Tiger Balm

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The current Tiger Balm Logo (2010 - Present day). Photo from Mumbrella Asia.

Tiger Balm is an ointment used as an analgesic to relieve minor muscle aches, pains and strains. Tiger Balm won the Singapore Brand Awards in 2002[1] and was also selected by the Design Society of Singapore as one of its most significant icons.[2] The Singapore brand has received international recognition from the likes of Lady Gaga, Gwyneth Paltrow and Benedict Cumberbatch.[3]

Origins in Rangoon

Aw Boon Par (left) and Aw Boon Haw (right), the brothers behind Tiger Balm.

Tiger Balm started from a special camphor-based medicine ointment made by Aw Chu Kin, a Chinese herbalist. He left the Emperor’s Court in China for Rangoon (modern-day Myanmar) to set up Eng Aun Tong, a medicine shop.[4] In the 1870s, Aw Chu Kin created Tiger Balm’s base recipe.[5]


After his death in 1908, his sons Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par took over the medicine shop. The brothers refined the ointment’s recipe and produced a balm which they named Tiger Balm.[6] Tiger Balm contains camphor, menthol and dementholised mint oil as well as essential oils such as capsicum, mint oil, cassia oil, clove oil, cajuput oil, wintergreen oil, eucalyptus oil. The rest of the balm contains petroleum jelly and paraffin base.[7]

Early marketing

When Tiger Balm first started, they employed sample testing as their earliest promotional methods. The Aw brothers gave out samples of their product via carts and urged people to use the product then give them feedback.[8] Boon Haw aggressively marketed Tiger Balm in its early days, by convincing every Chinese shop in town to stock the balm. Additionally, he made posters and placed Tiger Balm posters up at any blank wall he could find.[9]

Regional expansion

A replica of Aw Boon Haw’s Tiger Mobile.
The Tiger Medical Hall in the 1930s. Photo from Mad On Collections.

With Tiger Balm’s prominence in Rangoon, Boon Haw set his sights on foreign markets, expanding the frontier of the business. Boon Haw moved to Singapore in 1926 to set up a production plant 10 times the size of the Rangoon plant.[10]


Boon Haw continued with his marketing campaign in Malaya, where he visited villages in a custom-made car with a tiger-shaped head. He reportedly distributed free samples to the crowds gathered around the car.[11]


Tiger Balm’s increasing prominence amongst the people in Singapore and growing loyal customer base helped spread the good word on Tiger Balm. With its reputation built in these areas, Tiger Balm entered neighbouring markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and South China.[12]


Such tactics helped the Aw brothers grow their business empire selling balm, which reached its peak in the mid-1930s.

Changes in company structure

1960s - 1970s: Incorporation & sale to Slater Walker Securities

The Aw family incorporated Haw Par Brothers International Limited on 18 July 1969. Several of their products, including Tiger Balm, were listed on the Singapore stock exchange.[13] On 3 June 1971, Haw Par Brothers International Limited was taken over by a British conglomerate, Slater Walker Securities.[14]


Haw Par Brothers International Limited signed a joint venture agreement with Slater Walker Securities and Jack Chia Holdings Limited (JCH). At the time, Tiger Balm was managed by Jack Chia Holdings Limited. Starting from 1 January 1972, Haw Par granted licenses to the companies for 5 years each. Under the agreement, Haw Par International Limited was guaranteed a minimum annual income of US$2.74 million.[15]

1980s - 1990s: Reacquisition of Tiger Balm

In 1981, Haw Par Brothers International Limited was bought over by Dr Wee Cho Yaw, a Singaporean billionaire businessman.[16] The acquisition came after Slater Walker Securities collapsed during the second banking crisis of 1973 to 1975. Richard Tarling, then Chairman of Slater Walker Securities, was jailed for financial irregularities.[17]


Haw Par Corporation regained control of Tiger Balm on 1 January 1992, with the expiration of the joint venture agreement with Jack Chia Group. Haw Par Brothers International Limited was renamed as the Haw Par Corporation in 1997.[18]

Rebranding efforts (1990s - 2000s)

Haw Par Corporation overhauled the brand identity of Tiger Balm in 1992. Due to the lack of advertising and product innovation, Tiger Balm was perceived as an outdated product for the elderly.[19]

The Tiger Balm logo in the 1930s. Photo from Mumbrella Asia.

The rebranding efforts started with the Tiger Balm logo. The original logo featured a resting tiger, with its legs crossed and not well defined. Meanwhile, the new logo showcases a leaping tiger that was more muscular, as well as using a unique shade of orange, Pantone 137, as the logo’s background colour. Pantone 137 is now synonymous with the Tiger Balm brand. Tiger Balm’s gold bottle cap positioned Tiger Balm as a premium product. Meanwhile, the iconic hexagon-shaped glass bottle was kept as is.[20]

Entrance into the sports market

A Tiger Balm advertisement aimed at the US market. Photo from South China Morning Post.

