Merli and Friends: Squad Up
Since Merli’s introduction in 2018 alongside Singapore’s tourism identity refresh, its presence has been rather muted in Singapore. Perhaps Merli was more prominently featured in overseas collaterals while “passion tribe” personalities fronted local campaigns.
The pandemic seemed to change this strategy. As tourist spending dipped, Singapore looked inward and encouraged local tourism via the SingapoRediscovers campaign, with Merli at the heart of the promotion.
When we received our SingapoRediscovers factsheets via mail in November 2020, Merli adorned the campaign-branded envelopes. E-banners at lift lobbies also featured Merli, which introduced many HDB residents to our tourism mascot for the first time.
The renewed focus on Merli came with new additions to the Singapore mascot family. During the lockdown last year, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) welcomed four friends who reflect Singapore’s diversity of wildlife, sprinkled with a dash of absurdity.
Drawn in the same kawaii style as Merli, Marina the Otter, Jewel the Hornbill, Chomp Chomp the Crocodile and D65 the Durian UFO are named after local landmarks and just as lovable as the OG mascot. The series was created by Big3 Media and mascot designer Poh Zi Qun, who also designed buffet chain Suki-Ya’s mascot family.
The STB cartoon series “Merli and Friends” sees the characters exploring a parallel, mythical version of Singapore, including museums and parks, while showcasing their personalities. Short descriptions of the attractions at the end of videos nicely summarise why viewers should visit the places, and they will be useful for tourists to refer to.
Here are some close-ups of the mascots.
D65’s design stands out the most - the nifty concept tries to make sense of an alien-looking fruit. The durian UFO has powers of teleportation and electricity discharge.
Another video series which teaches netizens how to draw Merli and its friends was also released last year. It was a great way to introduce netizens to the mascots, and a godsend for parents (and the young-at-heart) amid phase 2 measures last year.
While both series did not achieve viral success, the public is slowly warming up to the creatures that represent us on the global stage. An example is a homegrown project that was launched during the circuit breaker last year. 3D printing hobbyist lg2113 uploaded a publicly-accessible blueprint of Merli’s design, which was given the go-ahead by STB. Perhaps he will create blueprints for the rest of the family during this current semi-lockdown.
It remains to be seen if Merli can become as recognisable as Singa or Water Wally, but with more campaigns like these, and a cute design to boot, it is well on its way to achieve iconic status - only if STB continues to try.