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
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
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 (www.brandhk.gov.hk), 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
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
"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
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