Cold Storage has been hustling since the ‘70s

The advertising world has come a long way since the mid-1800s, particularly for a young nation like Singapore then, still finding its feet under colonial rule amid a sudden economic boom. With newfound wealth meant greater consumption—and a bigger market for brands to sell their products to.

For a more in-depth history lesson, an ongoing exhibition (through Feb 24, 2019) at the National Library Building is shedding light. Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore charts the nostalgic growth of advertising in Singapore, focusing particularly on print advertisements from the 1830s to 1960s. The exhibition covers ads on all fronts imaginable—from traditional medicines (shoutout to Tiger Balm) to travel (better known as a look at the Singapore Tourism Board in its conception), to retail and entertainment, everyday household amenities, and even the birth of our local supermarkets. Everything is neatly organized in a department store set-up, in a throwback to the days of early retail.

In addition to the print advertisements, a host of interactive multimedia stations have been set up as well—a not-so-subtle reminder to us all that print is dying/dead. Do a self-checkout at a supermarket counter where you can scan items and find out more about the types of food available in early Singapore, or play pharmacist and prescribe medicine from medical advertisements to ailing patients. The exhibition is free admission, and guided weekend tours and monthly curator tours are available too.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the exhibition is scoping out brands we know and love that have existed from then till today—brands that have stood the test of time and changing consumer preferences to emerge as icons we never cared to notice. Now that's the mark of good advertising. 

See if you can identify some of Singapore's longest-surviving brands for yourself below:

Selling Dreams: Early Advertising in Singapore runs from now through Feb 24, 2019 at the Level 10 Gallery, National Library Building. More information here.