The Visible Hand in Marriage: an Exploratory Assessment of the Marriage Promotion Campaign in Singapore

Siew Meng Leong, National University of Singapore
Swee Hoon Ang, National University of Singapore
ABSTRACT - Using the campaign to increase the marriage rate among graduates as the research focus, two studies are conducted to ascertain the effectiveness of social advertising in Singapore. Study 1 compares the effectiveness of the Marriage Promotion Campaign versus the Courtesy Campaign on the factors of persuasiveness and sensitivity. Study 2 furnishes a more specific assessment of one ad in the campaign by comparing it against another execution using more attractive models on attitude and perception dependent variables. Implications of the findings are discussed and suggestions for future research furnished.
[ to cite ]:
Siew Meng Leong and Swee Hoon Ang (1993) ,"The Visible Hand in Marriage: an Exploratory Assessment of the Marriage Promotion Campaign in Singapore", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, eds. Leigh McAlister and Michael L. Rothschild, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 559-564.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 20, 1993      Pages 559-564

THE VISIBLE HAND IN MARRIAGE: AN EXPLORATORY ASSESSMENT OF THE MARRIAGE PROMOTION CAMPAIGN IN SINGAPORE

Siew Meng Leong, National University of Singapore

Swee Hoon Ang, National University of Singapore

[The authors thank Susan Chan of the Social Development Unit and staff of the Family Life Education Coordinating Unit for their insights. The research assistance of Aik Hwa Ang, Chieu Yuen Boh, Gerald Bartholomew, Kevin Chua, and Lynn Heng is also appreciated. This research was funded by a grant from the National University of Singapore to the first author.]

ABSTRACT -

Using the campaign to increase the marriage rate among graduates as the research focus, two studies are conducted to ascertain the effectiveness of social advertising in Singapore. Study 1 compares the effectiveness of the Marriage Promotion Campaign versus the Courtesy Campaign on the factors of persuasiveness and sensitivity. Study 2 furnishes a more specific assessment of one ad in the campaign by comparing it against another execution using more attractive models on attitude and perception dependent variables. Implications of the findings are discussed and suggestions for future research furnished.

INTRODUCTION

There has been a dramatic growth in the use of social marketing to a wide range of international social problems. Kotler and Andreason (1991) note that millions of dollars have been spent annually on marketing programs affecting family planning, child survival, and AIDS in developing countries. Such efforts have proven effective in reducing losses due to forest fires, recruiting of blood donors, reducing infant mortality, encouraging non-smoking, and making family-planning products and services more accessible in many countries worldwide. Indeed, these scholars remark that international social marketing is "an idea whose time has clearly come" (Kotler and Andreason 1991, p. 8).

Singapore is no stranger to social marketing. In particular, public campaigns are launched regularly and run repeatedly over time. Themes for such campaigns include "Another Satisfied Customer" (a productivity drive), "Courtesy Begins With You," "Speak More Mandarin and Less Dialect," "Don't Litter," "Don't Spit," "Flush The Toilet After Use," "Save Precious Water," "Save Electricity," "Eat More Wheat," "Eat Frozen Meat," "Go Metric," "Stop Drug Abuse," and "Keep Singapore Clean, Green, and Beautiful". Unlike the United States where corporations play a central role in some cause-related marketing efforts (cf. Varadarajan and Menon 1988), it is the government which initiates and organizes such campaigns in Singapore. These campaigns are promoted particularly through advertising in mass media that are largely government owned. The reach of such media as television and radio is impressive, given their very high ownership levels in the island republic. Indeed, the government typically has one of the largest budgets of all advertisers in Singapore.

As Kotler and Roberto (1989) note, these campaigns are intended to persuade the target adopters to accept, modify or abandon certain ideas, attitudes, practices, and behavior. Given that its citizens are familiar with developmental programs of this nature, Singapore offers an ideal context for studies involving public campaigns. An added benefit obtained is that the target audience in Singapore is relatively isolated and clearly defined, thus facilitating the examination of any effects these campaigns have on consumer attitudes and behavior.

