May 25, 2001

ANALYSIS: Branding - A new brand, or just a new logo? How much effect will Hong Kong's recent rebranding really have? The jury's still out, says Richard Lord

If you live in Hong Kong and possess a pulse, it probably won't

have escaped your attention that the city has been rebranded. The new

logo and slogan, sorry, visual identity and brand platform, were lauched

two weeks ago at the Fortune Global Forum in the city by the chief

executive, Tung Chee Hwa.

The slogan, "Hong Kong - Asia's World City", and the visual - a dragon

containing the letters "HK" and the city's name in Chinese characters -

have come in for the usual pasting that expensive rebrandings get in the

press. Designers have been wheeled out to slag off the logo as generic

and literal-minded, and an email campaign has even been organised to try

to persuade Tung to ditch what's already become known as the dollars 9

million dragon.

But according to the Hong Kong Government, this isn't the whole story:

the dragon and the slogan are just the tip of an iceberg. They're part

of a broader communications programme that has been simmering for years,

and will be used to promote the city well into the future, according to

Kerry McGlynn, deputy director of the Government's Information Services


"It dates back to the post-hand- over period, when Hong Kong was taking

a hammering," he says. "Tourism fell, we had a virulent outbreak of

avian flu, and the Asian financial downturn meant that we had the first

recession in our history. It was very difficult in the midst of all that

to get positive messages out. So we did work behind the scenes on how we

could brand Hong Kong."

McGlynn adds that the Government plans to use the new identity "for the

rest of Hong Kong's life as a Special Administrative Region of


The project evolved from a February 2000 Commission for Strategic

Development report on the future of the SAR, which recommended the

'world city' positioning.

The upshot was the one-year, dollars 9m rebranding, co-ordinated by PR

consultancy Burson-Marsteller.

The first concrete result is a massive publicity blitz within Hong Kong,

taking in TV commercials, ads on buses, trams, the MTR and KCR and

government poster sites, as well as exhibitions in shopping centres and

a Central Policy Unit seminar on the culture of world cities in July.

There's also a website (, containing the background

to the rebranding, and all the brand guidelines and marketing


Although the Government is keen to stress the long-term, global-branding

implications of the project, McGlynn admits that so far, most of what's

been done internationally has been built onto its existing PR


"We've retooled a lot of the stuff we already do," he says.

The rebranding kicked off with a qualitative research project, through

Wirthlin Worldwide, which targeted politicians, business leaders and the

media. It was supplemented with quantitative research, through Wirthlin,

and through Young & Rubicam's BrandAsset Valuator tool. It culminated in

focus groups and interviews within Hong Kong to decide between the

shortlisted visuals.

David Jenkinson, regional stategy planning director, Y&R Australia,

says: "There was consistency in the way people thought: in the

positives, and in where it could be enhanced. People saw a lot of

positives, but didn't necessarily feel the direct benefits to them."

"Being seen as the gateway to China and Asia is a big advantage," adds

Vincent Breglio, managing director of Wirthlin Worldwide Asia. "But the

city had to do better at communicating how good it is, and at dealing

with issues like pollution."

Hong Kong was also benchmarked against other cities, and in particular

against their rebranding efforts. "We could only find a very few

examples of this kind of complete branding exercise," comments Ian

McCabe, managing director of Burson-Marsteller's Asia-Pacific public

affairs practice.

"There were campaigns, but not complete rebrandings, and tended to be


The essence of the new initiative, according to the Government's

McGlynn, is that it's holistic: it's about the whole city as a brand,

not any single element of it. Perhaps the reason that there have been so

few similar programmes from other cities is because it's so difficult to

create a coherent location-based brand which serves across the board

like this.

McGlynn admits that if there's a focus to the new brand, it's business:

inward investment through government agency Invest Hong Kong is a big


However, Steve Mullinger, managing partner of recruitment firm TMP

executive search, doubts that the new brand will have much impact on his

job of promoting the city as a place to work. "I don't know if it'll

have much weight from a business perspective, but I think they've done a

pretty good job from a tourism perspective," he says.

The problem for the Government is that it takes time for the success or

failure of a rebranding to become evident. For the time being, all

anyone has to go on is the logo and brand line. The Chief Secretary for

Administration, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, is on record as saying that "our

brand is as important to us as the swoosh is to Nike and the golden

arches are to McDonald's".

Confident words, but they haven't stopped the logo in particular being

criticised. Part of this is just new identity fatigue: over recent years

Hong Kongers have also had to swallow several other, mostly tourism-led

slogans like "Hong Kong - City of Life" and the slightly unfortunate

"Hong Kong Is It" (try saying it fast).

Michael Ip, the Asia-Pacific managing director of Landor Associates,

which produced the identity, says: "The dragon has been a symbol of

China for thousands of years, standing for strength, vitality, energy

and dynamism. This dragon is a unique symbol."

Then there's the brand line. Hong Kong is undoubtedly a world city, and

it's in Asia, but is that really the best it can claim? Richard Pinder,

regional managing director of Leo Burnett, believes that it undersells

the territory. "If you truly believe that China is the future centre of

the world, which I think it is, and Hong Kong is seeking to place a

claim as the gateway to that, does this capture it? No, not at all," he


"In world terms, and certainly in Europe, Asia's not really that

important a place - it accounts for 15 per cent of the turnover of the

average multinational. Hong Kong is a lot more important than that."

According to Wirthlin's Breglio, the Government was conscious of not

over-claiming when it came up with the line. "There's a very fine line

between a brand line with a sense of pride and one which is overly

boastful, and we had to guard against stepping over it," he says.

There's scepticism, though, about its ability to mark Hong Kong out from

the crowd. Kevin Ramsey, Asia-Pacific chief operating officer for J

Walter Thompson, comments: "The logo shouldn't be viewed in isolation

from the rest of the stuff that's being done, but my view is that it's

too obscure to say anything really specific about the city. The brand

line is generic, and doesn't really differentiate the place at all: you

could make the same claim about Shanghai, Singapore, or pretty much any

commercial capital in the region."

According to McCabe, that's not an issue, because the territory's

pre-eminence is a fait accompli: "Hong Kong's competition is the world.

It's not about just competing with Shanghai and Singapore. The

positioning as the region's leading business centre is established


Ultimately, the success or failure of the rebranding may depend less on

its ability to sell Hong Kong overseas, and more on its ability to

energise the territory's own population. "There is an historical

identity issue here - a real Hong Kong identity has grown up - and one

of the more important elements of this is to help Hong Kong focus on its

own identity," says McGlynn.

Perhaps it's this - its ability to change the perception of the place

from the bottom up as well as the top down - that will determine whether

this is really an invigorating new identity, or just another picture of

a dragon.

If you live in Hong Kong and possess a pulse, it probably won't

have escaped your attention that the city has been rebranded. The new

logo and slogan, sorry, visual identity and brand platform, were lauched

two weeks ago at the Fortune Global Forum in the city by the chief

executive, Tung Chee Hwa.

The slogan, Hong Kong - Asia's World City, and the visual - a dragon

containing the letters HK...

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