Malaysia recently showcased export-ready halal products and services by Malaysian SMEs for the Japanese market ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo at the Malaysia Halal Expo 2019. The halal sector has no doubt been a fast growing one, with companies not only looking to export their halal products but also attempting to attract Muslim travellers worldwide.

With the global Muslim traveller expenditure is projected to reach US$220 billion in 2020, here are some main trends that marketers should know about the halal travel sector to stay ahead of the curve.

1. The growing importance of AR

The integration of AR to give Muslim travellers crucial cultural insights, including halal-certified eateries will be one of the trends that shape the next phase of development in the fast growing halal travel sector.

According to the Mastercard-CrescentRating Halal Travel Frontier 2019 report, more travellers will continue to take ownership of determining the level of Muslim friendliness/halalness of products and services. AR and AI technologies will be used to ascertain the halal status of ingredients, products or restaurants. Through AR, digital information on the halal status can be layered into the users’ environment in real time.

This also allows restaurants in non-Muslim majority destinations to communicate the halal status of their foods in a more targeted manner to Muslim travelers without requiring the explicit display of halal certificates in their premises.

2. AI to further empower Muslim travellers

The proliferation of chatbots custom-designed to satisfy the cultural and religious needs of a Muslim traveller has also been listed as one of the top trends. With machine and deep learning, AI will be able to collect and understand information on consumer preferences. This will enable AI to provide more personalised recommendations based on the traveller’s past trips, selections and enquiries. The report stated that this will significantly reduce the time and resources needed to research and plan travel itineraries.

3. Rise of female voice in trip planning

Heightened awareness on social causes and the rising authority of female influencers when planning trips, are also expected to result in changes in the way that Muslims travel. More Muslim females today are gaining access to tertiary education and entering the workforce. Also, majority of social media influencers in the Muslim travel and lifestyle space are female. According to the report, these complementary drivers will allow Muslim females to have a stronger influence when planning trips on their own, with their friends or even with family. As a result, more destinations will need to offer Muslim-friendly services which take into account the sensitivities of Muslim female travellers.

4. More "Instant Noodle Trips"

Driven by the demand for more authentic, affordable and accessible experiences, more Millennials and Gen Z travelers will book “Instant Noodle Trips” - affordable, impromptu short trips. These two groups are usually prompted by promotional sales for airfares, travel discounts during off peak seasons, an increasing number of regional routes by budget airlines and busier work schedules all year round. With the increasing need for these trips, the report said that travel solutions will be redesigned and offered through more mobile friendly applications. These plans will have shorter lead times and are able to provide travelers with instant booking and confirmation of all aspects of travel services.

5. Mergers and acquisitions in the Muslim travel space

The report also foresees the consolidation of Muslim travel service providers in 2019. An increase in venture capital funding for this segment, coupled with more start-ups and risk capital flows, will result in stronger brands capable of competing in the overall travel segment. More investments will be channeled to actualise and deliver better solutions to Muslim travelers. According to Mastercard's report, this will result in the emergence of companies which will be on track to become unicorns in the next coming years.

6. Rise of non-traditional travel destinations

Non-Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) destinations, such as South Africa, Japan and Taiwan, will dramatically change the Muslim-friendly narrative, the report stated. Competition and dynamism are expected lead to innovations and developments that will benefit both, destinations, as well as Muslim travelers. In particular, the report predicts that destination leaders in OIC regions such as Malaysia and non-OIC regions such as Singapore will face stiff competition.

7. A streamlined visa approval process

Muslims travelling to Mecca to perform Umrah can expect a streamlined visa approval process, as changes in the Umrah Visa process and the rise of new interactive technology will mean that traditional Hajj and Umrah service providers will face disruption in their business models. Young Millennial Muslim travelers will now also be able to book their own do-it-yourself Umrah. This means that existing players will need to re-invent themselves and re-imagine the services they offer to stay relevant.

“The Halal Travel Frontier 2019 Report gives businesses, governments and other stakeholders in the travel sector an overview of the trends sweeping the fast growing Halal travel industry and how they can maximize opportunities in this fast growing travel sector,” said Safdar Khan, division president, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, Mastercard.

The report analyses changes in the halal travel space, and provides insights on how these trends will impact and influence the Muslim traveler. It predicts how technology, the environment and social activism will bring about major changes in all aspects of the halal travel industry and make it easier for Muslim travelers to explore the world.

After celebrating the Lunar New Year, Valentine's Day is fast approaching and it's time for marketers to head down to the romantic promotional games. When it comes to seeking Valentine's Day gift ideas, search queries for “gifts for boyfriend” are three times higher than “gifts for girlfriend” in Hong Kong, according to Google's insights of 2015.

It's Valentine's Day this Sunday and marketers have pounced on the theme to persuade consumers to buy their wares. Which items are at the top of the lists for this important day?