In this paper, we focus on assessing the impact of a recent campaign which has stirred domestic and international interest C the so-called "Marriage Promotion Campaign." Two studies were conducted in this connection. Study 1 evaluates the persuasiveness and sensitivity of the campaign relative to the Courtesy Campaign, a well-known campaign introduced in the mid-70s to inculcate the habit and value of courtesy among Singaporeans. In Study 2, we focus on an ad from the Marriage Promotion Campaign and compare its effectiveness on various attitude and perception variables with another execution using more attractive models.

In the remainder of this paper, we first provide the background to the Marriage Promotion Campaign in Singapore. We then furnish the rationale for Study 1, our broad assessment of the campaign, followed by a description of the method used in the study. The results and discussion arising therefrom are next presented. The same is done for Study 2, our more focused ad-related study. We conclude with some suggestions for future work in social marketing from the insights gained in our research.

BACKGROUND

Former Prime (now Senior) Minister Kuan Yew Lee fired the opening salvo in what has locally become known as "The Great Marriage Debate" in the early 1980s when he singled out the segment of female graduates who (1) were too career-minded and did not view marriage as a priority option, and (2) preferred to remain single rather than marry "downwards," i.e., to men with lower educational qualifications. Lee (1987) also noted that Singaporean men did not marry "upwards," but chose to wed women of lower or with similar educational backgrounds:

"The choice of a spouse is an intensely personal matter. Advice on matrimony has been the prerogative of parents, priests, doctors, and relatives. But when the statistics show that more than 40 percent of each year's graduate women will never get married because graduate men cannot shake off their cultural conditioning, then something must be done."

As a consequence of "cultural bias, structural segmentation, or an attitudinal problem" (Social Development Unit 1991), Singapore's 1980 census showed there were too many unmarried women with a tertiary education and too many unmarried men with a primary education. Singapore's current Prime Minister Chok Tong Goh (1986) further noted that with as many females in the university as males, the problem of unmarried graduate women will worsen in future. Aside from social consequences, this problem also has dire economic ramifications. As Singapore has no natural resources, its people are its most precious assets. Hence, economic success will be a function of the size and quality of its population. At present rates, the population is not growing fast enough to replace itself in the long term. Essentially, too many Singaporeans, particularly the well qualified, remain unmarried, and those who do marry tend to marry later and have fewer children (Government of Singapore 1991).

The government's highly successful "Stop At Two" (children) campaign in the 1970s may have contributed to the present situation. The current campaign has shifted to "Have Three Or More (children) If You Can Afford It". Another development has been the increasing rate of divorce in Singapore which has reached 12 per day recently. Single motherhood, while on the rise, is rare. The government restricts artificial insemination to married couples at its National Sperm Bank and six in-vitro fertilization clinics. However, this procedure is available overseas and is offered by the private sector as well. The government is also very selective in approving applications for adoption of babies by single women C only 105 cases were approved in the past three years (Straits Times 1992).

Intervention came in the form of the Social Development Unit (SDU) established in 1984 under the Ministry of Finance. Its objectives are to: (1) increase single graduates' awareness of the importance of marriage, (2) provide opportunities for them to meet, (3) change their attitude in the choice of a spouse, and (4) direct the policies and coordinate the activities of ministries, statutory boards, government-owned companies, and affiliated private companies through social development committees set up within each organization (Social Development Unit 1991, p. 11). Among its activities are computer matchmaking, personal effectiveness workshops held locally and overseas, weekend stays at hotels, chalets, or campsites, outdoor games (e.g., relay races, treasure hunts, car rallies, etc.), hobby courses (e.g., social dancing, interior design, etc.), sports (e.g., horse riding, ice-skating, etc.), tours to Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and other places of interest, and social gatherings (e.g., tea dances, theme parties, karaoke sessions, etc.). While such activities were fully subsidized initially, participants now pay the direct cost for joining them. However, participants still obtain the benefit of fully-paid, unrecorded leave of absence from work.

