Formula E: Building a family-friendly, future-focused brand platform

On the eve of Formula E's Hong Kong debut, its local CEO, Alan Fang, talks about building a brand platform that attracts serious fans, families and young, eco-savvy consumers.

Formula E: Building a family-friendly, future-focused brand platform

HONG KONG - When Formula E debuted in Beijing in 2014, the concept of a silent motorsports event was as alien as the idea of going to a muted symphony.

Instead, the lack of ear-splitting engine noise proved to be a boon for the electric-car racing series—one of several factors that helped Formula E venture into cities where its big brother F1 cannot go, such as the streets of London, Paris and Berlin.

This weekend, tropical storm Aere permitting, the series will kick off its latest season in Hong Kong, which gets to host the event for the first time following an earlier disappointment.

Alan Fang, CEO of Formula Electric Racing (Hong Kong), attributes the growing popularity of the series to its conscious effort to create a wholesome experience, plus the growing popularity of and interest in electric cars. 

"We want fans to come to the race as a family activity, and there are many family-oriented activities lined up for the two-day event," said Fang.

To promote the race as an activity for Hong Kongers, the organisation's "We Are All Drivers" campaign, through TBWA Hong Kong, brought in local sportspersons and personalities such as race driver Adderly Fong. 

"Since it is the first major motorsports event to be held in Hong Kong, the fanatics are clearly very excited," Fang said. "We are driving the future of Hong Kong, and that's the message that we want to bring across."

The event has seemingly done well on the sponsorship front, with HKT, FWD, Swire Properties, Blue Girl Beer, Canon and Coca-Cola among its long list of partners.

Electric dreams

Fang said Formula E and the popularity of electric cars feed into each other. Just as Formula 1 has been a test bed for hybrid engine technology, Formula E has seen more major car brands joining in the fray recently. Panasonic Jaguar Racing will make its debut in Formula E this weekend in Hong Kong, and Mercedes has indicated its interest in joining for the 2018-19 season.

Panasonic Jaguar racing team

Electric cars are a growing segment of the Hong Kong car market, and Fang said his organisation's Formula E campaign tapped into the increasing environmental awareness and popularity of electric cars among Hong Kongers. In addition, the Formula E race this weekend ties in with some prominent electric-car launches. Tesla launched its Model X electric sports-utility vehicle here on Wednesday, and Renault is expected to unveil a new model here soon.

"Having the Formula E race in Hong Kong crystalises the effort to promote electric cars," Fang said. "So far, motorsports enthusiasts in Hong Kong who are fans of traditional series like Formula 1 and Formula 3 have been very receptive towards an electric-cars race." In fact, the two-day event is sold out, with the majority of the ticket holders bring Hong Kong residents.

The event, taking place at the Central harbourfront, will also feature a robo-cars exhibition race. The organisation is also working with the FIA the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Tourism Commission to promote the race.

Engaging a younger audience is a key objective for a forward-thinking sporting series like Formula E, Fang said. Interactive virtual-reality technology will be widely employed at the Emotion Club, the hospitality area on the race ground, and has been featured in shopping-mall 'roadshows' in the weeks leading up to the event, he said. In addition, fans who are HTC Vive owners will be able to watch highlights from the second season on Virtually Live. The race on Sunday will be broadcast live on local and international channels including PCCW's ViuTV and Fox Sports.

Children enjoy a simulator experience during a roadshow event

Thrill of the chase

Seasoned sports commentator Daniel Chan, a key opinion leader (KOL) for the Formula E campaign, said Formula E's rather unorthodox format of changing cars midway through races (the batteries in Formula E races only last about half the race) would not deter traditional motorsports fans.

"Ultimately, the thrill of watching a motorsports race is about speed and the overall vibe on the tracks," Chan said. "The difference of the format or the machines would not really matter. Street races tend to have the novelty factor that draws in the non-motorsports fans. Just look at the Singapore Grand Prix."

Chan, who has more than 10 years' experience in major sporting events and a huge following on Facebook and Instagram, said the efforts of the organiser in promoting the race as a motorsports and entertainment event have set it apart from others. "Champagne and music are the two great elements to a motorsports event," he said. "Organisers of the Singapore Grand Prix spent a lot in getting big names to perform at the after-race events, and they were successful in appealing to the younger crowd."

This weekend's festivities include a live music event featuring "world-renowned DJ Nicky Romero, hip-hop star Nelly and R&B sensation Ne-Yo", as well as a 'Battle of Victors' boxing event.

Daniel Chan

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