Looking at Google Trends insights in Hong Kong in 2015, Valentine’s Day related searches increased by 34% between 2014-15 with mobile as a driving force behind the growth. Search results for jewellery, lingerie and wine begin earlier, whereas cards, chocolate and flowers are more of the last minute gifts.

It might not be surprised to learn - search queries for “gifts for boyfriend” are three times higher than “gifts for girlfriend”, meaning women are likely to do more research than their partners before purchase, or they are just the more search-savvy consumers.

The search giant suggested Hong Kong businesses should focus on search to boost and capitalise the V-day sales.

When it comes to how much research people do before making a purchase decision, 62% Hongkongers researched locally a day or less before visiting. And 83% only consider one to three brands before making a purchase, according to Consumer Barometer 2015.

Meanwhile, here is a Valentine gift poll, by Lightspeed and a clear look at what consumers across Hong Kong and China want this Valentine’s Day.


Photo courtesy: Shutterstock

Insurance companies arguably have some of the most abstract products to sell - products which need plenty of explaining - and which are hard to market through simple adverts.

Perhaps that's why they have begun sponsoring events, a medium that offers the prospective customer more tangible experiences compared to print, TV or digital.

“Insurance is no longer just a trade where customers are motivated solely by price and product," Rob Leonardi, regional chief health and marketing officer at AXA Asia, said.

"We believe customers will best engage with a brand that shows a sense of purpose to provide protection of assets and health against unforeseen events, going beyond a functional or transactional relationship to show insights into and understanding of their real needs. This includes more tangible engagement in issues and aspects of their life that matter to them."

Examples of events sponsored by AXA is AXA Hong Kong Streetathon and Hacking Health hackathon, which are both related to health.

The insurance company has also sponsored art events such as the 25th Biennale of the International Institute for Conservation and Art Basel in Hong Kong, which are about art conservation and preservation, according to Leonardi.

Another prominent example of an event sponsored by an insurance company is the AIA Great European Festival, which ran until late last month.

"Our sponsorship of music events, community fun runs and festivals, such as the AIA Great European Carnival in Hong Kong, allows us to engage with audiences in an exciting and compelling way, creating buzz and ideally increasing brand consideration," Catherine Gibbs, head of sponsorship at AIA Group, said.

She added this softer approach to marketing is effective in helping build a brand identity, even though the events sponsored appear to have nothing to do with financial products offered by insurance companies.

"Sponsorship, be it an event, a sponsorship of an artist or talent, or one that adheres to a particular theme such as sports or music, allows brands to engage audiences with new and interesting conversations which don’t necessarily focus on the industry itself or a product or service," Gibbs said.

"This soft marketing approach allows brands to communicate their key messages and values and helps express a personality that might not otherwise be conveyed through typical marketing channels."

AIA is also involved in sports sponsorship through its partnership with English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur FC.

Apart from helping build brand equity, sponsored events are also good for business because campaigns related to sponsored events can be used to drive sales.

"On the business side, sponsorship events offer a unique suite of assets that are often focused around exclusive hospitality and access as well as experiences you can't buy," Gibbs said.

"This creates a compelling opportunity for AIA business units to incentivise our agents and partners to drive sales through campaigns linked to these rewards."

For example, AIA agents offered customers exclusive pass-through benefits and VIP experiences for Tottenham Hotspur matches in London.

Meanwhile, music is the main theme identified by FWD for activities engaging current and prospective customers, particularly the younger generation, in line with FWD's recent brand-building activities around the theme of living your life with passion.

On the events front, the company sponsored local indie band Chochukmo's anniversary party that also featured bands from China, Hong Kong and Japan and a classical music and stand-up comedy crossover show.

The company also created a FWD Hong Kong Spotify channel.

"We identified music as the vehicle to engage people, particularly the next generation, as it is a common language of our community that can help us connect and engage with one another," Albert Chan, chief marketing officer at FWD Hong Kong and Macau, said.

According to Chan, the company's criteria for designing events includes ensuring the event matches the company's strategic objectives, brand values and image, that it reaches its target audience in a sustainable way, is cost-effective and creates a positive impact on the brand and that the organiser is reputable.

Gibbs agrees that being selective about what the company sponsors is important for maintaining consistency within the brand and helps companies properly evaluate sponsorship proposals.

"The key to ensuring you target the right sponsorship property is to identify clearly what your objectives are and specifically how a sponsorship needs to deliver against brand versus business objectives," she said.

"AIA’s sponsorship framework focuses on football, music and community engagement events as the core pillars that best reach our target audience and help us drive both brand and business initiatives."

Marketing sponsored events

FWD has taken an integrated approach to marketing sponsored events.

"We made use of offline, online, and social media platforms to boost awareness. Leveraging publicity and owned media to create word-of-mouth also played a vital role in our communications plan," Chan said.

