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Spotlight on Hong Kong: Bowtie, Alibaba, Adludio and Jack Morton on key trends


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

August 1, 2019 | 26 min read

The Drum's 'Spotlight' is a bi-monthly series that take a look at the key trends, influential people, rising stars and important events in interesting Asia Pacific countries. In June, we started the series with Singapore. This month, we are looking at Hong Kong.


Bowtie, Alibaba, Adludio, Jack Morton, CNN, The Wall Street Journal on what to expect from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong, the Special Administrative Region of China, is considered a major financial sector in the Asia Pacific and has the second-highest number of business headquarters in the region.

In this edition, we ask the industry, namely the likes of Bowtie, Alibaba, Adludio, Jack Morton, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, The Trade Desk, Lewis and Racepoint Global, on what to expect from the former British colony in the month of August.

What are the current trends in Hong Kong at the moment?

Cindy Chow, executive director of Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund

According to the latest Transforming Hong Kong through Entrepreneurship Study jointly conducted by KPMG China and Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund (AEF), fintech ranks as Hong Kong’s strongest innovation sector, with 67% of entrepreneurs and 61% of students agreeing Hong Kong is well-positioned as a fintech innovation hub.

It reflects Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub, where a lot of financial and fintech talent is based. They have expertise in identifying pain points in the financial sector and providing solutions. This is in-line with our own AEF investment portfolio where about 20% are fintech.

Besides that, the survey found some 48% of entrepreneurs polled agreed Hong Kong is well-positioned for smart-city innovation, 45% say the city is an innovation hub for artificial Intelligence and 36% say the same for biotechnology. AEF encourages start-ups to explore opportunities in a wide range of areas such as artificial intelligence, smart city and biotechnology for growth potential.

Another significant trend is there are more start-ups focusing on business needs, rather than consumer demands. As a leading commercial hub, there are corporations in Hong Kong seeking innovative and creative solutions to revitalize or increase their operational efficiency. There is proven potential for start-ups in this area.

Sally Young, executive director of advertising sales for North Asia at CNN International Commercial

The recent trend that I am witnessing and feel has a lasting impact in the world we operate in is how data and creativity are going to be at the core of every successful marketing campaign and I have been working side-by-side with several brands who have seen success in this approach as well. Embracing technology and tools is imperative but a good story that connects with the audience will always be a winner.

Troy Yang, senior vice president for North Asia at The Trade Desk

Like any global city, Hong Kong is always at the leading edge of current trends. The defining trends in Hong Kong will be experiential and immersive, including programmatic, but also through augmented reality and other solutions.

Given the compact size of Hong Kong, brands will look to create unique moments across multiple platforms, which is why programmatic will come to the fore in areas like digital out-of-home.

Keso Kendall, the general manager for Bay Area and Greater China at Lewis

When it comes to marketing in HK at the moment, the biggest focus is how can brands best navigate the politics of the moment. For those who want the join the conversation, it can be very hard to do without alienating people or risking a boycott.

At the same time, even brands that have tried to steer clear of political debate are getting pulled in. As a result, we are seeing a spike in monitoring and market analysis, as well as a detailed level of reviews for any campaigns that are currently planned for the HK market.

Bono Chan, sales lead for Hong Kong at Adludio

Having been in this space for a while now, I have seen many brands develop their programmatic advertising strategy in order to reach their customers more efficiently. At the same time, however, we’re moving into a privacy-first world, with big players such as Apple introducing anonymized ID signing and restricting the use of personal data.

Other giants may follow their lead and move the industry towards a future that flashes back to the days before programmatic. This means advertisers may have to shift focus away from deeply intrusive precision targeting and move towards a more general approach led by contextually relevant and powerful creatives.

In Hong Kong, we see a lot of premium luxury brands already taking this approach and innovating with creative quality at their core.

Julia Clyne, head of media for APAC at Wall Street Journal

Some of the most interesting trends we have seen over the past few months are structural changes that have been occurring within the brands themselves. We have seen PR and advertising operations converge into more streamlined teams and have also seen content creation edge away from creative agencies to in-house functions.