Initial public reaction was predictably hostile (the SDU acronym was defined by some to mean Single, Desparate, and Ugly). Charges of social engineering were also heard. However, the SDU has reported a consistently increasing number of marriages among its members, from 91 in 1985 to 315 in 1991. Some 1,432 marriages during that period in Singapore were between SDU members. Similarly, the number of members has also escalated from 1,320 in 1985 to 12,177 in 1991. More females (about 55 percent of members annually) than males join the SDU. Prospective members who joined free before 1990 now have to pay a one-time entry fee of S$10 (S$1.62 = US$1). Indeed, there has been two more such units established under the People's Association, a statutory board of the Ministry of Community Development C the Social Development Section (to serve non-graduates) and the Social Promotion Section (to serve those with less than secondary education). Members of each unit are not allowed to participate in activities organized for those of the other units.

Despite the presence of these and other organizations, the SDU has received the bulk of public and media attention locally and overseas. Interestingly, such coverage has been obtained with an advertising budget of less than S$30,000 per year. Most of the advertising has been by another government body C the Ministry of Health's Family Life Education Coordinating Unit (FLECU). However, these ads have often been mistaken as being disseminated by the SDU. The ad of interest in Study 2 is one such instance. The SDU itself runs no television commercials but uses more focused periodicals read by local graduates and undergraduates. It also publishes a quarterly magazine, Link, for its members.

STUDY 1

Despite the interest generated by the Marriage Promotion Campaign, no empirical study has been reported regarding its effectiveness. Study 1 attempts to do so by assessing the persuasiveness of the campaign relative to another well-known campaign in Singapore focusing on courtesy. We also attempt to compare the relative degree of sensitivity of the two campaigns.

While both marriage and courtesy are richly cherished in the Asian culture, getting married may not be (to the target adopters of the campaign at least) the favored practice or a strong priority. Marriage may in fact have been more greatly influenced by liberal western values and modern social and economic developments in recent years than courtesy. The Marriage Promotion Campaign is also likely to be more sensitive than the Courtesy Campaign. It deals with a highly personal issue and may be viewed as intrusive. Thus, it would be expected that the Marriage Promotion Campaign would be evaluated as being more sensitive and less persuasive than the Courtesy Campaign.

Method

Respondents evaluated descriptions of two social campaigns held in Singapore C the Marriage Promotion Campaign and the Courtesy Campaign (CC). The more popularly used Get Married Campaign (GMC) was employed in place of its more formal coinage for ease of respondent identification. The descriptions shown to respondents were as follows:

The Get Married Campaign: The Get Married Campaign is aimed at getting single Singaporeans of marriageable age to find a life partner and to encourage them to settle down as soon as possible. This is because of the declining number of people marrying thus leading us to a situation where we are unable to replace ourselves.

The Courtesy Campaign: The Courtesy Campaign is aimed at encouraging Singaporeans to be more polite and courteous to fellow Singaporeans. This is because of the declining level of courtesy amongst Singaporeans. Singaporeans are thus asked to give up their seats in public transportation to the elderly and the handicapped, to say 'Thank you' and 'Please', to extend a smile, and the like.

After reading each description, respondents indicated on five-point agree (5)/disagree (1) scales their reactions to 12 statements, with six items designed to each measure persuasiveness and sensitivity. A sample item for the persuasiveness scale used was 'The stand taken in the Get Married/Courtesy Campaign is a reasonable one'. That for the sensitivity construct would be 'I feel that the Get Married/Courtesy Campaign is an invasion of my privacy'. The items were randomly ordered. Finally, demographic data were obtained.

Respondents. Respondents were 109 undergraduate students at the National University of Singapore, 38 of whom were male. Given that NUS produces the bulk of graduates in Singapore targeted by the SDU, the sample appeared appropriate.

