Wednesday 31 March 2010

What is Hong Kong?

Since 1995, the following slogans have been used for Hong Kong:

Wonders Never Cease =⇒ City of Life =⇒ Asia’s World City

And now we have been told by the government that the latest logo has evolved in to a new “revitalized Brand Hong Kong” with a “more contemporary look”.

[In with the new ... ]

[ ... out with the old]

Incidentally, the cost to taxpayers for this re-branding exercise was HK$1.4m (US$180,000). The seemingly arbitrary changing of slogans and logos is inconsistent. This time round, only the dragon logo and not the "Asia's World City" slogan was deemed worthy enough to evolve! What would have been the cost if both logo and slogan were changed?

HKSARblog also wonders just who outside of Hong Kong will know that the middle squiggly line is supposed to represent Lion Rock? Does Lion Rock even compete with Hong Kong's established international icons?

The SCMP editorial (see below) hits the mark when it mentions that outsiders know Hong Kong for its “skyline, harbour, energy and diversity”. It’s a pity that the officials in charge of Brand Hong Kong are not in tune with what is Hong Kong.

Drop this dragon dance to brand Hong Kong (SCMP)
Mar 30, 2010

The key to a successful branding strategy is consistency. Nike, Coca-Cola and countless other companies have shown this, regardless of their advertising campaigns. It is a point that Hong Kong's bureaucrats have missed once again with their tinkering with the image used to promote our city to the world. While they have retained the slogan "Asia's World City", the flying dragon logo has been meddled with.

Hong Kong has traditionally been the Pearl of the Orient, but that term was considered old-fashioned when branding became a trend for cities in the 1990s. In 1995, we became a place where "Wonders Never Cease" - words that were accompanied a logo of junks, dragons, opera singers and "Hong Kong". Then, tens of millions more dollars were spent so that we could become the "City of Life", with as its logo the letters HK inside a circle. The red and yellow dragon that is now being phased out set us back another HK$10 million. Such changes have made senior government officials feel that they are making positive contributions, and kept the brands office busy; the rest of us, however, have been left confused.

Cities, like companies, need a brand. They are in competition with one another and have to appear as appealing as possible. The problem is especially acute for Hong Kong, which is trying to evolve beyond being a financial centre while continuing to attract international corporations, skilled and talented residents, capital and tourists. As necessary as branding is in such circumstances, our inability to settle on a logo has blighted the exercise.

The latest effort unveiled at the weekend took the stylised dragon adopted a decade ago, shrunk it and added blue, green and red ribbons and a silhouette of Lion Rock. Authorities say the additions are to symbolise our "can do" spirit, blue sky and sustainability. The changes are obviously meaningless to outsiders, not to mention misleading: Hong Kong of late has more smog-filled skies than blue ones, while sustainability and adaptability are concepts we are struggling with. If there is to be a saving grace, though, it could readily be argued that we do indeed live in Asia's world city.

Branding is more than a visual tag. When used by a city, it can be a strategic process for developing a long-term vision. But identification and consistency are important. Frequent changes cause more harm than good. Hong Kong's real brand is known the world over. It comprises our skyline, harbour, energy and diversity. The product is good. For all these strengths and the taxpayers' money spent, though, we lack an enduring marketing image. No doubt the search will go on, but our history of chopping and changing makes it less likely that a winning formula will be embraced for the long term.


  1. aimlesswanderer31 March 2010 at 22:22

    These sorts of weird ideas are very common for tourism and national branding campaigns. Perhaps it has something to do with the bureaucratic or political influence? Just google "where the bloody hell are you?" for a great example of a campaign which made sense to us but ran into all sots of problems overseas. It's now quite infamous here!

    BTW, love the inexhaustible supply of weird and wonderful names that hongkies have chosen or created for themselves. I am just glad that my brother's wife chose a nice, normal one (Michelle). It would have been awkward to have Kennex (or worse) as a little sister.

  2. Thanks AimlessWanderer for the heads up. Personally, I loved that Aussie ad campaign but in places where ordering a Bloody Mary raises eyebrows the cheeky ad understandably may not have gone down so well. Humourless Singapore, for example, simply used “So where are you?” (i.e. Deletion)