Matthew Miller
Feb 23, 2016

Why AIA believes its HK carnival pays off, even with awful weather

AIA's sponsorship of the recently concluded AIA Great European Carnival surely didn't come cheap. But the insurer is quite happy with its investment despite historically wet and cold weather during its run. Here’s why.


The title sponsor considers the AIA Great European Carnival a huge success despite its run this year coinciding with the wettest January on record and a days-long cold snap that had most Hong Kongers thinking about space heaters and hot chocolate rather than thrill rides and cotton candy.

Even though mother nature seemed to have it in for the event, the carnival, now in its second year, attracted around 1 million visitors during its 67-day run, which concluded Sunday. The carnival waived its entry fee for the month of February to help draw in crowds after that horrible January—though games and rides still required cash, of course. Exit surveys showed that 74 percent of attendees would return for a second visit and over 80 percent expressed satisfaction.

A carnival is not at first glance an intuitive fit for the normally sober business of insurance. And AIA did not share the amount it invested for the title sponsorship, so it is impossible to make a hard ROI calculation. However, AIA certainly believes it gets more out of the event than impressive attendance figures and giant logos placed all around the sprawling harbourfront venue.

According to AIA executives, the carnival is a good investment over and above media value because it aligns with its ‘Real-life company’ positioning, provides a positive way to engage with employees and existing customers, enables CSR activities and even assists in lead-generation. Moreover, far from just writing a big cheque to the event organiser, AIA is intimately involved in crafting the carnival and is actively considering expanding the platform to other markets.

Aligned with purpose

AIA’s ‘real-life’ positioning translates to a brand purpose of promoting healthy living and active lifestyles, Catherine Gibbs, head of sponsorship, group brand and marketing for AIA Group, told Campaign-Asia Pacific during an interview in a tent on the carnival grounds recently. Healthy living encompasses both body and mind, she added, so a fun, family-oriented event fits in nicely alongside the other sponsorships that AIA engages in, notably a partnership with Tottenham Hotspur and the popular 5K Music Run in several markets.

Catherine Gibbs

“It was a great opportunity for us to have something that was a very high impact for a lot of people—young old, families, singles, couples—and that really spoke to what we were trying to do with our brand,” she said.

Insurance is a famously tough business in which to sustain customer engagement because most people buy a policy and then forget about it until something bad happens. The carnival provides a way around that dilemma, said Knattapisit Krutkrongchai, head of business strategy for AIA Hong Kong. “We want to really genuinely engage and be part of people’s lives,” he added. “We want people to be able to touch and feel AIA a lot more.”

‘Healthy, happy lives’ is not a collection of fluffy words to AIA, Gibbs added. “It’s really our brand purpose, so to be linked directly with an event that delivers that, it’s the perfect fit….What it allows us to do as a brand, and as an industry that can be seen as a little complex and traditional, is it allows us to have a unique conversation with our audience, an ongoing conversation that’s in a positive arena, but that’s genuine as well because we are delivering a positive experience.”

AIA has seen its brand perception transform “completely” in surveys, Krutkrongchai said, and the carnival is among the factors driving that shift.

A household name

But the company clearly believes that it gets bang for its buck in terms of brand awareness, because for whatever reason, no one in Hong Kong calls the event ‘The AIA Great European Carnival’.

Michael Denmark

“It doesn’t matter what we call it,” said Michael Denmark, CEO of The Great European Carnival (TGEC). “In the community, it’s the ‘AIA Carnival’. That’s it. It is their carnival, they own the content from beginning to end.”

Denmark is also co-founder and CEO of MDME, which delivers a wide range of events with partners including Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Ironmonger Events, Siren Films, Straight Six, Clockenflap, Branded and Castelo Concepts.

“There are very few live events—in fact there are no live events—that attract a million people per market over a 60-odd day period, where brands can engage with them and where all the consumers are very open to being communicated with, because they’re smiling, because they’re having fun.”

Among insurers, AIA is a significant media spender, but probably not the biggest, Krutkrongchai said. The carnival gives the brand a bigger profile. “With the carnival, people keep talking about it,” he added. “They share it. Would you share the ad you saw on television? No, but people gladly share their experiences here.”

Beyond media value

In addition to the brand-awareness boost of having its name in lights, not to mention on the lips and smartphone screens of hundreds of thousands of visitors, AIA makes the most of the carnival in several ways:

  • Exclusive days as a perk for employees and agents
  • Tickets for agents to give away
  • Data capture on site: Staffers with tablets snap pictures at photo-opp spots, collecting names and email addresses. Exit promotions offer a free return ticket, chocolates or lucky red envelopes in exchange for info. AIA doesn’t hard-sell such prospects, but feeds the information into an existing automated-marketing framework for segmentation and nurturing.
  • Data capture online: Pre-event ticket giveaways provide a great way to reach out to existing customers to update their contact information, and to invite potential customers to join the ranks of social-media followers and share information. As above, no hard-sells.
  • Charitable activities: The carnival this year contributed more than HK$1 million “in cash and kind” to various charities and hosted 20,000 guests of charity partners including The Cancer Fund and Operation Santa Claus.
  • Educational programmes tailored for both public and private schools: More than 2,000 students from 20 schools not only had fun but also learned something through hands-on physics and math relating to the thrill rides (courtesy of the chief engineer) or got exposure to the business considerations of running such a large event.

