Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Sep 30, 2014

Industry reacts to Hong Kong protests

HONG KONG - While some brands curtail marketing activities in light of the ongoing 'Occupy Central' protests, a group of 50 advertising and media workers has taken out an ad condemning violent police tactics. Here, we present a wide range of opinions on the short- and long-term industry impacts of the movement.

Industry reacts to Hong Kong protests

A full-page ad in today’s Apple Daily newspaper has denounced the recent violence involving teargas and pepper spray on Hong Kong protesters. Published in black and white, the ad copy translates roughly to: “Real brutality, fake universal suffrage. Hongkongers don’t fight one another”, with a smaller tagline at the bottom of the page saying: “Zero violence and true universal suffrage is what the advertising industry supports, all the way”.

A full-page ad in Apple Daily costs around HK$150,000, and the buyers were reportedly given a 30 per cent discount. Oscar Lo, integrated planning manager of Buspak, led the initiative with 49 "like-minded" friends in the industry.

Lo told Campaign Asia-Pacific that the police should not abuse their power, and that their argument of using "minimum force in order to separate the distance at that moment between the protesters and the police" (according to Cheung Tak-keung, the assistant police commissioner for operations) is invalid because the percentage of violent demonstrators in the crowd is very low.

"We're sending a very clear message," Lo said. "The purpose of advertising, after all, is to spread correct messages that show care for society. It is our responsibility, as people in advertising, to do that since we are able to do it more efficiently and effectively with our professional capabilities. Communications is the most powerful weapon for the moment."

The group of 50 supporters includes employees of ZenithOptimedia, Starcom, MEC, Mindshare, Maxus, Mediacom, OMD, PHD and others. The copywriting and artwork (see left for larger version) was done by McCann, whose boss Spencer Wong was one of the first to make a decison to allow staff the option to be absent from work to "support something more important than work", gaining praise from the industry (although some pointed out Wong had earlier showed an anti-Occupy stance on his Facebook page).

Others in the industry have also grabbed the opportunity to capitalise on the situation in various ways. Hong Kong Economic Journal opened up its paywall to all paid content at hkej.com and mobile apps from 29 Sept to Oct 5. Its yearly subscription fee is HK$698.

The move resulted in a 40 per cent pageview increase, said Jordan Lau, head of business development at Hong Kong Economic Journal. That will indirectly benefit advertisers because of the higher expected traffic. The South China Morning Post must have thought the same way as it started to provide free access to its coverage yesterday, but limited to #OccupyCentral articles.

Apple Daily has also seen a traffic spike of more than 30 per cent since the protests started on Sunday. "Beefing up our real-time news resources over the years proved to be a right decision," said Johan Wong, Next Mobile's general manager. The publication claimed it will not increase ad rates during this period.

Campaign-Asia Pacific spoke to several other agency bosses to gather their opinions about the protests and their impact in marketing both now and in the future.

Jason Oke
Regional managing director, Asia-Pacific
Red Fuse Communications

One of my pet peeves in our industry is when we get self-involved and ask questions like this. We are witnessing a moment in history, seeing an unprecedented outpouring of passion and spirit and frustration from Hong Kongers. What it might mean for brands or advertising agencies is small and irrelevant. The worst thing we can do as an industry is demean this historic moment by asking what it means for a brand of insurance or cereal or laundry detergent.

Our industry exists to help sell things, and today is not a moment for commerce. We have told clients to be cautious if they had planned to run "Happy National Day" messages later in the week. That sentiment may not be appropriate to this particular moment in Hong Kong. 

Richard Mabey
Managing director
The Egg Company

I don't imagine the protests will last much more than a week, so brands affected will just have to ride it out as with any other business challenge they might face. We have known about Occupy Central for some time so have had plenty of time to plan contingencies. 

Lilian Leong
Managing director
IPG Mediabrands Hong Kong

It is a strike to our industry, and indeed the society. The key question is to ask brands and ourselves whether we are doing a good cause for Hong Kong. For some clients, we are putting media activities (especially on the social media front) at halt. For example, fun games or ads with a casual tone and manner—that doesn’t fit the current sober sentiment of Hong Kong. Those can be an eyesore when you scroll through Facebook. While we continue to deliver professional services to our clients, we also support staff attending the protests for the greater good of HK these two days. I believe the future of Hong Kong rises far above our office’s P&L.

