The great creative reset in Hong Kong adland


The Hong Kong market has been an attractive one for many global companies looking to set up a presence in Asia. The city is known for its vibrant and eclectic culture, its balance of modernisation and nostalgia and mostly the spirit and resilience of its hardworking and incredibly ambitious people.

With the city now undergoing a fair amount of change triggered by the onset of the pandemic and changes in governance, creative industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to say that creative output, which is often a reflection of the market sentiments, have also had to undergo a fair bit of mindset change.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, Jerome Ooi, ECD of TBWA\HK said that creativity in Hong Kong is in for a big reset.  Agencies are reshaping its operating model and talents are reassessing their priorities as the industries many of us in the marketing and advertising industry know, undergo massive shifts.  

“With every industry going through an overhaul, creativity will play an even bigger role in helping brands show up in the new customer journey,” said Ooi. Creatives still not equipped with skillsets beyond craft, will be left in the dust, as clients will depend on partners that understand the nuances in their new ecosystem, added Ooi.

One clear example of creatives now needing to overhaul their skillset is in the area of eCommerce and DTC. In the future, brands will completely redefine the role of physical stores, and as shopping moves online and without tourist spends, Hong Kong’s notorious retail rents might just push luxury stores out from high-streets to pop-ups, said Ooi. With reduced physical interactions in the new journey, experience economics will define brand value as focus shifts towards commerce-led content in the platforms.

Consumer’s digital experience will reach a new height with the emergence of richer, multisensory formats spurred on by brand’s fear of missing out on the acceleration in technology from 5G to edge computing and the rapid digital adoption during the pandemic.

“Creatives will no longer be shackled by the confines of latency and processing limitations in creating deeply immersive experiences and content. The challenge will be in the fragility of the connection with the customer behind all these digital interactions,” said Ooi. With mediums no longer being bound by space and time, brands will be co-creators of the metaverse and creativity will once again take on new forms.

Adding to the conversation, Matthew Nisbet and John Koay, co ECDs of Ogilvy Hong Kong added that given the difficulty Hong Kong has faced in the last couple of years, creativity is going to play a key role in re-energising the city so we can come back stronger. The duo added:

There is the talent and passion in Hong Kong to make a real difference.

Both the creatives added that local culture in Hong Kong has been a constant source of inspiration for any creative in the city – whether it is tapping into the past,or keeping a finger on the pulse of what topics, events or personalities are doing day to day.

“We want our work to be part of that cultural conversation, so that our brands are relevant and engaged with their fans. And the very best pieces of work become part of culture in their own right,” Nisbet and Koay said.

As we plan for the unknown future, they believe that the best creative work will continue to do does and what it has always done – drives business growth for clients. Moreover, standout campaigns usually have a few things in common. Often, they are steeped in strong cultural or data insights, a single-minded idea, great storytelling, interaction, plus a very high level of craft. They added:

Media channels may change, but it’s these elements that combine to create great work, that works.


Has creativity taken a backseat in this data driven world?

Jamal Hamidi, managing director of creative and content at DDB Hong Kong added that despite the advent of data and technology, the basics of creativity ultimately hasn’t changed. Marketers still need to ask if an idea is simple enough to understand. They have to question any idea's originality and ability to cut through the clutter and of course the execution and resonance.

“To do all that, you need great creative talent who are allowed to explore, take risks, and live in the world. Not just in their agencies,” explained Hamidi. However, a key issue many in the marketing and advertising industry seem to not understand is that conversations around data and the creativity should not be separate ones.

“Data on its own is not the answer. It’s what you do with it the matters. We’ve seen some fantastic campaigns globally where data has unlocked the path to amazing creativity. But you only get those ideas when there’s one conversation going on, not two,” he said.

Nisbet and Koay of Ogilvy added that while data and martech have definitely been the flavour of the last few years, marketers are starting to realise that numbers can only get you so far. At the end of the day the best campaigns are the ones that tell a story or resonate on an emotional level with consumers. The other issue is that when compared with analytical side of the business, creativity is not a linear process, so it is harder for people to understand – there are no set rules as such.

At the end of the day, Information and ideas are not opposing forces, they are the science and art of creativity, said Ooi. Drawing on data enables creatives to discover new ways of thinking, reframe a problem and open up new creative opportunities. Not only does it help fuel creative work, it also removes subjectivity and validates approaches. Ooi added:

Creativity will always be our pièce de résistance.

Sharing insight on TBWA’s recent Lexus campaign “Unbeaten Paths: Small Business Drive”, Ooi said, using the power of data, the team completely flipped the automotive marketing funnel, turning an otherwise, very functional, sales-motivated test drive activity into a novel, highly personalised customer experience with a socially benefiting initiative.

“By harnessing data, our creative solution successfully surpassed all business objectives and delivered on the brand’s platform. Most of all, we were able to support the small business community in Hong Kong at a time of despair. Data, in this instance, was both the compass and the canvas for creativity,” he added.

So, what’s hot now (beyond boybands)?

At the end of the day, great creativity goes way beyond just artistry and needs to be a solution that is of use. Only then, does it become valuable, argues Ooi.

“We can see a lot just by observing. And when we see the world in a new way, we get to share that unique vision with the customer. Every meaningful creative work puts the customer at the heart of the idea. Stand out creative work today considers all the touchpoint along the customer journey. It is a story unfolding with every interaction presenting an opportunity to engage,” he said.

Hamidi added that from the perspective of a foreign creative working in Hong Kong, there seems to be a resurgence in homegrown pop culture compared to just a few years ago, where the fascination leaned towards pop culture cues borrowed from markets such as Japan and Korea.

Today there is a renewed focus on pop culture with more local sensibilities and personalities.

“A lot of this is coming to life on digital channels and social media, and I think the interesting thing is that advertising isn’t just following this pop culture trend, but really participating in the trend and at times driving it. Our McDonald’s team in particular, have done pieces of work that are more than ads, but are genuine pop culture moments in and of themselves,” he added.

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