"We continually evaluated the participation rates of each campaign and fine-tuned our tactics."

At AIA, coming up with a marketing strategy is also part and parcel of planning of sponsored events.

"We strategise upfront an integrated activation programme which consists of different media platforms and activation tactics that will bring optimal leverage to reach a broad spectrum within the target audience," Gibbs said.

"A key target segment for AIA is the Gen-Y audience so many of our campaigns are built around social and digital media, which has become an integral part of the Gen-Y’s daily life."

Mobile is the buzz word in today’s era of smartphones and tablets, but mobile ad expenditure in Hong Kong makes up a much smaller proportion of overall ad expenditure compared with ad spending on traditional media.

According to admanGo data, Hong Kong’s total ad spend increased from HK$43.1 billion in 2013 to HK$44.9 billion in 2014.

Out of Hong Kong’s total ad spend in 2014, 32% was spent on TV, 16% on paid newspapers and 14% on outdoor media. In comparison, mobile ad spend comprised 2% of the overall ad spend in 2014, although this represents a 1% increase from the previous year.

The PwC’s Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014 report forecasted mobile advertising to make up 2% of digital advertising in Hong Kong in 2015, which is much less than the 15% of digital ad expenditure taken up by mobile advertising around the world.

“Given that smartphone penetration in Hong Kong is 73%, one of the highest in the world, the lack of mobile advertising is not down to consumer behaviour, but rather the dominance of traditional media, principally print and TV,” says Colin Light, digital consulting leader at PwC China and Hong Kong.

“Four key inhibitors are responsible for the significant ‘media gap’ in mobile advertising in Hong Kong today: difficulties in ROI measurement, limited access to specialist talent, slow mindset shift, and the relative ease of advertising on traditional media.”

He says businesses need greater awareness and trust in performance metrics used to measure digital advertising and that agencies and digital publishers need to educate marketers about the role of conversion metrics and performance-based pricing and how they affect the bottom line.

“The prerequisites for mobile advertising demand are already in place. We are now waiting for Hong Kong businesses to catch up. This requires a change in mindset on behalf of marketers away from the perceived ease of traditional media spending,” Light says.

Tempo Mobile Game

Tempo used a fun and creative mobile game to extend its Complete Care brand to mobile.

Patrick Waller, director of marketing and e-commerce in APAC at OtterBox, says while different channels offer varying levels of cost-effectiveness for different brands, digital advertising is cheaper than offline media channels.

“Once you enter the field of digital advertising, everything can be targeted and within that, the more targeted your ad is, the more expensive it will be,” he says.

“The justification from media agencies is that targeted campaigns generate conversion, but there are not many proven case studies compared to traditional media. That’s because digital media has not been around for as long and there is a less well-established proof of conversion.

“As brands understand mobile in more detail, mobile marketing will follow, but not the other way around. The industry needs more success stories before mobile can truly become the dominant channel.”

In the absence of well-established methods of conversion, rising costs may also be a concern for marketers.

Mobile marketing agency Fetch’s “FetchMe Report: Mobile Acquisition Trends in Hong Kong” analysed user behaviour between 1 March 2014 and 28 February 2015. Collected through the agency’s global dashboard FetchMe, the Hong Kong data spanned 10 million media interactions and 150,000 app installations, for which media spend totalled HK$3.8 million.

The report showed mobile user acquisition costs in Hong Kong across iPads, iPhones and Android devices increased by 49% over the past 12 months.

There are also interesting nuances in cost comparisons between Android and iOS devices.

FetchMe data collected showed costs of media and of user acquisition for iPad and iPhone users was more expensive than that for Android users.

For example, a cost-per-click (CPC) index was used in the report to measure the cost of mobile media – with 100 representing the Hong Kong average.

The CPC indices for iPads and iPhones were 180 and 108 respectively. This means buying ads on mobile media on iPads and iPhones costs 80% and 8% respectively more than the average.

Meanwhile, the same index for Android devices is 11, meaning the cost of purchasing ads on Android devices is 89% below the average.

The index used to measure user acquisition costs in the report was cost per install (CPI). iPad and iPhone users have CPI indices of 156 and 116 respectively while the CPI index for Android devices is 28.

However, the iPad and iPhone generated higher conversion rates than Android devices in terms of click to install (CTI).

Android devices have a CTI index of 49 whereas iPads and iPhones have indices of 139 and 112 respectively.

Commenting on the high cost of acquiring iPad users, Dan Wilson, head of data at Fetch, says: “This is typically a factor of the relative scarcity of the media and the larger format providing a potentially more engaging environment for advertisers.”

For Jacqueline Chu, marketing director at Revlon Hong Kong and Taiwan, what’s holding brands back is the limited number of well-established mobile content providers.

“Hong Kong’s mobile advertising scene is very fragmented. There are only four dominant platforms – Yahoo, Google, OpenRice and Apple Daily,” Chu says.

