Andreas Krasser
Jul 5, 2024

Can Hong Kong become Asia's creative world city?

In a hard-hitting critique, DDB's Andreas Krasser argues that insularity is suffocating Hong Kong's creative potential. "Nobody likes the ‘let me show you how it’s really done’ guy," he writes, urging humility, cultural understanding, and a diverse workforce to ignite a creative revolution in the SAR.

Andreas Krasser, DDB Group Hong Kong's CEO
Andreas Krasser, DDB Group Hong Kong's CEO

Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel for the Marketing Society on the state of creativity in Hong Kong. Overall, the consensus is that Hong Kong has lost its way, creatively speaking. Rather than leaving behind a cloud of pessimism, however, the panel concluded with an optimistic outlook for the future: Hong Kong has reinvented itself many times over and is now, more than ever, ready for its own creative revolution—as pointed out by Chris Kyme, in reference to the US in the 1950s.

One topic that stuck with me from the discussion was how Hong Kong has become more insular and inward-looking, benchmarking against itself rather than the rest of the world. This brought me back to a question I have been asking myself more frequently lately: as someone not born in Hong Kong and unable to speak the language, can I still add value to the work?

Hong Kong is losing its international status

I would argue that Hong Kong has shut out the outside world too much and, therefore, is losing diversity of view. I believe the marketing world here has created somewhat of an echo chamber, and young local talent in agencies is mainly looking at their social feeds for inspiration. Slowly but surely, they are not only reinforcing but also celebrating mediocre work.

While it is scientifically proven that perspectives from different cultural backgrounds are an engine for creativity (as explained in this episode of ‘Hidden Brain’), much of Hong Kong seems to be actively pushing back on this notion. Many in the industry won’t hire talent that doesn’t speak Cantonese; some, despite the common language, even push back on hiring people from Southern China, and when there is some diversity of view, the “you don’t understand, you’re not originally from here” card gets played far too often.

I appreciate that a culturally diverse workforce isn’t always easy to manage and that things probably take a little longer to gel, which clearly is against the Hong Kong get-shit-done spirit. However, due to this obsession with speed and short-term results, Hong Kong is losing its status and competitiveness as an international city. Say what you may about awards, but the performance or lack thereof of Hong Kong brands at international award shows is proof that we lack a competitive edge over our neighbours in Singapore, for example. There was not a single award for Hong Kong at Cannes this year, only one metal at Spikes, and zero at the APAC Effies last year.

How can we get Hong Kong’s creative product back on track? How can we make it Asia’s creative world city?

Hire a culturally more diverse workforce

To begin with, we must embrace more diverse points of view by hiring a more diverse workforce: people with different cultural and professional backgrounds.

For most of my professional life, I’ve had to provide strategic advice to clients in countries that were not originally my home. It’s what caused me countless sleepless nights, even imposter syndrome—how could I, while clearly being an outsider, offer local insights? But in the end, I believe I’ve always added value by bringing in what I like to refer to as Outsider Insights: the ability to identify insights by continuously asking questions until a truth gets revealed that causes locals to look at something they might have taken for granted through a new and fresh lens.

I’ve worked in highly diverse teams before, and while the dynamics at first were a little less smooth than they would have been with a culturally homogenous group, we always ended up producing highly effective creative thinking none of us could have created on our own or within our own cultural setting alone.

Creating a diverse workforce also means hiring talent from minorities in Hong Kong. The only concerted effort on that front that I know of was done by TBWA a few years back when they launched a special internship program targeted at ethnic minorities in Hong Kong.

One last point on hiring a diverse workforce is to create diverse teams across the board rather than dividing into international and local teams. I’m guilty as charged—certain accounts and assignments are more easily handled that way. But again, we need to let go of this fast and agile narrative and instead embrace a potentially slower pace in the short term for much higher creative returns in the long term.

Leaving the colonial mindset at the door

For international talent in Hong Kong, it is crucial to leave the colonial mindset at the door. Nobody likes the ‘let me show you how it’s really done’ guy. Instead, I’d urge talent coming to this city for the first time to take their time to observe, understand certain cultural cues beyond face value, and, after a while, offer alternative viewpoints while being mindful of their surroundings. You’ll more likely get through to people this way than by trying to dominate the room.

By now, it should be obvious that I firmly believe in the merits of coming at it as an outsider, but it takes a mix of humility and cultural empathy to really make it work.

Moving forward

In essence, to reclaim its creative edge, Hong Kong needs to embrace diverse viewpoints, foster inclusivity, and rethink its approach to creativity. This means making concerted efforts to attract and integrate diverse talent. Only then can we truly elevate Hong Kong’s creative industry.

We shouldn’t be asking how we can win in Hong Kong and Hong Kong only. We should be asking how Hong Kong can win on the world stage.

If not, we will continue to lose international competitiveness and potentially all our jobs. If we want mediocrity, we might as well hand the reins to the ChatGPTs of the world right now.

So, who’s ready for Hong Kong’s creative revolution?

Campaign Asia

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