Rice. Cheap goods. Pointy hats. Christmas decorations. Fortune cookies!
Those are just a few of the stereotypes that pop into a Western mind when asked to think about Asia—and Asian products. To beat this stereotype, and demonstrate how diverse and innovative Asian countries really are, Singapore-based Tiger Beer partnered with Marcel Sydney to repurpose an old discount store, right in the middle of New York's Chinatown.
The Tiger Trading Co. pop-up store was open from June 6-9 on Canal Street—an area that lives up to the stereotype and is known mostly for its dollar goods. Tiger's take on Asian merchantry deviated dramatically from that standard, though, showcasing cool products from art, fashion, tech and design.
Over 700 Asian artists were represented in the store, including Felix Tai from Pomch, Douglas Young from Goods of Desire and Kelly Lim of Kllylrck.
"Tiger is a premium beer. It's an authentic, Asian original. But 'Made in Asia' carries a lot of negative baggage in the U.S.," says Marcel Sydney executive creative director Scott Huebscher. "For our first New York launch, we figured, why not tackle the elephant in the room head on?"
The store took two weeks to build, with production from Will O'Rourke and design by James Dive of The Glue Society. To underscore the notion that Asian goods are more than just inexpensive European rip-offs, the floor itself was used as a medium—its 118-square-meter glass surface housed a crammed display of cheap trinkets purchased from other Canal Street stores, a striking contrast to the wares above them. (It also seems kind of mean, but the point is fair enough.)
"The design decision to place cheap, clichéd goods underfoot was key," Dive says. "To see what real Asian design is, you literally had to walk over what Asian design isn't."
Users could get into the store by flashing a Tiger Beer coaster from any bar, although they still faced lines that apparently stretched around the block, with some people camping out for 12 hours, the agency claims.
The store sold out about an hour after each evening's opening. While browsing, people could also taste street food from a Taiwanese chef and a streetfood hawker flown in from Singapore … and have a cool Tiger Beer, of course.
"New York has the largest Asian population outside of Asia, but most people here don't see past the cheap goods in Chinatown," says Tiger Beer's global brand ambassador, Mie-Leng Wong. "As the No. 1 premium beer in Asia, we wanted to give New Yorkers an unexpected way to explore what Asian quality and creativity is all about. So we invited them to explore and discover the best in contemporary Asia for themselves and reset their perceptions."
Those perceptions are perilously stale. Today, Chinese shoppers alone account for nearly half of the global luxury market, meaning their overseas spending power can make or break a fledgling brand.
This hasn't escaped the notice of the Chinese themselves. Given that China's enormous, inexpensive labor market and cheap resources are in great part responsible for low-quality "Made in China" perceptions, the country is working to change that by leveraging the expertise it's developed in producting luxury goods for European brands.
Digital is helping facilitate the change, too: Online fashion retailer Lane Crawford's "Created in China" program is an incubator and showcase for emerging Chinese brands, and now supports the work of about 20 Chinese designers.
That's just China. Japan, for its part, is a world leader—and the original innovator—of cultured pearls, which comprise 99 percent of the pearl market; Singapore has developed an aggressive innovation reputation in the last decade, and South Korea's pop culture and TV series are killers in the television and music markets.
For its part, Singapore-born Tiger Beer is also developing a reputation—for gleaning resonant ideas fed by the people it's trying to address. Last year, with help from Droga5 Sydney (its last project before shutting down), the brand created a film conceptualized and produced via crowdsourced ideas on its own beer coasters. (The winning sketchers also served as the film's crew.)
Check out the Tiger Trading Co. site for more on the project, the purpose and the artists.
Client: Tiger Beer
Agency: Marcel Sydney
Production Company: Will O'Rourke
Design/Curator and Project Director: The Glue Society's James Dive
MD/ Executive Producer: Michael Ritchie
Executive Producer/ Head of Projects: Josh Mullens
Producer: Jasmin Helliar
Curator/Designer: Silvana Azzi Heras
Production Designer: Thomas Ambrose
Post Production: Heckler
Public Relations: c/o Chan
Media: Starcom MediaVest