“Other platforms have little reach and if the dominant platforms aren’t appropriate for reaching the brand’s target audience, marketers would rather invest the money in other types of media.”

She believes the key to encouraging more brands to spend on mobile ads is to create unique content that drives traffic.

“Mobile platforms need high quality content, just like how brands need to develop high quality products. Many mobile media platforms have very similar content to one another and fail to accumulate a solid following,” she says.

“Unique content is the key to building loyalty. For example, Apple Daily consistently produces explosive content in a unique voice. OpenRice also took the time to specialise and it has now become the first platform that comes to mind for restaurants.”

Mobile ad networks also compete with owned mobile platforms for demand. One example is proprietary mobile apps used for online banking. Chu says these owned platforms reduce the need for marketers to place ads on mobile media platforms owned by external parties for loyalty marketing.

Another factor affecting a brand’s desire to spend on mobile ads is whether their company site is optimised for mobile.

Waller says his company held back on mobile ad spending until its mobile website was complete.

“If your website isn’t adaptive or responsive to mobile, you would not drive traffic to it on mobile because that would create a frustrating experience for the customer,” Waller says.

Is native advertising the solution?

Native advertising is branded content that takes a similar form to editorial content or other content normally published by a mobile media platform.

As mobile devices increasingly derive their value from the content they access on the cloud rather than the features they have as physical devices, native advertising has been championed as the next step towards a new generation of mobile marketing.

In addition to strong creatives and storytelling that ensures mobile advertising is tailored, engaging and does not abuse the intensely personal trust that comes with mobile and social advertising, Light believes the contextual relevance of mobile is of prime importance.

“Native advertising is about not being restricted to a single digital format like banner ads, which are clearly not as effective because they are seen as obtrusive and sometimes disruptive to the mobile experience,” Light says.

“In-app, video streaming and use of the contextual application programme interfaces (APIs) that mobile offers are all key to creating a strong user experience.”

Meanwhile, Waller says both display and native advertising on mobile are effective in their own ways and their suitability depends on a brand’s time and cost investments.

“For both native and display, the content is tailored to the channel and the audience,” Waller says.

“Native advertising is becoming more of a grey area for digital channels as insights considered in any digital campaign help craft the content.”

With external market conditions in place in Hong Kong, it seems to be up to publishers, agencies and marketers to start thinking differently to truly unleash the power of mobile marketing.

[Image]: iStockphoto

Drones, also known as a type of small unmanned aircraft, have been used to cover the Occupy Central protests and provide photographs and video footage that it would otherwise be impossible to shoot, for example, to verify the number of protesters present.

Video is courtesy of Tobias Reeuwijk and Reflex TV

It is also a useful tool for filming disaster zones or documenting environmental pollution but there is a plethora of legal, safety and privacy questions that must be answered before this practice can become widespread among media organisations in Hong Kong.

Earlier this week, CNN signed a research agreement with the US government's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  According to the agreement, CNN could experiment with using drones to collect news footage for journalistic purposes in the US air space only.

"Our aim is to go beyond hobby-grade equipment and establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism using various types of UAVs and camera setups,” David Vigilante, CNN Senior Vice President, said.

In 2013, the BBC also debuted its hexacopter drone for capturing video footage in the UK air space.

Do drones, traditionally associated with the military and gathering of intelligence by governments, represent part of the future of journalism?

For BBC's debut in 2013, BBC transport correspondent Richard Westcott wrote in an article, "The pictures speak for themselves. You cannot get shots like that with a helicopter, or a steadicam, or a boom, a jib, a dolley, a cream bun. OK, I made that last one up but you take the point."

"Now, you might be thinking that this is a little bit sinister, potentially. That hexacopter could soon be flying over your head, spying.  I can put that worry to bed now - we are not allowed to use it like that. For starters, the BBC has established strict filming rules, and secondly, the hexacopter is regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority."

A South China Morning Post spokesperson said the newspaper had evaluated the use of drones for its Occupy Central coverage but preferred to have reporters on the ground.

The SCMP spokesperson said, “We felt that having reporters on the ground and among the crowds would be more effective in delivering the most accurate and impactful stories for our readers locally and around the world.

"The use of drones is an exciting and innovative way to deliver news and we will continue to keep this option open for appropriate uses when the opportunity arises.”

In Hong Kong, the Civil Aviation Department (CAD) regulates unmanned aircraft weighing over seven kilograms, excluding the weight of its fuel.

There are a set of rules, including the stipulation that drones cannot fly within five kilometres of an aerodrome, over 300 feet above ground and in visibility conditions of less than five kilometres.

One of the trickiest CAD regulations to comply with is to demonstrate evidence of pilot competency.  This means that the pilot of the drone must have qualifications to show that they have the required training to drive the drone.

