Michael Denmark, CEO of TGEC, describes producing the AIA Great European Carnival, which opens today in Hong Kong, as being like baking a very complicated cake that needs many different ingredients and skillsets.
The core ingredient that holds the “cake” together is none than AIA, which has been the title sponsor for the past five editions of the event. Denmark attributes the enduring relationship with AIA, as well as with several returning sponsors such as ParknShop and Asia Miles, to the success of the carnival as a platform for the meeting of brands.
“We have many different sponsors and partners and one of the things that we learn over the years is they get so much more value from the platform if they meet other brands. We have the marketing directors of different companies meeting together and working together,” said Denmark.
The benefits are not just confined to brand activation and co-promotional activities related to the carnival. The carnival this year also expects to host a number of corporate events and private parties in its VIP lounges—events within an event—that TGEC increasingly wants to tap into.
“The corporate gets this whole new experience at the carnival, luxurious surroundings with unusual people, it seems to gel quite well,” said Denmark. Magnum, Benefit Cosmetics and luxury interior brand Timothy Oulton are among the VIP lounge sponsors this year.
Suffice to say, a lot of the work in producing a heavily sponsored event such as this involves keeping the sponsors happy and ensuring they develop new relationships. Competing sponsors is a major no-no. “Brands have become very smart to realise that whatever it is they are selling, they all have databases, they all have consumers looking for opportunities. We can layer promotion and activities between all of these, they will all be complementing each other,” said Denmark.
Being the title sponsor, AIA is also closely involved in content creation at the carnival and brand activation activities carried out by sponsors at the event. Denmark commended his title sponsor as “intuitive and forward-thinking”.
“We talked about the actual content itself…so these are the rides we are thinking of bringing,” said Denmark. Fortunately, the team has a huge database to work with from the past four carnivals while results from market research are equally relevant.
For example, the carnival audience in Hong Kong veers towards family rides rather than thrill rides. Denmark said Winnie the Pooh is always a hit among the carnival goers, too. Pink unicorns are the current hot items of the day now so carnival goers can expect more unicorn plush toys and mascots this year. “They love playing games and winning toys, so we work together with toy manufacturers and licencees,” said Denmark.
He believes that the carnival has become a Hong Kong institution and that is also the main reason for AIA’s continued sponsorship of the event. “Hong Kong is AIA's headquarters, the location of the carnival is right outside head office, perfect opportunity, as is the [AIA sponsored] wheel; it all works very well for them, geographically,” Denmark said. “It wasn't a pre-planned idea; both the carnival and the wheel have become institutions that the Hong Kong commuity are proud of."
The carnival grind
Unlike other major events in Hong Kong such as the Hong Kong Sevens or Clockenflap, which last only a few days, the carnival is a marathon of a kind over its two months’ run.
The long run requires a more tenacious and well-planned marketing effort, while some of the rides will also be updated in January before the Chinese New Year. Organising a public event of this scale also requires a lot of compliance groundwork.
“For events of this scale, the level of insurance that we take out is enormous. There are many, many different layers of public liability insurance when the carnival is open, and a number of layers of different insurance for different subcontractors that come in,” said Denmark.
Then there are other unpredictable factors, such as the weather. While the 2015/16 edition of the carnival was marked by bad and unusually cold weather, Denmark is confident that the weather will work in their favour this time.
“There are different insurance policies that you can take out for that. The reality is that in our analysis of all of our carnivals, days of the year, historical data and our own analysis, December and January are the driest months, on paper,” he said.