14 July 2008

Those Who Know Buy National

Singapore's National Day is around the corner and I am reminded of a tagline "Those Who Know Buy National". No, that's not a call for you to be patriotic during National Day. (Shouldn't you be patriotic every day?)

National was a very popular brand of electrical products in Singapore from the late 1950s till 2003 when the brand name was changed to Panasonic. Did you know that the tagline for National used to be "Those Who Know Buy National"? (Now it's "Panasonic Ideas For Life".)

The following information about the history of the National brand name was obtained from the company's website:
The company that started the National brand name in 1927 is Matsushita Electric, Japan. The brand became a very popular household name in Japan as well as in overseas markets. The new brand name Panasonic was first introduced in 1961 in the US where the National brand name had been registered by others and therefore, could not be used. The company started using the new brand name in Europe in 1979 and in other regions in the late 80s for products other than home appliances for which the National brand name continued to be used. The brand name for all home appliance products in Southeast Asia (including Singapore), the Middle East and China were changed to Panasonic by the end of March 2004. The National brand will, however, continue to be used in Japan where the brand was originally born.
I remember my family bought our first electric rice cooker in the 1960s. It was a National, of course, and it looked like this:

The rice cooker was the first National product to be introduced in Singapore in 1958. The inner pot was made of aluminium and was not teflon-coated. (Teflon probably had not been invented then.) There was also no inner lid but there was a 4-inch concave (or convex, if you look from inside) piece of glass in the centre of the lid. If you had nothing better to do, you could look through the glass and watch the rice bubbling beneath. (I don't know why we kids liked to do that then. Isn't it just about as exciting as watching paint dry?)

The lid had a plastic black-and-white handle. This handle cracked up quite often (maybe due to the heat) and had to be replaced. Luckily, you could find many neighbourhood shops selling spare handles and it was easy to replace the handle yourself.

There was also a prominent landmark along North Bridge Road, just behind Capitol Theatre where a car park now stands. I could see it from the balcony of my 4-storey SIT flat in Cheng Yan Place every night. From where I was looking, it was located just behind the Empress Hotel at the Middle Road and Victoria Street junction.

Circa 1950s - The steel structure was not erected yet

Circa 1960s - The prominent structure behind Capitol Theatre was up

An aerial view of the structure from Empress Place

A closer view of the structure in 1965- the tagline "Those Who Know Buy National" is visible. (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan.)

It was almost a 10-storey tall steel structure which was lighted up with red and white neon lights at night. (Hmm... was that by sheer coincidence? Those are also the colours of our national flag.) At night, the National red neon logo looked very prominent against the white vertical sweeping neon lights. It was indeed a powerful and attractive advertising structure.

The National signboard at night. What's not obvious from this photo are the vertical sweeping neon lights of the signboard which I remember very distinctly. (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan.)

Now I bet readers below 30 years' old didn't know that the steel structure once existed.

I can't remember this but according to my friend Peter Chan, at the bottom of the steel structure was a National showroom. Peter said that steel structure and showroom was torn down in the mid-1970s.

A National advertisement in the newspaper at that time using the same tagline. (Hagemeyer was the local agent for National products.) The 2 products in the picture - a transistor radio and an open-reel tape recorder - are now considered as collectible items, if not antiques.

Peter said that the showroom also exhibited black-and-white TVs. (TV was introduced in Singapore in 1963.) Every weekend, the showroom would be crowded - people turned up to watch free TV because not many could afford to buy one. The typical TV at that time looked like this one:

Our nation certainly has come a long way since then. Now our nationals not only watch Nationals but dozens of other TV brands as well. We even have a true national brand for electrical products now - Akira. The tagline of Akira to Singaporeans could well have been "Those who know buy national". But instead, its tagline is "Akira makes life better".

Happy 43rd National Day, Singapore!


yg said...

we are still using the national rice cooker model sb-10. it was made in malaysia. ours does not have the viewing glass on the cover.

pinto said...

Never knew that existed! By the time I was old enough to remember the area, that place was a multi-storey car park. I see the Bata stayed even in the same corner of the new building (Peninsula or Peninsula Plaza... I always get confused by the names.)

Anonymous said...

The National Showroom attracted many people because when TV was introduced to Singapore in 1963, not many households could afford.

So besides the Community Centers, the houses of the rich, the TV distributor showrooms were where people would congregate every Saturday evening. Behind the showroom were many street vendors.

The other showroom I remembered was Kee Huat Radio Sdn Bhd which distributed the Blaunpunk brand. Kee Huat's showroom was at the now Meridien Hotel; facing Oxley Rise.