However, the CAD website also states, "But currently there are no pilot licenses for the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). CAD accepts Basic National UAS Certificate – Small Unmanned Aircraft (BNUC-S) or equivalent for evidence of UAS pilot competency."

Michael Perry, a spokesperson for Hong Kong-based drone manufacturer DJI, said there is currently no fixed standard for a demonstration of pilot competency in Hong Kong.

In an email to Marketing, a CAD spokesperson wrote, "The unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operator will have to make an application to the CAD with all the relevant information to support the application on a case by case basis."

"CAD will review the information and assess the competency of the applicant including the competency of the pilot to operate the UAS. The competency of the pilot is assessed through the training syllabus and test that the pilot has to undergo in accordance with the applicant's Operations Manual and practical demonstration of the skills of the pilot.

"The issue of the permit by CAD on a case by case basis will verify that the operator is competent to provide the air services to operate the UAV in a safe and competent manner including the competence of the pilot in each of the operations applied for."

A flight plan must be submitted to the CAD at least 28 days before takeoff.  Perry said it is known within the drone operator industry that it takes up to 90 days to get approval from the CAD.

"That obviously makes it difficult for breaking stories," Perry said.

He added, "Hong Kong’s unique geography and urban density also make it difficult to operate a drone within the parameters of safe flying practices – namely, not flying above crowds or close to buildings."

Another concern is privacy.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data (PCPD) told Marketing it does not comment on the legality of any practice in general terms, which should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

However, the PCPD spokesperson said there are a few nuggets of information relevant to whether drones used for non-recreational uses such as journalism could violate privacy laws in Hong Kong.

"Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, 'personal data' is defined as information which relates to a living person and can identify that person.  The data exists in a form in which access or processing is practicable.  Apart from written documents, personal data in other forms such as video are also covered under the Ordinance," she said.

"However, if it is not possible for one to ascertain the identity of the person in the footage, then the shooting of the video would not amount to 'collection of personal data.'"

According to the PCPD spokesperson, the ordinance is technology neutral and its core provisions are encapsulated in six Data Protection Principles, one of which requires that personal data is collected for a purpose directly relating to a function and activity of the data user, in a lawful and fair way and the data subjects must be informed of the purpose for which the data will be collected and used.

These information nuggets already suggest that it is difficult to determine the legality of journalistic reporting using a drone.

For example, it is unclear whether aerial footage of a crowd makes everyone in that crowd identifiable or whether it's possible to inform a person located in a place that can only be accessed and viewed from high up in the air, that they are being photographed or filmed by a drone.

Perry said, "Journalists have been using drones to add depth to their stories – providing a viewpoint that shows scale, proximity, and complexity of images that are impossible to capture from the ground."

"Not only can drones help capture images from a unique perspective, they can live broadcast images from places previously inaccessible, from a storm zone, for instance, or fly a mini-cell tower high enough to allow journalists to file stories from locations without wireless connectivity on the ground."

However, the fog cannot be cleared from the future of using drones for journalistic reporting in Hong Kong unless the legal, safety and privacy concerns regarding this practice is addressed.

[Image]: Shutterstock

The city-wide 1600 Panda Tour has taken Hong Kong by storm. Their movements have dominated headlines since arrival, backed by its dedicated Facebook page which has reached 31,000 likes and counting.

"Given the substantial reach and positive sentiment the campaign has gathered already, it has been incredibly successful," Chris Dobson, head of strategy, APAC, Imagination, said.

So what fuels the success of the paper panda tour?

1. Strong viral power
Let's face it, everyone loves Pandas and this given the campaign a head start. That coupled with the buy-in from a big brand like Cathay Pacific, various property owners and governments helps to pull this off.

“But the beauty is in the simplicity," Dobson said. “The Panda's create such a great visual spectacle you can't help but take a picture and share it. The number 1600 ensures the message is never lost amongst the cuteness."

Indeed, the 1600 pandas know where to visit. From the Hong Kong International Airport, Tian Tan Buddha, Tsing Ma Bridge, Mai Po Nature Reserve, to Mong Kok, they pick the most iconic landmarks in Hong Kong ensuring both locals and tourists are fully engaged.

[gallery link="file" ids="53621,53622,53620,53623"]

The campaign also tapped on celebrities to boost exposure. Even before the pandas landed in Hong Kong, celebrities such as Twins, Shu Qi, Sammi Cheng Vivian Chow Wai Man, Carina Lau, Chrissie Chau and the latest Dayo Wong Tze-wah were promoting the campaign on Facebook sharing panda photos.

[gallery link="file" ids="53624,53625,53627,53628,53629,53626"]

This on top of its virtual Facebook stickers amped up the viral power of the campaign. The stickers will soon roll-out on We Chat as well.

2. Humanity

"HongKongers are generally attracted to all things fun and iconic. This notion applies to pandas as well which share a deep emotional connect with locals having been part of the Hong Kong community for years," Ben Taylor, president Asia Pacific, Jack Morton Worldwide, said.

