LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Gavin Chimes and Les Sharp to find out about the amazing story behind New York’s Tiger Trading Co
Over the past year, police shootings and stand-offs between cops and #BlackLivesMatter protestors mean that racism has once again become a burning issue in the US. But despite all this, one form of racist stereotyping seems to have flown under the radar, benignly accepted and taken for granted in popular culture – that is the stereotyping of Asians and Asian Americans. It’s something that’s gradually gaining traction, though, as Asian American actors and comedians highlight the ‘white washing’ of Asian characters from leading roles and the painfully persistent clichés that persist in depicting Asians onscreen.
So when Tiger Beer, a brand originating in Singapore, had the New York market in its sights, its agency Marcel Sydney knew they had to change perceptions. That’s why, in June, they recruited the most exciting artists and hip design talent from around Asia to contribute to a store in NYC full of the most desirable examples of contemporary Asian creativity.
According to Gavin Chimes and Les Sharpe, the creative team at Marcel, who have worked on Tiger Beer since the brand was at Droga5 Sydney, preliminary research revealed that for many New Yorkers, the only real exposure they had to Asian culture was the knock-off goods and general tat found in the city’s Chinatown.
“While New Yorkers are super worldly and very hip, when it comes to Asia, we discovered that they actually knew little about the culture and creativity there and what they did know was really the Chinatown, particularly the discount stores running across Canal Street, filled with cheaply made, lower end trinkets,” they say. “We realised that is in no way representative of the real creativity coming out of Asia today.”
The decision to create a pop-up shop, Tiger Trading Co, was also driven by the need to act differently, as a new challenger brand to the market. Having established the brand in Asia, New York was the next step in Tiger’s plan – but while the established big boys like Budweiser and Heineken chuck money at Super Bowl spots, the team at Marcel decided to take a different tact, targeting influential and discerning New Yorkers with a project that was likely to generate PR and word-of-mouth.
It was brief-led project. We’ve been working on Tiger for a few years now, myself and my creative partner Les, ever since we won the pitch for Droga5 and we worked on a few great projects there. We came with Nobby across to Marcel [Droga5 Sydney founder David Nobay recently launched the Sydney office of Marcel]. Once they have established their brand in Asia, New York was always a key goal for them. We received a brief to make an impact in the New York market and reach out to consumers over there, enter the market as a challenger and something that’s uniquely Asian as well.
“We realised the idea that would work best for us would be something that would generate news, and coupled with that, the insights that we uncovered through that strategic research that Chinatown is their first point of call when it comes to Asia. That led to the idea of it being a bit non-traditional,” says Gavin.
Once they had the idea, the next step was sourcing the artists and designers. Together with the production company The Glue Society, they set about trawling the stores of Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Shanghai for design jewels. In the process they discovered more cutting-edge design and future-facing creativity than they could have dreamed of, and in the end the store stocked over 700 different products.
The Glue Society’s James Dive was also responsible for designing this most unusual store - and Tiger Trading Co’s pièce de résistance was a magnificent clear Perspex floor, filled with the kind of cliché Chinatown tat of popular stereotype. A playful juxtaposition against the high-end, sophisticated design featured in store, it was a clever twist that drove home the message about the myths and reality of Asian creativity.
James’ contribution to the project helped elevate the store from pop-up store to a truly memorable experience. “James was fantastic to work with; all the guys on the project were but James really took the idea that was on a piece of paper and he created a totally unexpected store design,” says Gavin. “I remember the day when he came to us with the proposal to create this floor filled with all the counterfeit and stereotypical and cheaply made Asian products that almost give Asian creativity a bad name as a counterpoint to all the amazing design and fashion and tech that was scattered around the walls. He visualised the store and brought it to life in a way that we totally didn’t expect.”
The store ran for three nights in June – one VIP night and two nights open to the public. To get the word out, the team reached out to influential people in design and foodie circles and the story was picked up in Time Out and Hypebeast ahead of the opening. They also recruited local bars, who would give out special beer mats to customers who bought a Tiger Beer – these mats would grant entry to the store.
But despite all of this laser-sharp targeting and masterful hype-building, Gavin and Les had some understandable butterflies in their stomach as they flew from Sydney to New York for the grand opening. What if no one showed up?
They needn’t have worried.
“We stepped into the store and we saw it being built and we saw the amazing floor, the amazing objects all around and all the hard work that was going on to bring it to life. We had this horrible feeling that no one was going to turn up. I’ll never forget that feeling, that first night when we went to open the store and we saw a line of people wrapping around the block. It was incredible.”
After the VIP night, things got even crazier. The next night, they found people who had been camped out since 7am, keen to be at the front of the line to get first dibs. People started to join the line out of curiosity. Each night, that evening’s batch of stock would sell out, meaning that, for the agency and production company, everyone had to pull together and get stuck in with the unpacking and re-stocking.
“At the end of the few days it was open, we were saying to ourselves that it would be amazing if this store could just stay open permanently,” laughs Gavin. “People would line up for that store every day. I could totally see something like this working every year and becoming a regular showcase for the best of Asia. Why not?”
But for the team at Marcel, the most heartening takeaway from the experience was just how open-minded the New Yorkers were. They had gone over with Tiger to change perceptions and challenge stereotypes, and instead of meeting with resistance found hundreds of people who were brimming with curiosity and eager to learn about modern Asian creativity.
“In Australia, I suppose, we didn’t know how this would take off when we went to New York and we were really surprised by how receptive New Yorkers were and how eager they were to line up,” they say. “Several people joined the line without even knowing what it was! Everyone totally had wonderful things to say about all the objects and they had wonderful things to say about Tiger beer. I think we converted a few consumers over there, for sure.”
Tiger Trading Co may be closed for business now, but that’s not the end for Tiger’s US expansion. The Marcel team are already busy working on new projects for the brand – which we’ll be sure to follow up on!
Get a company page
With an LBB company page, you can upload all your press, work, jobs and events at the click of a button, giving your news an audience of over 120,000 users in over 160 countries. You will also be connected with our editorial team, and become part of our global creative community.