Roxy-Sharp's showroom was at Tanglin Halt, right in the heart of its factory. The Lorenz brand from Cycle & Carriage Ltd was at a row of shophouses which used to be the Somerset MRT Station carpark facing Orchard Road.

There was even a TV Carnival or trade show at the Kallang Park (I think where the squash courts are located today).

Victor said...

YG - Wow, you must have used the SB-10 (a one-litre cooker?) for a few decades now. The durability of the product is truly proven.

Victor said...

Pinto - Okay, we are convinced that you are below 30. :p

Victor said...

Peter, thanks for the photos. They helped to make my article more interesting.

I have just added a few more photos and amended the article.

Anonymous said...

The 1967 color photo shows a road bridge and a canal - the canal is Stamford Canal (the Raffles City MRT exit on the side opposite the St Andrew's cathedral, the covered pavement) and the road bridge at the corner of Beach Road and Stanford Road (opposite the Singapore Recreation Club).

Anonymous said...

The government has gazetted the Capitol Centre (site of National signboard/showroom) for redevelopment. So expect very soon the bulldozers moving in.
This location has seen so many changes in the last few decades. Before the National Showroom came up, there was the Union Jack Club, the equivalent of the Britannia Club on Beach Road.

Pinto- Peninsular Plaza is next to Capitol Center. Peninsular Shopping Center is next to Peninsular Hotel.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor, do you remember at one time, National's tag line was National creates better living? Do you know the story behind his slogan?

Later when I started to learn about Japanese management and productivity philosophies, I learned that this line was influenced by their founder, Konosuke Matsushita. This man was much admired by Japanese businessman. His philosophy was that his company's products must contribute to society's happiness and well-being. That's why they emphasised a lot on quality.

Although K.M. wasn't very well-educated, he wrote many management books which became well-sought after by Japanese businessmen. Matsushita the company, set up an institute called PHP Institute with offices in many countries including Spore. They publish productivity books and videos which I used a lot in my work. PHP stood for something like Peace Happiness and Prosperity again reflecting the founder's philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Chun See
U forgot Japanese management style emphasize on hosting very very long meetings to give everybody the chance to air his/her views.

Lam Chun See said...

No. I cannot see your Recent Comments.

Shilpa said...

Capitol, Capitol, is that facing St Andrew's Cathedral? The street in the picture definitely looked barer and broader leh... my my..

Sathiya said...

Good informative post and the pics are really good to see.

//Shouldn't you be patriotic every day?//
Yes, ofcourse. Same applies to Mother's day, Valentines day etc. ;)

//I remember my family bought our first electric rice cooker in the 1960s. It was a National, of course//
Oh, I didn't know that electric rice cooker existed in 1960s itself.

My father still has a National Tape Recorder, which he must have bought in 1970s and it's still working. Amazing quality.

Lam Chun See said...

At one time I think there was a competitor that came up with a line that said, "Those who know better buy XXX". But I cannot remember which brand. Which probably goes to show that National's line is more impactful.

Victor said...

Peter - I remember the open Stamford Canal very distinctly. Once I even waded in it waist-high waters to catch longkang (drain) fishes. Ah... maybe I should write a separate blogpost on it.

Victor said...

Chun See - No, I have never heard of the tagline "National creates better living". Hmm... I wonder who came up the better tagline "Those who know better buy ..."? Maybe it should have used "Those who know BEST buy ..."

Thanks for that interesting story about Japanese management style and the founder of the National brand, Konosuke Matsushita.

Victor said...

Shilpa - Does North Bridge Road really look barer and broader in the old photos? "Barer" maybe, but "broader"? You must have been away from our little island far too long. :p

Victor said...

Sathiya - Yes, many electric appliances were already widely available in the 1960s because of the availability of electricity (which was also needed to light up the neon National sign).

Anonymous said...

Yes, the old reliable National is so much better and the new one....sad to say - good things are hard to come by nowadays.

Victor said...

LKK - I agree that old stuff were made to last. Nowadays, a lot of stuff are made in ..., not Japan. They are cheap but quality suffers.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure whether it's because there's too much electronics involved that has contributed in short life-span of most products. I think most things are made to last for 'X period of time".

Even a Mercedes car these days can gibe trouble the moment it crosses 120km. The first sign of trouble is when the engine runs at a very loud decibel like a taxi. Those Mercedes or BMWs that have very silent engine sound despite its age, chances are the car is hardly driven. Time for engine overhaul and that could set u back $15K.

Anonymous said...

I mean 120,000km.

Victor said...

Peter - I thought that for certain goods, especially if they have electronic parts, they will spoil easily if you don't use them for a prolonged period?

Hmm... if what you said is true, it's no wonder many people scrap their cars after only 3-5 years of usage.