We asked four in-market experts for their insights into Hong Kong consumers.
- Jason King, general manager, BBDO Hong Kong
- KW Lam, managing director, Hill+Knowlton Strategies Hong Kong
- Andrew Lee, digital director, Rice 5
- Kevin Huang, CEO, Pixels Limited
What distinguishes the HK consumer market from others? What are the most interesting trends in HK that make its consumer market unique in Asia?
King: If we place aside political unrest and economic slow-down; this is one of the most exciting chapters in the history of Hong Kong. Here’s a city redefining its identity and its positioning in the new economy; a generation actively discovering the arts and eagerly pursuing alternative lifestyles away from traditional linear paths. For advertisers, such rapid diversification of consumer needs present exciting opportunities to experiment with innovative marketing approaches, create generation-defining work, and champion positive change.
Lam/Lee: HK is such a small place, shopping malls and retail shops are everywhere and within easy reach. Consumers are bombarded with massive ad messages via different channels on a daily basis. For the last decade, Hong Kong has seen a dramatic shift in the consumer mix. The city has been the destination of choice for outbound mainland Chinese tourists. Data shows that new migrants from China make up more than 10% of the Hong Kong population. The city accepts approximately 150 new migrants from China a day. This is not static either, this is enshrined in law so it will continue to be the trend far into the future. Local Hong Kong brands have dealt with this change in demographics by adapting new strategies that accommodates this giant, increasingly cashed-up market. Only now is this trend extending outwards to foreign countries. There is a lot to learn from the Hong Kong experience. More recently, the politicised atmosphere of the city has been reflected in social media behaviour. Brands need to give consideration to the divided lines of “Global and Local” versus decidedly “Chinese” campaigns. There is a difference, and even purchase decisions are affected by this. However, there are strategies that allow companies to accommodate to both audiences.
Huang: Hong Kong is an east meets west market, with an incredibly wealthy population, the financial hub of Asia and very internationally exposed consumer base. However, over the last 15 years or so, it has also become increasingly local. The interesting trend in Hong Kong is that while western and global brands are well received and recognized, local HK and Asian brands are gaining increasing recognition and acceptance. From an Asian brand perspective, the Chinese and Korean products have gained massive acceptance in Hong Kong. For local HK brands, the rise of patriotism to ensure Hong Kong continues to preserve its unique local identity has become a key factor for consumers choosing to patronize local brands. Hong Kong is also one of the most connected and wired cities in Asia with an eye-popping 230% mobile phone penetration. For brands to connect with their audiences, digital and mobile must no longer be an afterthought as consumption of traditional linear media continues its rapid decline.
What are some of the cultural, political and regulatory issues brands need to be aware of when marketing in HK?
King: Hong Kong is the world’s freest economy, and to an extent this applies to governance of marketing activity – other than standard ordinances and regulations protecting consumers from false or misleading claims (and ones targeted at specific categories), there isn’t a comprehensive legislation regulating marketing. That said, Hong Kong is no cowboy town where anything goes, so strict self-regulation is key.
Lam/Lee: Brands new to Hong Kong need to understand communications issues. Hong Kong is an interesting market in that English and Cantonese Chinese are both popular marketing languages. However, audiences are almost always reactive if a brand’s POV/message is perceived to lean too much towards a “Mainland Chinese” audience. Also, it is important avoid showing any political standpoint. Maintaining neutrality is not frowned upon on.
Huang: Culturally, brands need to recognize that HK is a city in transition from an identity perspective. As Hong Kong reaches its 20th anniversary under Chinese rule, there’s an almost balanced mix of consumers born during the British era (Gen X &Y) and those born in the Chinese era (the millennials). The value system of both these groups are vastly different and brands need to be able to balance out their product offering, marketing positioning and messages to ensure they cater for the majority of their current customers but also almost all of their future ones. (Regulatory wise, not much, local rules and regulations around health, food and safety apply.)
Is there anything advertisers need to avoid in HK and how can they have workaround solutions?
King: The conventional wisdom here is that advertisers and their agencies must hold themselves to high standards in ethics, respect and common sense; violate this and Hong Kong’s hawk-eyed consumers will take charge!
Lam/Lee: In addition to avoiding sensitive political topics as mentioned earlier. Culturally, “local consciousness” is up-trending which means more local brands/enterprises are attracting consumers’ attention. Collaborative content with such brands have become popular marketing initiatives in recent times, serving the dual purpose of creating awareness as well as tying it back to the local target audience.
Huang: Hong Kong advertisers continue to pour increasingly amounts of dollars in rapidly declining media such as TV and newspapers. Personally, I am a big believer and proponent of integrated media, HK advertisers currently place too much emphasis and their investments on television and print while digital and mobile receives a disproportionally small amount of investment. The best workaround solution is for CEOs and CMOs of major brands to convince themselves that while their businesses were largely built on traditional media, digital media is where it’s at today. To do that, take a ride on the Hong Kong subway (MTR) during peak hours and observe what the overall population is doing and decide where your investment deserves to be on.