"The campaign effectively resonates with HongKongers by putting the pandas into recreated situations of our everyday activities,” he says.

[gallery link="file" ids="53635,53636,53634,53631,53633,53632"]

3. Clear and succinct messaging

"By simply seeing 1,600 pandas in one central location within the parameters of one’s view, it really makes you more aware of the reality – “Wow, this is all that’s left! We need to do something about it.” So this campaign definitely meets its goal," Taylor said.

The selected venues also resonate with these values. For example the Ming Gor restaurant, commonly known as "the charity guy" provides affordable lunch boxes to underprivileged people in Sham Shui Po.



Now that the campaign has got off to a roaring start, Imagination's Dobson said the next challenge is to capture the positive sentiment and keep the momentum going.

"We always look to extend the life of the campaign and this could be done digitally – not just through sharing but encouraging more and better conversations online," said Taylor.

“As an awareness push it's a huge success, but people have short memories - how will they turn this into something more lasting? That will be worth watching," added Dobson.

SK Lam, creative director of AllRightsReserved, responded that what’s more noticeable is the heavy dose of storytelling in each spot.

“The campaign is touching because it’s not a drama, but something authentic.”

He half-jokingly said they could have attached the pandas in the backgrounds by using photoshop.

“But the whole point of the campaign is authenticity. Which is why having a passionate crew is important.”

He added: “What’s remarkable is that during the journey we keep trying different executions to place the pandas. Like the stop in Mong Kok today, we will place the pandas with a real-time game interacting with passersby.”

[gallery link="file" ids="53921,53922,53923"]

With its neon lights, gigantic displays and a citywide canvas like no other, Hong Kong’s reputation for fantastic outdoor advertising has been well-earned. But how is the industry for advertising’s original form faring in 2019 and can it stay relevant in the decade to come? Rick Boost speaks with some of the city’s biggest players to find out.

The legacy

Out-of-home (OOH) is one of the – if not the – oldest marketing formats. And though it has always been known as a stalwart advertising medium, it has been equally hard to shake its status as supplementary to the mainstream duo of TV and newspapers.

Vincent Lam, chairman of outdoor solutions provider Asiaray, explains the stigma by saying: “It’s because its viewing time is very short and nobody stands on the street to stare at the advertisement, except people like us. Most people would just have a glance of it.”

However, as TV and print face a worldwide decline, OOH is the prodigal son returned and on the rise. An August 2017 MAGNA intelligence report pointed out global OOH as the only traditional media category to show consistent growth in the past 10 years, a trend that’s predicted to continue.

For Hong Kong, specifically, a 2017 admanGo study stated OOH took a sizeable 32% of all media expenditure.

Lawrence Chan, CEO of transport advertising specialists RoadShow, says: “In 2018 Hong Kong, OOH and mobile ranked equally number four in media, representing 11% of the total market. TV and newspapers are facing very tough channels from digital and mobile media while OOH can still remain in a comparatively stable environment.”


In Hong Kong, OOH has always been an essential tool for almost any major campaign because it’s tailored perfectly to the behaviours of Hongkongers.

“Hong Kong is a small place with dense population,” explains Clare Ho, managing director of the ever-present outdoor operator POAD. “It is effective to outreach consumers in high traffic locations. And, due to the living environment, HK households are relatively smaller in size versus other countries, thus a lot of people like to spend time away from home.”

She cites a Media Economy Report figure that OOH reaches 90% of the Hong Kong population, and 70% of consumers’ waking hours are spent away from home. And with those dense crowds, which provide a low CPM, it puts the audience in the firing line.
Chan says: “When you walk down the street you cannot lay your eyes on your handheld device. So, one way or the other, our messages will bombard you from different angles.”

OOH to O2O to O&O

But far from being an enemy of OOH, experts across the industry are claiming that mobiles will be the key to a golden age of outdoor, and likewise, that outdoor will be an online-to-offline (O2O) saviour for digital.

“The shortcomings of online media are that it’s not impactful whereas out-of-home media’s main strength is that it is impactful. So, if the two work together it can bring the best of both worlds,” Lam explains.

“One of the biggest advertisers in the out-of home industry is online products. Apps, games, anything that’s online. So, if online players regard out-of-home to be complementary or to do something they cannot do, well then, certainly they’re not going to revolutionise us. Quite the contrary, we will be helping them.”

Also backing this up, Ho tells Marketing: “Some of the largest digital brands are fuelling outdoor ad spending growth. Facebook was the third largest advertiser by spend, Apple the fourth and Netflix the fifth.”

That buck certainly has shown to get some bang, with OOH overperforming massively in relation to the comparatively smaller spend it is given compared to other formats.