This evolution is in response to the shift away from interruptive and siloed advertising to a more unified and ‘always-on’ approach that brands are focusing on. This is also tied up with the need to be able to react in real-time to insights and campaign performance data.

We are also seeing clients focus their efforts around fewer but larger partnerships with publishers to deliver truly original work. Companies that really understand the unique strengths of individual publishers and platforms and take advantage of those to produce something really special for their shared audience are the ones that are creating genuine brand value.

Finally, some of the most sophisticated B2B brands that we work with are doing an excellent job of balancing thought leadership and brand storytelling efforts with the need to generate leads using data and technology. With the huge emphasis that is now placed on measuring ROI, being able to get this juggling act right - between brand building and lead generation - is challenging. However, the brands that are dedicating efforts to both are having the most success.

Winky Moon, vice president of Racepoint Global

Hong Kong companies are now starting to identify their brands’ moral purpose to help deliver the natural by-product of a more authentic form of marketing. This effort holds the promise to build a socially conscious brand that appeals to the core values of their primary stakeholders.

Andy Chung, managing director for Hong Kong at Xaxis

There is a more prevalent use of mobile wallets amongst HK people compared to one to two years ago. The usage of PayMe app (a mobile app developed by HSBC) and FPS (Fast Pay Service) by all major banks are experiencing exponential growth.

This trend also creates an intensely competitive landscape between players like Alipay, WeChat pay, Octopus & Apple Pay as they strive to gain market share.

Becca Ratcliffe, senior vice president and client services director for Hong Kong at Jack Morton

Keen to be green - It’s a universal trend and everyone is talking about being green. In fact, we’re seeing more and more clients asking us to weave sustainability into the experiences we create, which is a response to both audience demand and the brand’s values. So we are ditching plastic bottles and straws and using recycled materials such as scaffolding and wood in fabrication to help with this.

Keeping it local - For a long time, Hong Kong was all about being global. People loved the idea of having international brands and representations in Hong Kong. But that has really shifted in the last few years. We’re hiring more local talents who are in-tune with the community and from a design perspective, we’re bringing increasingly more cultural aspects to accentuate the beauty and elegance of Hong Kong. Brands love this because they simply love supporting local communities.

Network it - Hong Kong is networking heaven. People from all walks of life reside in Asia’s financial hub. Because of this, we’re seeing a lot more briefs from clients asking us to specifically design networking sessions at events including conferences, gala dinners and even launch events. We are asked to create environments and activities that help with organic connections through shared interests or play, instead of the awkward handshakes and collecting business cards you will never look at.

Michael Chan, the co-founder and co-chief executive of Bowtie

Technology is reshaping a number of industries in Hong Kong. 100% of Forbes Fintech 50 in 2018 is already on the cloud, and the large banks are moving a significant part of their systems to the cloud - and no one is going the other way. As the first virtual insurer in Hong Kong, Bowtie reinvented the very structure of an insurance company and replaced everything with modern technology.

By running Bowtie’s core system platform, including policy administration, claims and underwriting applications on AWS cloud and by building our systems in a more modular, distributed way, we are able to ensure our company operates in a highly secure and available space as required of insurance companies operating in a highly regulated environment.

What are some of the best works you have seen in Hong Kong this month/recently?

Cindy Chow, executive director of Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund

NEX team Inc, one of the AEF’s investee companies, has developed HomeCourt, a mobile basketball training application that uses advanced machine learning and computer vision to unlock potential in every player. Recently, NEX Team Inc., entered a partnership with The National Basketball Association (NBA).

HomeCourt provides an interactive solution that turns training into a fun and enjoyable experience for basketball players. HomeCourt and Alibaba share the belief that health and happiness should be the paramount goals for our users.

The partnership will leverage HomeCourt’s technology to develop and train players at all skill levels and will be an integral part of the NBA’s youth basketball development initiatives around the world.

HomeCourt embodies the spirit of entrepreneurship — creativity, resilience and continuously striving to reach the next level. This is in line with the Fund’s mission to encourage Hong Kong entrepreneurs and young people to achieve their dreams and visions.

