Look beyond the headlines and right into people’s homes to see what really matters to Hong Kong consumers.
If you want to understand opportunities for a brand in Hong Kong, you could read sales reports, do market visits, and hold focus groups. But if you want a true, unfiltered view of Hong Kong, I recommend going to people's homes, sharing a meal, and sleeping in their beds. (Preferably after receiving permission.)
Since arriving in Hong Kong, I've been using Airbnb to find apartments from which to stay and explore. After 100 different apartments in 75+ different neighbourhoods, I've gotten to know the place in a way that marketing data doesn’t reveal.
And what I see is a Hong Kong you don’t read about.
The Hong Kong you read about is down in the dumps, having dropped 8 spots to #72 in the just-released 2015 World Happiness Report. (For comparison’s sake, three of the Stan brothers—Uzbeki, Kazakh, and Turkmeni—are all allegedly happier than Hong Kong.) In our agency’s recent BBDO Voices research on today’s priorities in Hong Kong, we found 84 per cent of people here fear they're losing control of Hong Kong's future. And 71 per cent are letting uncertainty about the future negatively affect their daily lives.
But our research also suggested the gloom isn’t hereditary. Our respondents aged 18-24 were 30 per cent more likely than older respondents to say maintaining Hong Kong culture will have a positive effect on the future. That same segment was 55 per cent more likely to recognize a “vibrant arts and music scene” will have a positive effect on the future.
In my first-hand experience, that’s the Hong Kong I see. I see a city motivated by a balanced life, not money; that embraces change and quickly adapts to new behaviours. It's evident in my ever-growing choice of Airbnb apartments, of course. But it’s also evident during Occupy Central, when over 100,000 people in Hong Kong downloaded the FireChat messaging app in under 24 hours. It’s evident in seeing industrial neighbourhoods like Kwun Tong turn trendier by the month. And it’s evident in the start-up community—my favourite being Umbrella Here, which created a Bluetooth-enabled device that fits on the top of an umbrella. When it rains, the Umbrella Here device lights up, letting nearby strangers know the user is open to sharing an umbrella. Innovative thinking and openness to others is not the Hong Kong you read about.
So which side of Hong Kong do marketers reflect? More often than not, it’s the version of Hong Kong that’s insecure and fearful about the future. As a result, our online videos, billboards and MTR stations are filled with communications that are benign at best.
It's been two years since artist Florentijn Hofman sailed his bright yellow rubber duck into Victoria Harbour and mesmerised Hong Kong. Since then, from an idea standpoint, we’ve had lots of ducklings. What we really need are a few more ducks—brand- or sponsor-led efforts that stop Hong Kong people in their tracks, and capture the inspiring and optimistic side of living here.