In 1986, Tiger Balm entered the mainstream US market.[21] Haw Par corporation worked with Batey Ads to design posters that resonated with Western audiences. They capitalised on the health craze and trend for natural products in the 90s by marketing the brand as a pre-exercise rub and by sponsoring sporting events.[22]


Tiger Balm’s reputation as a warm-up cream meant that more of the ointment was used to cover large surfaces such as legs or arms. As such, Tiger Balm sold in the US comes in 50 grams jars, much larger than the 30 grams jars sold elsewhere.[23]


In Singapore, Tiger Balm sponsored the Standard Chartered Marathon, the Yellow Ribbon Run and the Vertical Marathon in 2011.[24] Dipna Lim Prasad, a Singaporean hurdler, was also selected as the official brand ambassador for Tiger Balm ACTIVE.[25]

Entrance into the youth market

Haw Par Corporation also used aggressive distribution as part of their marketing plan to make Tiger Balm popular amongst youths of the 90s. Tiger Balm increased their distribution to supermarkets, gift shops, shopping centres and supply shops instead of being distributed to traditional shops such as pharmacies.[26]


Moreover, Tiger Balm’s aggressive worldwide advertising was aimed at promoting the product’s versatility. It was also to approach the younger generation with Tiger Balm as a relevant and effective product for them to use.

Source | A Tiger Balm advertisement aimed at the US market.[27]

Product development

The original Tiger Balm ointments in their iconic hexagonal jars. As of 2019, there are two types of Tiger Balm - red for muscle aches, white for cold and flu.

Haw Par Corporation looked into the customer feedback for Tiger Balm. The greasy feeling of the product and the strong smell were common complaints. Moreover, one jar could be used for months, if not a year and hence was unable to boost profits for Haw Par Corporation. Haw Par Corporation went into R&D to innovate some of the products listed below:[28]

Year Product Product description
1992
Tiger Balm Medicated Plasters - Cool
Tiger Balm Medicated Plasters - Warm
Relief from aches without the strong smell.
2005
Tiger Balm Neck & Shoulder Rub
Fragrant smelling rub to relieve aches from muscles.
2008
Tiger Balm Mosquito Repellent Patch
-
2011
Tiger Balm ACTIVE Muscle Spray from the Tiger Balm Active Range. Other products in the range are Tiger Balm ACTIVE Muscle Gel and Tiger Balm ACTIVE Muscle Rub.
Sports focused warm-up cream. With the launch of Tiger Balm ACTIVE range, Tiger Balm has expanded its product reach to sportspersons.

International recognition

Tiger Balm first gained global attention with its initial entrance to the Western markets through athletes.


In 2005, Australian Alicia Molik used it to massage a pulled muscle and was later quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “It’s amazing what a Tiger Balm does” following her victory over her opponent, Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic. In 2008, Jankovic herself was captured on video rubbing her arm with Tiger Balm during a match.[29]


Tiger Balm has received unsolicited brand endorsement from US celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow. Lady Gaga described Tiger Balm as a “backstage must-have” on Twitter, while Gwyneth Paltrow mentioned that Tiger Balm as a “topical cure-all balm for muscle aches and pains”. Benedict Cumberbatch has reportedly used the ointment to soothe his muscles while filming action scenes for the movie Dr Strange.[30]


Meanwhile, Tiger Balm’s prominence internationally can be seen through how different countries found new ways to use Tiger Balm. Japanese customers used Tiger Balm to relax their joints, while Nepalese trekkers use it to repel mosquitoes, and the people of Seychelles use Tiger Balm to relieve themselves from seasickness.


Tiger Balm’s distribution ranges from Bluff, a small town in southern New Zealand, to Inuvik, Canada, around 930 miles from the North Pole.[31] As reported in 2014, Tiger Balm’s biggest markets are Thailand, Hong Kong and the USA.[32]