The 2017 Nielsen OOH Online Activation Survey showed a 46% response rate of online activations as a reaction to outdoor advertisements. Nielsen’s stats also showed outdoor billboards leading to a 54% lift in search traffic, 38% in Facebook interactions and 25% in Instagram engagements.


With high quality content, OOH’s place in the relationship is able to go far beyond acting as mere physical signposts to digital domains. When outdoor work hooks audiences it can take on its own online life as photographs bounce around social media, drawing more attention to both the site and the brand. Not O20 as much as O&O (online and offline).

Lam says: “OOH will be great to become O&O. It will be the mainstream media, period.”

Getting creative

For the newest generation of advertisers, with digital taking a massive focus, actually recognising what makes a great piece of OOH can be a daunting proposition.

“We have agencies where nobody knows how to do outdoor. Nobody trains them, they don’t learn it at school. Unlike TV and newspapers which you can learn somewhere. But not OOH because it involves so many things,” Lam laments.
A growing focus on flashy tech advancements can hinder the most fundamental of those instincts.

As POAD founder and CEO Bruce Kong explains to Marketing: “Something unchanged for no matter how many years is location. Selecting location is the most important determination factor for if it [an outdoor ad] is a success or not, and then one can move onto the technology.”

He says clients might have ideas to turn a display into a digital marvel; something with 3D, projections or laser shows. And though providers may welcome those toys, that rush to wow can be self-defeating in a district that doesn’t suit it.

He says: “Even if your creativity is number one in the world, if you do it in the wrong place it’s wrong. So (use) the right location with the right technology.”

All our subjects voiced the same opinion: to survive in this competitive sector, outdoor providers must be proactive and reach out to present clients with innovative concepts for unrealised sites.

Recognising a structure’s unique shape or placement is better than reaching for the same established high visibility sites and light boxes in the hope of an easy pay cheque.

Lam tells us: “Ironically, traditionally the most left-behind sites turn out to be the best sites.” For instance, a by-the-book operator may consider any quieter low traffic spot to be a bad site. Yet, a spot where pedestrians can stop is a place where a consumer can be further engaged by more than just a bright visual.

And though many sites are best suited to iconic LED displays, billboards or posters, in appropriate locations, the introduction of ambient sounds, touchable elements and even scents can produce a more intense and longer lasting impression.

OOH is the only media form able to take advantage of all five senses, but a thoughtful merger of technology with creative space management will heighten the benefits.

“Interactivity is certainly important, but the most important thing is experiencing. OOH is the best medium to experience whatever the advertisers want them to experience,” Lam says.

Roadblocks to the future

However, though there have been some amazing recent examples of this kind of fusion – all the way to turning entire buildings into playable video game displays – Hong Kong’s OOH pioneers appreciate there are inherent obstacles.

Chan tells Marketing about Roadshow’s own unrealised goal to revolutionise its product. A government consultation paper had called for smart city ideas, highlighting bus stops specifically as part of the movement. RoadShow leapt to the challenge, offering up digital shelters that included interactive screens, audio capability and even liquid vapour sprayers. Unfortunately, in his own words, RoadShow was hampered by good old bureaucracy.


“We applied for 100 sites and one and a half years down the track, the TD (Transport Department) had only approved us for eight bus stops,” Chan says.

“The panels work, but whenever we’re trying to fulfil the requirements of our advertiser, first we have to ask KMB (Kowloon Motor Bus) for permission and then TD for permission and it takes ages.”

Similarly, applications to introduce features increasingly common to bus stops in Europe and Australia – such as digital cameras and facial detection tools able to present user specific content – have also been kept in limbo due to strict regulations. But a pilot scheme Chan intends to launch has an even bigger scope: better data.

“If you have facial detection software, you can read and have measurements. How many people when they walk past, how many of them are really looking at your panels,” Chan says.

“In the old days you had to rely upon Nielsen to record statistics and then prove whether it was successful or not to broadcast your message through outdoor media. But if you can get the figures through your own devices you’re gonna burst the bubble. And some of the players are afraid of these kinds of truth.”

Alternatively, Asiaray has its own digital project to bring to the table, but it’s moving slowly by choice. In an exclusive, Lam reveals to Marketing it is currently working on the potential of programmatic media.

“This is the future because if you imagine that operators have very little added value, do you expect them to survive the competition that is to come? Who is going to replace them? Programmatic could partly.”


Partnering with a major digital company, Asiaray is developing its own content management system and demand-side platform for broadcasting and scheduling content. But his team is content to take its time to build a totally secure platform, and also temper its expectations with the wisdom of experience.

“When people talk about technology, they expect you to pull something out of your magic box which might look like rocket science. What we do is something very plain, you don’t need technology, you need an idea,” he adds.

The big picture

When Marketing asks what the years ahead hold for Hong Kong OOH, Chan drops a bombshell that could shatter the power balance between the city’s players, and combat high rents. Like outdoor advertisers in Australia and the US, the RoadShow chief sees a future in unionising.

