The plum positions were granted to global brands that reinforced their local relevancy in a bipartite market where English and Cantonese are both popular marketing languages.
Hong Kongers are customarily reactive if a brand strives for ‘glocalisation’, even if the results are sometimes hilariously lost in translation. When Apple (1) launched iPhone 7 in the market in Sept last year, the ‘seven’ in its HK-specific slogan has a rather unfortunate meaning in Cantonese slang ‘柒’: 'this is penis'. While HKers laugh at Apple in mocking merriment, they lovingly maintained top-of-mind awareness of the brand when polled by Nielsen.
That managed to overturn Samsung (2)’s 2016 crown. Meanwhile, Sony (4) and Nestle (5) moved a couple of notches down in a mild shuffle.
Bungled localisation attempts by Apple are forgiven, in contrast to brands like Lancome (66), perceived to lean too much towards a mainland Chinese audience during last year’s public relations disaster concerning politically-active singer Denise Ho.
It is important to avoid showing any political standpoints, but neutrality is not enough to propel a brand up the ranking. The key is to localise your brand message, whether through local insights, local vernacular, local cultural nuances or local celebrities. Panasonic (3) won over the Hong Kong crowd by enlisting Cantopop artist, songwriter, actor Louis Cheung to peddle its air conditioners; and local screenwriter and show host Helen To to smile sweetly beside its rice cookers. Coca-Cola (9) squeezed itself into the top ten from last year’s 12th place, as the soft drink matched its brand with the diversity of Hong Kong’s foodie culture. There are plenty of examples: various partnerships with neighbourhood ‘cha chaan tengs’, a Coke-themed restaurant in Hong Kong Disneyland, redesigned packaging filled with familiar colloquial expressions like ‘Gag King’.
“While your business, and the world, may be going increasingly global, your consumer is always local. They buy local, they live locally and expect to be communicated locally in their local language,” said Kevin Huang, CEO of Pixels.
Local brands are already capitalising on their homespun advantages by “being more experimental with marketing deployment, and adopting a more colloquial and down-to-earth approach that taps into the zeitgeist of the city”, added Jason King, general manager of BBDO Hong Kong. International brands can certainly learn. In the case of Adidas (jumped from 20 to 12), releasing new sneakers known as the ‘adidas NMD Hong Kong Pack’ that draws inspiration from the bright city lights of Hong Kong may be pure branding shrewdness. Even simple acts like Google (15) acknowledging the Tuen Ng Festival with a Doodle of an animated dragon boat was appreciated by domestic users.
Being a small market in terms of population, Hong Kong is often overlooked in marketing budgets, but the market has high consumption power and “can stand on its two feet”, emphasised Huang. Also, Hong Kongers are known to have one of the most discerning tastes in the Asia region. “If you want your brand to flourish across the region, make sure Hong Kongers love it first.”