Peter Dimbrowsky
Sales director
iSentia Hong Kong

Two strategies from the communications industry that we often observe when a story dominates media coverage like this. The first: Hold back on any campaign telling of good news. That story might be better left for a time when the media is calling for content. The second: Distribute those media releases of the not-so-good news you're obliged to, but hope for no coverage. 

CC Tang
Chairman for Hong Kong & chief creative officer for Greater China
Havas Worldwide

Our industry is part of our society. Our industry is the young people's industry. The protests are kind of like an awakening, the young people care more about and be aware of what is around them apart from advertising. More than ever.

Brands should know that young people can't be preached to, can only be connected. So far, clients have indicated they would like to lie low on social media since most are dominated by the stories of the protests. Some of our staff opt to take part to support the movement. We have to respect what they believe is right.

Samuel Mak
CEO
Madison Communications

2015 marketing activities may have to reviewed immediately. In general, marketers will adopt a 'wait-and-see' attitude and hence they put a break on marketing spending. For sure, many activation activities may need to either be postponed or cancelled due a paralysis of normal consumer behavior. Business continuity and safety are two priorities as this crisis heats up. A few clients have activated their crisis-management procedure and we are part of the team. Although we may not need to meet physically, we are required to stay connected via various online and cloud services. All physical meetings to protest districts will not be arranged. For working parents, we have a flexible policy for them to work at home to take care of their kids.

Georgeana Fung
CEO
Etymon Communications & Brand Management

The upcoming golden week (first week in October), an inbound tourists' peak season, will surely be affected. We feel very sad to see such a scene and we trust the only way to reduce the crisis level is to stay calm and encourage dialogue between the government and the protest organisers.

Sue McCusker
CEO
Publicis Hong Kong

The upside is a greater sense of identity. Hong Kongers will have a stronger sense of self, and this could revitalise brand communication. I’m Scottish, and we’ve just been through this with our referendum on independence. The downsides of the protests are obvious to see, with the financial markets already taking a hit. The implications could be a knock to Hong Kong’s economy, which will affect how brands spend in the near future. Several members of our team have been at the protests, and we support their rights of freedom of speech and expression. Advertising agency people are passionate people, and are all very committed to the future of Hong Kong. Balancing being a responsible member of the company and the community is something we are sure Publicis team members can achieve.

Melanie Lo
CEO
GroupM Hong Kong

Some clients have decided to postpone their campaigns especially on social media, as people's focus is no longer on commercial messages. It is also not quite right if the client is happily launching a campaign/product when people are sadly worrying about HK and the safety of the protesters. It is also because when people are angry, they will not be very receptive.

Clients may also be worrying about political instability, and the further worsening of the tourism market, and may be more conservative in planning for next year.

Jonathan Cummings
Managing director
StartJG

On the surface in the short term, the coverage of the protests is clearly not great from a tourism perspective and may have an impact on international business. However, through the mid-long term, they will hopefully succeed in showing that Hong Kong is a distinct part of China, with our own character and voice, which positively differentiates us from other cities. And that breeds creativity. I don’t think that there will be a negative impact on the industry. I hope that going forward, brands (of both HK origin and imported) think even harder about their strategy, and how to get their positioning right to properly reflect the strong character of the city and its people. 

Tom Kao
CEO Asia
The Gate

I think Hong Kong will no longer be the same and once the dust settles, brands will have to adjust and respond to consumers to probably be more forthright, open and transparent. Personally, I would love to see advertisers rallying behind the demonstration, but it's wise for them to stay away and be neutral. My agency is "officially" on strike today, the least we could do to support the industry, our home. It's the right thing to do.

David Ko
Co-founder and managing director
Daylight Partnership

The protests won’t have a direct impact on the marketing industry, but the overall chilling effect on Hong Kong’s economy will have a knock-on effect, especially if the protest drags out into a long, drawn-out standoff that lasts for weeks or even months. If this does drag out, it’s only a matter of time before some countries issue travel advisories for Hong Kong, and mainland tourist numbers will be affected as well especially since China’s relationship with Hong Kong is under the spotlight here.

So far this year we’ve already seen a slowdown in luxury and retail sector performance due to China’s clampdown on corruption, among other factors. The timing of the protest at just before Golden Week will definitely have an additional negative impact. In fact some major jewellery chains have already closed a few outlets because of the protests, and my contacts in the luxury retail sector are already murmuring about layoffs. What worries me the most is when the dominoes start falling. What works in our favour is Hong Kong’s resilience and I hope that will continue to hold true.

 

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