Three things Singapore can learn from the movie '42'By Graeme Somerville-Ryan
“What movie ‘42’?” I can hear you say. Not, perhaps, the best way to start, and no doubt a phrase that would make a studio executive’s blood run cold. However, ’42' is a movie that, unless you live in the US, you won’t have seen.
That's right, the second highest grossing baseball-themed movie of all time wasn’t released in Singapore or wider South East Asia, and I suspect it had a limited or non-existent international release. So what can we learn from that? Use your marketing budget carefully? Not too many other people like baseball...
Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a special showing of ‘42’ by the US Embassy in Singapore. The pre-show speech by the ambassador was impressive, the hospitality warm, and the movie was excellent.
It ticked a lot of boxes. An inspirational fight against injustice…check. A movie with meaning…check. A classic sports movie…check. Harrison Ford back in a Fedora…check. A movie which didn’t have to end with aliens raining down bloodshed on Earth’s population…check.
And on the way home the movie got me thinking. Well, the Ambassador’s speech got me thinking. More boxes were checked. A movie about issues with a strong US domestic focus…check. A movie about a sport that is considered ‘secondary’ (if that) in most countries…check. A movie that was for purely domestic consumption…check.
So I asked myself what this movie told me about the US, and what we could learn from a movie that most of us have never seen? Not necessarily from a social justice perspective, but certainly from a commercial one—and what this means for Singaporean businesses looking at the US market as a channel for expansion.
1. Quality has a place
Jackie Robinson was quality, which was why he succeeded. In terms of getting into a sports team as a player, and making money from a quality product, the US is the place to be and is the place to sell.
This fits in well with Singapore’s strengths – a high degree of intellectual capital and an ability to produce quality services and products. Everyone is talking about the value of emerging economies, but no one should take their eyes off the US as a market. If you have a high-value idea or a high-value product this is where you want to be.
2. Innovation is welcome
The US is the home of modern innovation. Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers showed that. Innovation isn’t easy, sometimes it seems like an endless uphill struggle, but if it’s going to work, it’s going to work in the US. This doesn’t just apply to US companies, products, and services operating domestically.
Singapore, as an exporter and a partner, has a lot to offer the US, and Singapore is a unique bridge between North America and Asia. But innovation exported to the US needs to be shouted from the roof-tops…and it needs to be well marketed. If innovation is done properly, few countries are as accepting as the US...if you are good enough.
3. The size and importance of the domestic US market
’42’ made just over US$95m. A sports-drama genre movie released only in the US made US$95m. A movie that had no aliens, jets, CGI, or cartoon characters made a lot of money. This tells us a great deal about the US potential for niche offerings. Sure, mass market always has its appeal...but I am not so sure Singapore wants to compete in that space.
But what is also apparent is that the US doesn't necessarily need to look outside its own borders to make money. If you want to play in the Big League, you've got to be on the ground and you've got to do the hard yards. Or at least think of your own sporting metaphors to catch people's attention.
The US gets obligatory bad press these days. Maybe they need a better PR agent. But it has struck me that the negative stereotypes with which US is being hammered will, perhaps, blind innovators and developing businesses to the potential of the market. And the US's potential lies not only in sales and brand development, but also in strategic partnerships, access to talent and R&D, finance, and, importantly, to capital.
Singapore, as a knowledge economy with a focus on innovation, needs markets like the US. Singaporean businesses need partners who accept innovation and different ideas, and Singapore needs international consumers who want quality products and services.
So perhaps it is worth going on line and (legally) downloading this very good Warner Brothers movie. At best you might actually learn something that you didn't know before. At worst, you can appreciate the efforts of those who had to fight to make a difference.
It is always good to be reminded that the US is called the land of opportunity for a reason.
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