Chris Kyme
Jan 7, 2015

A look back at Hong Kong's creative heyday

Once upon a time, a variety of factors conspired to produce an air of creative competitiveness, and awards were a byproduct of unleashing ideas with purpose, writes longtime ad man Chris Kyme.

Chris Kyme
Chris Kyme

For anyone visiting Hong Kong today, a couple of days spent perusing the general standard of visible traditional advertising, be it outdoor, press or TV would beg the question ‘Where’s the creativity’? From the bland and predictable to the downright trashy, the industry today does not present itself very favourably overall, albeit with a few exceptions (as visible at this year’s Kam Fan awards).

To be fair to Hong Kong, it’s a scenario that would not be inconsistent with any number of modern-day advertising markets, from New York to London to Sydney. Real-world (as opposed to scam-world), cut-through creative work has always been the exception rather than the norm, and something to strive for. Why we all get up every day.

It’s hard to think that there was once a period in Hong Kong where agencies at the forefront of the creative evolution competed to out-wow each other. A time when awards were a rewarding by-product of selling in hard-fought-for ideas that were unleashed onto the unsuspecting public with a real purpose—as opposed to being a self-gratifying sideshow financed by big agency budgets to appease ambitious creative people as consolation for enduring the late hours grinding out the revenue-generating, daily bread-and-butter work.

Made in Hong Kong, my just released book written with Tommy Cheng (now business director at McCann), is about a unique time in Hong Kong when a variety of factors conspired to produce an air of creative competitiveness the like of which this fascinating city had never seen before and has not seen since.

It had its roots in the 1950s and '60s when the foundations of a burgeoning advertising and media scene were being laid down by pioneering industry practitioners to facilitate global brands with an eye on a market full of Eastern promise. It was nurtured by open-minded and willing imported professionals, keen to ply their trade in new ways to a new audience and help grow a local industry along the way. And it culminated in a core period where creativity was not only at a peak but where it took on a personality and identity all of its own, as a generation of home-grown creative talent rose to the forefront.

At once distinctly local, yet often delivered with world-class quality. Big, lush and emotional TV campaigns. Cleverly crafted displays of Chinese typography and copywriting. And finally, a uniquely local style of insight-driven and often witty local creativity that brushed off the cobwebs of the industry’s colonial baggage and declared itself ‘Made in Hong Kong’—and proud of it.

Much has changed since those days. The importance of mainland China as a market, and Hong Kong’s role within it, the fragmentation of media and the importance of the internet as a channel for reaching and engaging consumers. All are factors which have influenced how the creative industry has evolved. Inspired ideas are now more likely to turn up on your mobile or on your screen, forwarded by some enthusiastic friend or colleague. They might be parading before you at an overcrowded pedestrian area or connecting with you in semi-subliminal ways you were least expecting.

The world has moved on, and rightly so. But let’s not forget the pioneering souls (some of whom have since passed away) who bravely paved the way. Who helped put Hong Kong on the global creative map.

Made in Hong Kong is a tribute, a nod towards Hong Kong’s creative past, and hopefully, an inspiration to help encourage its creative future.

Chris Kyme is the CEO of Kymechow.

Made in Hong Kong, published by WE Press, is now available in Hong Kong at bookshops including Page One, Eslite, Basheer and Swindon, as well as Pacific Coffee outlets. Proceeds from sales go to Youth Outreach.

Related: The author wrote a memoir about his career in Asia for Campaign Asia-Pacific's 40th anniversary celebration in 2013.


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