'Mystery crate' placed in bunker by Tiger Beer sparks marketing debate

Heritage blogger Jerome Lim was on the hunt for abandoned pre-war structures at the foot of Mount Faber earlier this month when he stumbled on a mysterious wooden crate inside a bunker.

Shining a torch on the crate, he found a rusted chain with a shackle attached, sepia photos and a nameplate with "Chu Beng Huat 21509" printed on it.

But what got people talking, after Mr Lim wrote about his find on his blog on March 2, was that the crate also contained a Tiger Beer bottle and can, and had the brand's logo printed on the side.

Mr Lim, who titled the post Stumbling Upon A Tiger's Lair, told The Straits Times that he found the crate's placement strange and suspicious. He said he thought it might have been a prop from a photo shoot.

"It is hard to say where the crate came from, or who put it there. Perhaps it was abandoned or left by mistake," the naval architect wrote in his blog.

When asked, Tiger Beer, which did not alert Mr Lim to the site, told The Straits Times that it was a publicity effort and the crate contained items from the 1960s and 1970s, including old Tiger Beer cans launched in 1965.

The brand will be rolling out limited-edition adaptations of its classic 1965 design in the form of cans and bottles next Monday as part of its Singapore golden jubilee celebrations. But the stunt has left some wondering: Has product placement gone too far?

Undergraduate Timothy Chan, 23, said: "It is an outrage because it is a historical site, and they place beer cans in it? It might not be appropriate for a commercial entity to push its cause using the country's shared history."

Others were more forgiving.

Architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kien and historian Marcus Lim, who is also a painter, liked it that the company tried to be creative.

Dr Lai said: "It is a little bit of fun placed in a location that wouldn't cause harm."

Mr Lim added: "It is all right as long as it doesn't embarrass any figure or event in history."

Mr Charles Goh, founder of Asia Paranormal Investigators, takes people on tours every month to the pre-war bunker, which he had rediscovered in 2006. He said the bunker, a minute's walk from the Seah Im carpark near VivoCity, but hidden by thick foliage, is frequented by urban explorers like himself.

Mr Rene De Monchy, head of marketing at Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore, noted the bunker is not widely known. He said the firm wanted "to present a curious angle on the backstory behind some of the nation's most distinct icons in a light-hearted manner".

Before Tiger Beer's stunt, Philips Electronics had, in 2010, posted an online video of a "bear" on Ulu Pandan Road. It turned out to be a man in a bear suit and a campaign to launch a shaver, but worried residents were not amused.

Blogger Mr Lim was "chill" about this bunker stunt. "I got a thrill from it... It was a great way for Tiger Beer to get attention."

melodyz@sph.com.sg