Results

Preliminary tests. Principal components analyses of the 12 items generated two factors for both campaigns. The items loaded cleanly onto either the persuasiveness or sensitivity factors. The two factors accounted for 59.3% and 59% of the total variance for the GMC and CC items respectively. In addition, reliability tests for the GMC indicated high alphas of 0.86 and 0.81 for persuasiveness and sensitivity respectively. The item-to-total correlations were likewise high, ranging from 0.44 to 0.74. For the CC, the alphas were 0.83 and 0.84 for persuasiveness and sensitivity respectively. The item-to-total correlations ranged from 0.37 to 0.82. Collectively, the evidence suggests that the scales developed had convergent validity and were internally consistent. As such, mean scores for persuasiveness and sensitivity were computed and used in subsequent analyses.

TABLE 1

MEANS ON PERSUASIVENESS AND SENSITIVITY FOR CAMPAIGNS

Courtesy versus Marriage Promotion. The CC was rated at 4.11 on persuasiveness, while the GMC scored 3.37 (t=11.69, p<0.01), thus indicating that respondents did not think the GMC was as persuasive as the CC. However, respondents thought that the GMC dealt with an issue that was more sensitive (x=3.16) compared to the CC (x=2.11; t=15.86, p<0.01).

Males versus Females. Table 1 provides the mean values for persuasiveness and sensitivity among male and female respondents for the two campaigns. Males and females were no different in their ratings towards the GMC's persuasiveness (t=0.98, p>0.10), though marginally, females thought that the campaign dealt with a more sensitive issue (x=3.25 versus 3.01; t=1.73, p<0.10). In contrast, no differences were obtained for the CC on both persuasiveness and sensitivity between males and females (t's=1.07 and 0.92 respectively, p's>0.10).

Discussion

The results suggest that at least two distinct bases can be used to evaluate social campaigns C persuasiveness and sensitivity. Whereas most research efforts would likely focus on the persuasiveness dimension, our findings indicate that it may be useful to measure sensitivity for added insights into the effectiveness of such campaigns. Indeed, our evidence suggests that assessments of the criteria may not covary. Gender differences did not appear to be evident in assessments along the two dimensions for both campaigns.

However, since the current results only speak to the effectiveness of the Marriage Promotion Campaign relative to the Courtesy Campaign, other more meaningful yardsticks could be employed to gauge its persuasiveness and sensitivity. Such baselines as using a group not being exposed to the campaign as well as measurements before and after exposure to the campaign may be useful. Finally, better measures of the sensitivity construct involving both positively and negatively phrased items may be developed in future research. Such a scale may be employed to explicitly test the relationship between the sensitivity of public campaigns and their persuasiveness as the present set of items appear to be attitude statements phrased in a negative fashion.

STUDY 2

While Study 1 dealt with a broad evaluation of the Marriage Promotion Campaign, Study 2 focuses on an ad from the campaign to evaluate its effectiveness at a more micro-level. Clearly, a single ad does not a campaign make. Indeed, Rothschild (1979) argues that personal selling would be preferable to advertising in circumstances where response involvement is extremely high and complex for "closing the sale". Advertising aids in attracting attention, creating awareness, and increasing knowledge, with little direct impact on behavior. Marriage certainly contains a complex bundle of intangible attributes (e.g., personal growth, excitement, and the opportunity to assure Singapore's continued economic well-being) as well as having a complex price (e.g., changing lifestyle and giving up the right to make many independent decisions). Hence, it would be reasonable to assess only more immediate measures of advertising effectiveness such attitudes toward the ad, rather than changes in actual behavior or behavioral intent.

More specifically, a print ad that involved stressing the positive aspects of intervention was selected for analysis. The ad used three models, with one playing the role of introducer to the other two. The ad was selected because pre-testing had revealed that the models involved did not appear physically attractive. Since communicator attractiveness has been found to affect message effectiveness (Berscheid and Walster 1974, Chaiken 1979), the notion of using better looking models for the ad was explored. Specifically, research has demonstrated that an attractive model has greater persuasion than an unattractive model because of the identification process where consumers are likely to adopt the attitudes, behaviors, interests, and preferences of the attractive model (Kahle and Homer 1985). Clearly, it may be expected that the ad using the more attractive models would be more positively evaluated in terms of attitudes toward the ad and SDU as well as on subjects' perceptions of people joining the SDU vis-a-vis that with the less attractive models.