“In Hong Kong we don’t have any union, in particular, a union for the outdoor media participants. I’m not saying we should form a cartel, but we have to form a union whereabouts we will be able to play against the landlords to increase our bargaining power. At the same time we won’t face any cut-throat price war with the biggest players.”


Over at Asiaray, Lam’s concerns lie more with China’s rapid growth in OOH than any local competition, but it doesn’t bother him either. He lays out his thoughts on what the OOH industry should focus on doing: “Advertisements are something that you want to use to impress your audience.

“You don’t want to say something and nobody cares. We should try and do something that will impress them and will be liked. They like to interact and like to experience, they feel very pleasant about it. They will like you and will like your service.

“This is what all advertising should be, rather than just tell them ‘this is what we do’ here’s a sale’. Those were the old days, people want to get more. They don’t want to just see another advertisement. People don’t hate advertisements, but they hate bad advertisements, they love good advertisements.”


This article was produced for the June issue of Marketing Magazine. For more features and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your free monthly print copy here or you can read our digital versions in their entirety here.


We are witnessing changes in the dialogue between brands and consumers reaching another level of connection. At this year’s Marketing Branding 360 conference, we focused on methodologies for solidifying brands’ reputation and safety and the pitfalls that need to be tackled.

Kicking off the event was the opening keynote presented by Jayant Murty, former director of marketing for Asia Pacific and Japan at Intel, who demonstrated brands and companies’ survival depends on transparency.

During the presentation, he said 57% of consumers were concerned with how businesses use their information, while 41% of consumers felt they needed greater transparency in companies to have confidence in their products or services.

The decade ahead will fuel the acceleration of technology-driven changes which can lead to the creation of significant value for consumers, workers and enterprises. To build long-term trust, the industry must carefully protect the privacy and security of consumers’ data and be transparent about how they are utilising it.

“Information technology is continuing to digitise everything on the outside while biotechnology is beginning to provide a window into our inner lives – emotions, thoughts and choices,” he said.

“Infotech and biotech will create unprecedented upheavals in human society, eroding human agency and, possibly, subverting human desires. Under such conditions, liberal democracy and free-market economics might become obsolete.” However, he highlighted some benefits of complete transparency. For example, customers are more willing to switch to a new brand, pay more and be loyal.

Eric Thain, general manager of HK Express, went on to explain the topic of driving brand values through customer engagement using AI and automation.

“AI is increasingly being deployed by marketers to improve and scale personalised customer interactions, making use of the improving technologies around visual perception and natural language processing,” he said.

Also, AI offers predictive analytics that eliminates the need to search. Thain took Netflix as an example – its clustering algorithm continually improves suggestions which allows users to make the most of their

He said according to KPMG International’s study, increasing data analysis capabilities, new product development and cybersecurity solutions are the top areas of investment over the next three years for CEOs.

In the future, he said a creative agency might need to add a software engineer, data strategist, developer, coder, programmer and technical director to strengthen the capability of delivering products and services. In the first presentation of the afternoon, Suresh Balaji, head of marketing at HSBC, talked about its successful rebranding strategy.

“Over the past few years, our brand (HSBC) has faced two main challenges: decline in brand value across markets and increasing expectations of modern brands,” he said.

“Advances in technology, particularly around mobile, have enabled huge swathes of start-ups to emerge and challenge the traditional role businesses and brands play in the lives of customers. In a changing world, HSBC needs to actively fight for relevance.”

He examined the Chinese meaning of “way foong” – the pronunciation of HSBC in Cantonese. “Way is an accumulation of water flowing into the city, and foong means to harvest the best crops and bring them together. The characters that make up “way foong” depict the idea of a plentiful harvest, or in other words, prosperity,” he explained.

HSBC’s latest global marketing campaign explores how the bank helps people prosper in the 21st century. Underpinned by the phrase “Together we thrive”, the campaign reflects its long-term  commitment to help customers succeed.

“Together we thrive is a promise of partnership and prosperity to all those we serve. If the companies, communities, individuals and employees we serve thrive, then so do we,” he said.

Using KOLs has been common in the digital era. Karen Cheng, head of social at 9GAG, explained the topic, “KOL 2.0 from endorsements to engagement”.

“To generation Z, endorsement is fake as they know it’s sponsored content,” she said.

By partnering with content creator smoothsmith8 to promote Flaregames’ Tap Empire on Instagram, 9GAG has received more than 143 million impressions, more than 20 million video views and more than one million engagements, which refers to comments, likes, shares, saved posts and other reactions.

There has been a perception that big names have greater influences on audiences. However, 9GAG’s strategy is “small wins”, which means brands are better to use micro influencers.

“The name doesn’t matter, as long as you understand the value they make for your business,” she said.