Sally Young, executive director of advertising sales for North Asia at CNN International Commercial

I was very impressed with the Cathay’s campaign ‘Move Beyond’ which featured a same-sex couple and supported LGBTQ rights. The ‘Move Beyond’ campaign highlighted the airline’s positive attitude towards diversity.

What was an even bigger win was the advertisement which was initially deemed unsuitable for display by Airports Authority and MTR was subjected to pressure from the Hong Kong citizens and organisations in response to that reviewed their guidelines and updated their policy and ran the advertisement which was a big success for this bold and beautiful campaign.

Bono Chan, sales lead for Hong Kong at Adludio

Alipay Hong Kong recently released a two-part short film that really stood out to me. One of the great things about the campaign is that it stars "Ali" Lee, my favourite actress, in a purposeful short film that is tastefully done. Initially, it may come across as a standard love story. However, the ending comes off as a pleasant surprise, as it is able to effectively communicate Alipay’s campaign message while giving the narrative the attention it deserves.

Alipay products are featured throughout and the product placements aren’t awkward at all because they are cleverly weaved into the storyline. The campaign already comes off as pretty bold, as the premise is centred on an office romance between a senior woman and a new male hire in the post #metoo era, but the film’s high production value and excellent shot selection help pull it off. That being said, it’s ultimately about the boundless possibilities of today’s society.

Julia Clyne, head of media for APAC at Wall Street Journal

In July, Hong Kong Information Services Department (HCISD) launched their annual content campaign. This year they selected a broad portfolio of international news publishers to create content to tell the story of how Hong Kong is uniquely positioned to provide the crucial finance, professional, legal and trade solutions that the business community needs.

Each publisher approached the story in their own way using their intimate knowledge of their audience and employing the storytelling tools that best engage them. This is a great example of a brand empowering their partners to do what they do best (in this case, create compelling content).

In addition, it is also a sign of an organisation proactively sharing their point of view at a time of sensitivity for their organisation given the recent political events that have taken place in Hong Kong.

Winky Moon, vice president of Racepoint Global

I was really impressed by Sun Life Financial who recently unveiled their latest campaign. They blended the perfect mix of technology, social and local street art and combined this with augmented reality to launch an online campaign.

It’s great to see a financial services brand embrace technology and weave it into the fabric of their communications marketing strategy.

Becca Ratcliffe, senior vice president and client services director for Hong Kong at Jack Morton

One of my personal favourites was the Chanel Coco Flash Club Pop Up in May. Chanel created a cool pop up shop for music, dance and beauty lovers all inspired by 80s glam.

The entrance was hidden behind a retro record shop named Coco Store. Once inside, you were led into the club that was divided into different areas dedicated to dance to promote their new Rouge Coco Flash lipsticks, while the bar highlighted the brand’s fragrance collections.

What are some of the key events in Hong Kong this month and over the year?

Sally Young, executive director of advertising sales for North Asia at CNN International Commercial

Hong Kong Sevens in April is one of my most favourite events and I have been going to the sevens for the past 15 years. I have fond memories of going there with my son and just soaking in the energy and spirit of Hong Kong. It feels like an international carnival.

There is also Art Basel Hong Kong, which is the region's renowned art fair featuring premier artists from Asia and beyond. It’s a great way to know more about the latest in the art scene and check out some phenomenal work by established and emerging artists.

And it’s not just me from CNN who enjoys these events. A lot of my colleagues also attend as well as our editorial teams from CNN World Rugby and CNN Style who provide comprehensive coverage for our global audience from Hong Kong Sevens and Art Basel.

Keso Kendall, the general manager for Bay Area and Greater China at Lewis

The city plays host to a whole range of events, from Le French May through to the Hong Kong Book Fair, Tennis Open and Wine & Dine Festival, all representing great opportunities for brands seeking to expand in the market.

Bono Chan, sales lead for Hong Kong at Adludio

The Clockenflap music festival stands out to me because it highlights the importance of pursuing your creative passions and celebrates the joys of community.