Method

Design and Stimulus Ad. A two-level one-factor between-subjects design was used. The models in the stimulus ad were either attractive or unattractive. The stimulus print ads showed a night beach scene where a young woman and a young man were introduced by a second woman. The layout and copy was the same in both ads. The headline read: "It's just an introduction. The rest is up to you," with the following body copy:

"We all need introductions to help us get along in life.

In business. To get better service. Even to get a good mechanic - an introduction is always useful.

So why not an introduction to someone who might be able to make life better for you?

It doesn't necessarily mean anything. But it could be the start of a happy lifetime partnership. If you want it to."

The stimulus used in the unattractive condition was an actual ad from the Marriage Promotion Campaign, while a more attractive couple in a similar pose was used in the other condition. Professional models were employed in both conditions. Four six-point items were used as manipulation checks for model attractiveness (unattractive/attractive; uninteresting/interesting; old fashioned/cool; and boring/fun).

Subjects. Subjects were 40 undergraduates at the National University of Singapore, equally divided between the sexes.

TABLE 2

MEANS ON ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS FOR EXPERIMENTAL GROUPS

Dependent Variables. Four items each measured subjects' attitudes toward the ad, the ad message, and SDU; and perception of the people who join SDU. They were unappealing/appealing, boring/fun, uninteresting/interesting, and old fashioned/cool. The order in which the items were asked varied for each of the three attitude types. All items were measured on six-point scales. Perception of the people who took part in SDU activities were obtained on eight characteristics (e.g., conservative/innovative, idealistic/realistic). Again, six-point scales were used.

Experimental Procedure. Subjects were informed that they were taking part in a consumer behavior project. They were shown a 8" x 10" color poster of the attractive/unattractive model ad. Because the unattractive-model ad is a real ad introduced in 1989, subjects may be more aware of it relative to the attractive-model ad which they would see for the first time. While this poses methodological problems, it does provide (1) insights into how the original execution was perceived and whether it can be improved upon using more attractive models, and (2) a stronger test of the hypothesis since the mere exposure effect would predict that familiarity with the original ad may lead to more positive attitudes (Obermiller 1985). Following the viewing, subjects were asked to indicate their attitudes and perceptions on the dependent measures used. Finally, the manipulation checks for model attractiveness and subjects' demographic data were obtained.

Results

Manipulation Check. At p<0.001, subjects rated the models in the attractive condition to be more attractive (x=4.40 versus 2.70; t=5.33), more interesting (x=4.20 versus 2.70; t=4.33), more fun (x=4.15 versus 2.6; t=5.07), and more cool (x=4.25 versus 2.55; t=6.25) than models in the unattractive condition. Hence, the values on each item were equally apart from the scale midpoint of 3.5, suggesting that the manipulation was successful.

Attitude towards Ad. The means for the dependent variables in the experimental groups are furnished in Table 2. Consistent with expectations, the attractive model ad was found to be more appealing, fun, interesting, and cool than the unattractive model ad (t's>2.43, p<0.05).

Attitude towards Message. The influence of attractive models on the advertising message was also evident, though less strong. No significant difference was found in terms of how appealing the message was (x=4.00 versus 3.45; t=1.35, p>0.10). However, subjects in the attractive condition rated the message to be marginally more interesting and cool (x=3.85 versus 3.10, t=1.97; and x=3.50 versus 2.90, t=1.79 respectively; p's<0.10). The message was also rated to be significantly more fun in the attractive compared to the unattractive condition (x=3.50 versus 2.75; t=2.14, p<0.05).

Attitude towards SDU. Again, consistent with expectations, attitude towards SDU was found to be more favorable when attractive models were used (p's<0.001). SDU was rated to be more fun (x=4.10 versus 2.75; t=3.98), more interesting (x=4.10 versus 2.70; t=3.83), more cool (x=3.85 versus 2.60; t=3.74), and more appealing (x=4.15 versus 2.90; t=3.49) for the attractive-model ad.

