Still propaganda, but in a commercial-friendly package

The redesign of Pioneer magazine, the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) publication for public consumption, has, in my opinion, achieved the important goal of reaching out to its audience.

It has done so by mimicking and even blatantly copying the design language (so much for being Pioneer) of “lad mags” such as Stuff Magazine, T3 and Wired. This explains the neon colour palette, diagonal-line background, Web 2.0 typefaces and icons that literally burst out of the pages. Aping a look that is familiar with the magazines its target audience reads is a sure way to stay relevant.

pioneerstuff1Left is a spread from Stuff Magazine in September 2009, on the right is a page from Pioneer’s August issue.

But beyond it’s self-proclaimed “fresh look” from the August issue, is there really a “new beginning” as it touts? The core content that features the latest happenings in the SAF remains but what has been given a boost in line with its new look is more content pertaining to lifestyle issues.

pioneerbackpageThis lifestyle push plus the “lads mag” mentality has also produced a new section called “The Back Page” which featuresdeserving people who work in the SAF — thus far four women, none dressed in military garb. While it is not stated specifically that only women will be featured, how possible is it that the majority gender has not been able to nominate someone deserving from their own kind? Without a criteria to judge who is considered deserving, and the only common thread thus far is they are all women, one can only conclude there must be a policy to objectify women in the magazine to appeal to its readers.

The redesigned Pioneer magazine definitely looks livelier and more exciting. But with each new issue, I find myself less excited than the last. Under all the bells and whistles, hardly anything has changed since it started 40 years ago, it is still a newsletter of propaganda about our military.


  1. Wei Yang says:

    Hi there. There’s a small article in today’s 晚报, similar to what you have pointed out here, about Pioneer magazine. (with an Outstanding photo ‘blurb’ on the cover)

    The idea for the Back Page seems to be for highlighting service women from the SAF – that women have a contribution too etc etc.
    It is mentioned that defence news have been reduced from 6 to 2 pages too.

    To opinion that its a case of objectifying women might be a tad harsh. But I do fret upon the studio model approach for the portraits. There are other sides, such as when off-work, to our army personnel’s life which could be photographed.

    Perhaps announcements about defence treaties or commendations are still acceptable ‘losses’ in exchange for more exciting and more relevant lifestyle pieces.

    Pioneer is still quite a must-read for me, but only for a sense of attachment to things I find familiar. I look forward to mentions of my ex-unit and formation in articles, more so those that highlight the achievements of my previous army colleagues / friends. (male/female)

    Its still the content that matters. Army magazine gives me stuff about the army which only Pioneer has access to. Lifestyle advice – there’s loads of it elsewhere.

  2. j u s t i n . z says:

    Cool, can you keep that copy of WB for me?

    I think breaking away from the studio approach is a good idea too. I actually kind of like the old back pages that showcased army life. It was real.

    You brought up an important point about sense of attachment and how I think this revamp fails to build on that. I think our PIONEER should have a section that encompasses news from the whole SAF and that that bit with news and updates about your unit or command. Surely, SAF has the resources to invest in that?

    There’s also lots more alternatives to lifestyle pieces that are military-centric. What about photos from the archives? How about funny guides to military life? Even guides on how to cook food to taste like combat rations?

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