Partners in a good time

“It’s really exciting to be in a position where you work as partners, rather than as just the sponsor who throws money at it and gets free tickets," Gibbs said, describing AIA’s relationship with Denmark and the TGEC.

Denmark agreed. “Having worked in sponsorship for a very, very long time, there are many descriptions of what sponsorship is,” he said. The relationship driving the carnival is far removed from simple sponsorship and is much more of a partnership than any Denmark has experienced. "We talk about the product together. We talk about what we’re going to do, What we’re going to test with regards to the look and the feel. We agree on what we’re going to deliver, and we tweak it as we go through.”

Knattapisit Krutkrongchai

AIA had sponsored a smaller carnival in Hong Kong in 2007, Gibbs said, and the agents and employees remembered it fondly. When Denmark approached the company with plans for the TGEC for 2014/2015, AIA didn't have to think too hard about jumping aboard.

“It was a very positive conversation from the beginning because it was something that would be fresh again for Hong Kong, and Michael’s vision for what this carnival was going to be was very unique and obviously something bigger and better than what we had done in 2007,” Gibbs said.

Where does the event go from here? The partners have already brought some elements from the Hong Kong carnival to a Singapore event called the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay. The partners preferred not to comment on further expansion to other markets, but AIA serves a number of markets where Denmark says interest is strong, so the idea is clearly on the table.

Family of brands

TGEC works with AIA to “hone the event across all its objectives", whether it be accommodating agents, working with charities or tweaking opportunities for data capture, Denmark said. “And then we look to create a family of brands around it. And we work with AIA on that, so of course we’re not going to bring in another insurance company, or even a finance company unless they’re a partner of AIA’s. But we are going to bring in other partners who can leverage the event in their own complementary ways.”

Here are some comments from other sponsors of this year's TGEC on why they took part and what they got out of their participation.

British Airways
Noella Ferns, regional general manager, Greater China and the Philippines

In the year British Airways celebrates our 80th anniversary of flights to Hong Kong, we wanted to be involved in a high profile family event at the heart of the city. This gives us an opportunity to showcase our longstanding commitment to Hong Kong and engage with people in our celebratory year.

We have received great feedback from our clients and customers who attended the carnival, and good traction from the social-media campaign we ran alongside the sponsorship.

For British Airways, it was about bringing the exciting and fun European festival atmosphere to Hong Kong for people to enjoy during the winter. British Airways also brought over the UK-based pop-up theatre Udderbelly to Hong Kong for the very first time. This was a great opportunity for us to bring the vibrant UK arts and cultural scene to life in Hong Kong, and inspire people to visit the UK and Europe themselves.

Watsons Water
Kim Siu, general manager, marketing

Watsons Water has serviced Hong Kong for over 110 years, providing the purest distilled water, and promoting the values of healthy and active living, green lifestyle, and charity.

The AIA Great European Carnival is one of the largest family-friendly attractions in Hong Kong this year, bringing us fun and joy. This closely aligns with our marketing strategy, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be AIA Great European Carnival’s sole sponsor for distilled water.

Our goal is to bring our brand message across every corners of the AIA Great European Carnival, and in order to bring the Carnival’s joy to more people, we launched the “Watsons Water x AIA Great European Carnival” game on our Facebook page through December 2015 to January 2016, giving out Carnival tickets as prizes to our participants. We got overwhelming result for the game.

FOX Networks Group Asia
Cora Yim, territory head, Hong Kong

The Carnival was a great promotional platform in Hong Kong for two of our flagship movie channel brands: SCM which offers hit Chinese movies and FOX Movies Premium, our blockbuster Hollywood channel. Both channels have mass appeal, particularly with families, and the timing of the Carnival over the Lunar New Year offered us a great opportunity to build brand awareness during the festive season, reach this target audience and position SCM and FOX Movies Premium as the go-to destination for great entertainment at home as well after a day at the Carnival.

Wingo Yam, general manager, Thong Sia Watch Company (sole distributor of Seiko watches in Hong Kong)

The carnival, held in the golden area in Hong Kong during peak season, attracts both Hong Kong people as well as tourists to celebrate together. As Seiko is an international brand with wide price range products, it is a valuable opportunity to reach different customers and uplift our brand image.

The carnival provided comprehensive promotional channels, such as social-media webpages, outdoor advertisement and activation areas. We have especially focused on the outstanding product placements on the site, for example, clock placement at the entrance and centrepiece clock placement at the ice rink. Particularly, we had the opportunity to sponsor the official countdown timer for the New Year countdown event, which resulted a lively atmosphere for everyone. All of the promotional channels were very efficient in increasing our brand awareness and improving our brand image.

Sponsorship gives people a brand experience to interact with the product. The right combination will make the experience unique to our brand and motivating for our customers.

Michelle Chan, vice president, strategic partnership and business development

HKT THE CLUB is an integrated loyalty platform to take care all customers, both individuals and enterprise accounts, under the HKT group. Serving such a big group of customers / members, we need to make sure the activities and special experiences we offer to our members are well rounded.

That’s why we have partnered with many different brands and event organisers which offered our members special experiences like an exclusive cocktail reception at Art Central, sports events like Rugby Fans Party, monthly movie preview session for movie lovers, priority booking of selected concert programmes, as well as more family-oriented event like the Great European Carnival, which fits the purpose to offer exceptional and fun experience to our members during the festival season.


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