Perception of People who join SDU. Contrary to expectations, perceptions of people who joined the SDU were generally no different across levels of attractiveness. Subjects in the attractive-model ad condition rated people who joined SDU to be marginally more innovative than those who saw the unattractive-model ad version (x=3.80 versus 3.25; t=1.70, p<0.10). Directionally, attractive- relative to unattractive-model ad subjects perceived such people to be more realistic, more imaginative, more restless, less homely, less oriental, less cautious, and less compliant.

Discussion

The consistent influence of model attractiveness on attitudes toward the ad, the message, and SDU suggests that it may be a prime factor in influencing public acceptance of the campaign. Consistent with Kelman's (1961) argument that attractiveness of a source results in consumers identifying with the source, this study found that the ad with attractive models induced a subject to accept the message because the models formed a part of his/her self-image. Forming favorable first impression is also important especially since there is ad clutter. To achieve this, ads should employ attractive models because they are more likely to be favorably evaluated. This is particularly more evident at the first exposure when there is less opportunity to process information substantively. Our findings may be particularly noteworthy since we employed an actual ad for comparison. Using the original ad could have led to a mere exposure effect working against our hypothesis (i.e., familiarity generates liking). However, this mere exposure effect did not seem to be a critical influence given the advantage found for the new ad.

There is also the argument that using models similar to the audience is advantageous because the audience identifies with them. This study shows otherwise. Using models that appear to be less attractive, and hence, more typical of the population, seems less viable than employing those with looks that the audience can aspire to. Perhaps the most potent combination, but one which is untested here, may be using SDU's best-looking members as models to maximize source credibility perceptions and subsequent attitude change.

Interestingly, it was found that perceptions of people who joined SDU did not differ significantly regardless of the models used. A likely conceptual reason for this may be that personal experience with an attitude object has a greater impact on such perceptions than indirect experience through an ad (Fazio and Zanna 1981). Moreover, it may be that the ad was not directed towards enhancing the image of the SDU or its members. Rather, its message was to encourage key SDU member referents (friends, colleagues, and family members) to introduce mutual single friends to each other and to urge singles to accept such introductions. Last, inspection of the means shows that perceptions about SDU members were more neutral than either favorable or unfavorable.

Despite the more favorable responses obtained for the ad with more attractive models, its effectiveness in actually getting singles to get married was not measured. To the extent that attitudes are generally considered as predictors of behavior (Fishbein and Azjen 1975), we may expect it to be more effective in accomplishing the behavioral objective of the Marriage Promotion Campaign than that with the less attractive models.

CONCLUSION

Research into the effectiveness of social campaigns have generally focused on issues emanating from and samples in North America, despite their implementation worldwide. As Capon and Cooper-Martin (1990) note, the ethnocentricity in this area needs to be overcome. The two empirical studies here augment extant literature by using an Asian setting and dealing with a campaign not conducted elsewhere thus far. The research context also offers the added advantages of a geographically small location and an audience eminently reachable by traditional mass media vehicles and who have been exposed repeatedly to such campaigns.

Clearly, Singapore may be a useful laboratory in which natural experiments may be conducted from a social marketing perspective. Specifically, the research here may be extended by using larger samples or covering different campaigns. Such issues as understanding the socialization of graduates in Singapore, their media habits, attitudes toward matchmaking and marriage in general, and their perceptions of the SDU may be investigated. Empirical research that is more theoretically driven is also possible. For example, more dimensions and levels of source credibility may be considered in determining advertising effectiveness. Moderating factors affecting consumers' ability and motivation to process social marketing information (Petty and Cacioppo 1981) may be included as well. The relative role of personal selling efforts in this connection also merits research attention (cf. Carroll et al. 1985). The insights garnered may then be tested elsewhere for enhanced generality. Moreover, the boundary conditions of consumer research findings in the public or nonprofit sector may likewise be assessed in Singapore. Collectively, these avenues offer fruitful directions for future research in international social marketing.

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