Spencer Wong
Aug 8, 2017

China's dominance putting HK creativity at risk

McCann & Spencer's chief creative officer Spencer Wong questions Hong Kong's creative future under pressure from "China Inc."

Spencer Wong of McCann & Spencer, Hong Kong
Spencer Wong of McCann & Spencer, Hong Kong

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong SAR since the handover back to China.

The promised 50 years of continued freedoms now seems to be more of a grace period of transformation and ultimately we Hong Kongers have to adapt to a way of life curated by the mainland Chinese government.

Changes within China have driven this trend. Government policies have increasingly opened up Hong Kong to mainland firms, with huge sums of money flooding out of China as its economy has slowed in recent years. The relentless rush of Chinese cash has sent the Hong Kong real estate market soaring, with the price of commercial property in prime areas of the city almost doubling since the handover, making Hong Kong land the most expensive in the world.

The dominance of China Inc. over Hong Kong is hard to ignore, accounting for 64 percent of the Hong Kong stock market capitalisation. The influx of firms from the Chinese mainland reflects a broader shift in Hong Kong's role as a business hub.  At the time of the handover, Hong Kong was seen as a stepping stone for foreigners looking to tap into the Chinese market. But what I have seen over the last few years is a similar view of Hong Kong as a stepping stone for China to engage with the wider world.

At the same time, the Hong Kong advertising market saw a 13 percent year-on-year decline in spending in 2016 – its biggest drop since 1997. The largest cuts were for brands in cosmetics and skincare, toiletries and household goods, whilst banking, insurance and tourism had smaller declines. Campaigns using digital media and mobile went up as expected, while TV, PR and outdoor, surprisingly, are still holding their own. A major question mark remains about the value of social for brands – not just for awareness but how this converts into sales. As the Chinese e-commerce market reaches near saturation, we need to ask what this will mean for Hong Kong.

A significant portion of China’s growth in our sector is down to the rapid developments in mobile technology, matched with all the advantages of their enormous population size. It is hastening the transformation of traditional key media and brands are being forced to adapt or die. The democratisation of media and consumer engagement is upon us now.

I believe that ultimately, creativity in Hong Kong is at risk. By and large what is valued in China is size and scale. Being different isn’t necessarily seen as positive, homogeneity often rules. That may be slowly changing, but Hong Kong still risks being caught up in this mindset. We cannot lose our appreciation for originality and a sense of local identity. This is what sparks ideas and leads to standout work. We need to remain the guardians of Hong Kong’s unique sense of creativity to ensure the industry continues to thrive.

Spencer Wong is chairman and chief creative officer at McCann & Spencer, Hong Kong

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