References / Citations

  1. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  2. Haw Par Healthcare Ltd. 2011. “Tiger Balm® announces Tiger Balm® ACTIVE sub brand for a New Generation of Fitness-Conscious Individuals.” Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: http://www.tigerbalm.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Tiger-Balm-ACTIVE_MediaRelease-Final.pdf
  3. DeWolf, Christopher. "How A-list Celebrities Are Popularizing a Grandma's Staple." Inkstone. January 10, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.inkstonenews.com/business/how-lady-gaga-gwyneth-paltrow-benedict-cumberbatch-and-david-beckham-are-popularizing-chinese/article/2134293
  4. Haw Par Corporation. "THE TIGER BALM PHILOSOPHY." Tiger Balm. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tigerbalm.com/sg/pages/about/
  5. Haw Par Corporation. "THE TIGER BALM PHILOSOPHY." Tiger Balm. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tigerbalm.com/sg/pages/about/
  6. DeWolf, Christopher. "The Tiger Balm Story: Ointment Chinese Rubbed on for Every Ailment ." South China Morning Post. March 21, 2018. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/health-beauty/article/2133311/tiger-balm-story-how-ointment-every-ailment-was-created-fell
  7. Omics International. "Tiger Balm." Tiger Balm. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: http://research.omicsgroup.org/index.php/Tiger_Balm
  8. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  9. Chamikutty, Preethi. "The Story of 100 Years of Business & Legacy of 'Tiger Balm'." YourStory.com. January 10, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2019. Retrieved from: https://yourstory.com/2014/01/tiger-balm
  10. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  11. Chamikutty, Preethi. "The Story of 100 Years of Business & Legacy of 'Tiger Balm'." YourStory.com. January 10, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2019. Retrieved from: https://yourstory.com/2014/01/tiger-balm
  12. Chamikutty, Preethi. "The Story of 100 Years of Business & Legacy of 'Tiger Balm'." YourStory.com. January 10, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2019. Retrieved from: https://yourstory.com/2014/01/tiger-balm
  13. "Page 6". The Straits Times. November 12, 1969. Accessed on 14 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  14. "[no title]". The Straits Times. June, 11 1971. Accessed on 14 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  15. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  16. “New Haw Par Chairman”. The Straits Times. December 14, 1978. Accessed on 14 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  17. "Tarling released". New Nation. March 24, 1980. Accessed 16 August 2019. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
  18. Chin, Yong Chang. "Home-grown Pride: A Look at 8 of Singapore's Oldest Businesses." The Straits Times. August 10, 2017. Accessed 14 August 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.straitstimes.com/business/companies-markets/home-grown-pride-a-look-at-8-of-singapores-oldest-businesses
  19. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  20. Hicks, Robin. "The Thinking behind the Asian Global Brand That 'Works Where It Hurts'." Mumbrella Asia. April 12, 2015. Accessed August 11, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.mumbrella.asia/2015/04/the-thinking-behind-the-asian-global-brand-that-works-where-it-hurts
  21. Inception US. "ROAR BACK Campaign." INCEPTION MARKETING. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: https://inceptionus.com/portfolio_page/tiger-balm-social-media/
  22. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  23. SMU Insights. "Tiger Balm: Roaring Back to Success." Singapore Management University (SMU). May 25, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.smu.edu.sg/perspectives/2016/05/25/tiger-balm-roaring-back-success
  24. Haw Par Healthcare Ltd. 2011. “Tiger Balm® announces Tiger Balm® ACTIVE sub brand for a New Generation of Fitness-Conscious Individuals.” Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: http://www.tigerbalm.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Tiger-Balm-ACTIVE_MediaRelease-Final.pdf
  25. Haw Par Healthcare Ltd. 2014. “Singapore’s Own International Brand Tiger Balm Supports Local Athlete Dipna Lim Prasad.” Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.tigerbalm.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/TigerBalmSupportsDipnaforSEAGames2015-Media-Rel-30-Jul-2014.pdf
  26. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  27. Pangarkar, Nitin. "Investing in Durable Assets to Achieve Superior Performance: Restoring Tiger Balms Roar." Global Business and Organizational Excellence 35, no. 2 (2015): 6-17. Accessed August 13, 2019. DOI:10.1002/joe.21651.
  28. Hicks, Robin. "The Thinking behind the Asian Global Brand That 'Works Where It Hurts'." Mumbrella Asia. April 12, 2015. Accessed August 14, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.mumbrella.asia/2015/04/the-thinking-behind-the-asian-global-brand-that-works-where-it-hurts
  29. SMU Insights. "Tiger Balm: Roaring Back to Success." Singapore Management University (SMU). May 25, 2016. Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from:  https://www.smu.edu.sg/perspectives/2016/05/25/tiger-balm-roaring-back-success.
  30. DeWolf, Christopher. "How A-list Celebrities Are Popularizing a Grandma's Staple." Inkstone. January 10, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.inkstonenews.com/business/how-lady-gaga-gwyneth-paltrow-benedict-cumberbatch-and-david-beckham-are-popularizing-chinese/article/2134293
  31. DeWolf, Christopher. "How A-list Celebrities Are Popularizing a Grandma's Staple." Inkstone. January 10, 2019. Accessed August 13, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.inkstonenews.com/business/how-lady-gaga-gwyneth-paltrow-benedict-cumberbatch-and-david-beckham-are-popularizing-chinese/article/2134293
  32. Chamikutty, Preethi. "The Story of 100 Years of Business & Legacy of 'Tiger Balm'." YourStory.com. January 10, 2014. Accessed August 11, 2019. Retrieved from: https://yourstory.com/2014/01/tiger-balm