons, the dec­o­ra­tions can look more like a col­lab­o­ra­tion rather than a form of self­pro­mo­tion by Dis­ney,” she says.

Ad­junct As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Lynda Wee from the Nanyang Busi­ness School hopes the partnership can be taken one step fur­ther. “There are pa­rades in Dis­ney­land, so let the pa­rades roll along Or­chard Road too.

“Or­chard Road is about shop­ping, din­ing and leisure. It is cos­mopoli­tan and hence is suit­able for col­lab­o­ra­tions with mod­ern and global brands.”

Cer­tainly, not every shop­per is a de­trac­tor.

Filipino tourist An­gel Nazal Rodolfo, 20, says: “Dis­ney was a large part of my child­hood and I love it. I’ve been to Hong Kong Dis­ney­land be­fore and this feels like it, which is great.”

Full-time na­tional ser­vice­man Muham­mad Shukri, 20, says: “Many Mickey Mouse TV episodes fea­ture Christ­mas themes such as fam­ily bond­ing and car­ing for oth­ers. So there is a con­nec­tion be­tween Dis­ney and Christ­mas and, to me, this year’s dec­o­ra­tions are one of the nicest.”

Dis­ney-themed decor can also be found in Whee­lock Place (left) and at Or­chard Cen­tral.

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