It’s become an annual thing for me to head over to Clockenflap with friends to listen to some good music and immerse myself in the festival experience. If anything, you’re guaranteed to meet some pretty interesting people in the crowd.

Another one would be the Wine and Dine Festival. Every year there are various wine and food exhibitors joining this event. It is a great event to hang out with friends and taste different wines at a reasonable price. The fact that the event is hosted at Central Harbourfront, which has a great view and is easy to access, is an added bonus.

Last but not least, Marketing Pulse. HKTDC did a very good job organizing this industry event. The lineups regularly feature bright industry folks, and it’s quite easy to meet with marketers and talents from the agency side there. It’s definitely worth spending a full day at the event.

Julia Clyne, head of media for APAC at Wall Street Journal

Over the months of June and July technology is on everyone’s mind as we gear up for Rise. This is an event which focuses on the start-up ecosystem in Hong Kong and the region. Our own WSJ Tech D.Live also provides the chance for executives to come together and explore the key technology themes which are shaping Asia and the world today.

The FinTech Hong Kong conference in November is fast becoming an essential event on the calendar, as digital payment systems and blockchain solutions proliferate.

And finally, one of my favourite events throughout the year is the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA) Awards for Editorial Excellence takes place every May and pays homage to the incredible efforts of journalists around the region.

Winky Moon, vice president of Racepoint Global

From a grassroots perspective, local bodies such as PRHK enable individuals in the Hong Kong marketing and communications industry to knowledge share and discuss best practice – they have a strong calendar of events hosted throughout the year.

Michael Chan, the co-founder and co-chief executive of Bowtie

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority granted eight virtual bank licences in May this year and Hong Kong’s Insurance Authority awarded the first virtual insurance license to Bowtie in December 2018.

This is an exciting time to be in Hong Kong and be a part of the developing fintech ecosystem.

Who are the key influential business people in Hong Kong?

Sally Young, executive director of advertising sales for North Asia at CNN International Commercial

The person who comes to my mind is Adrian Cheng from New World Development. He is from a traditional Hong Kong business empire, but he puts a huge effort in supporting the art development in Hong Kong.

For instance, he founded the K11 Art Foundation in 2010, the first non-profit and non-state-owned art foundation in China to support the development of Chinese contemporary art and to promote public art education.

He also committed to supporting start-ups and founded C Ventures—an investment fund with its eye on technology-driven brands and services that cover art, media and fashion. He influences the society positively with his innovative approach.

Troy Yang, senior vice president for North Asia at The Trade Desk

There has not been a changing of the guard in Hong Kong – the long-established companies and conglomerates from Swire, HSBC, to Cheung Kong, Henderson and Sung Hung Kai still have a hugely influential role in Hong Kong business.

Bono Chan, sales lead for Hong Kong at Adludio

The founders of 9GAG. Yes, they are Hongkongers! 9GAG has been a game changer in content development. Their short videos, creative-driven culture, and a number of other innovations have paved the way for other similar businesses. They have already generated millions of fans, not only from Hong Kong but also from all over the world.

Winky Moon, vice president of Racepoint Global

I personally have followed the work of Jojo Cheung over the last few years. She paves the way for the advancement of women into key leadership positions and is a role model to many young females in our industry.

She has an impressive technology CV, having worked at the likes of IBM, Apple and Intel and currently sits as the chief marketing officer for the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.

Her work and commitment to the local Hong Kong technology community is remarkable and she continues to pioneer our city as an innovation hub.

Becca Ratcliffe, senior vice president and client services director for Hong Kong at Jack Morton

I’m a huge foodie. So to me, some of the key influential people in Hong Kong include Manuel Palacio and Christian Talpo, the owners behind Pirata Group have changed Hong Kong’s dining scene in the last few years.

They are bringing in a range of diverse restaurants and cuisines from tapas at The Optimist to a pasta bar, Pici. All its places serve great food and have a great atmosphere.

Michael Chan, the co-founder and co-chief executive of Bowtie

The first person that comes to mind is John Tsang, Hong Kong’s longest-ever serving financial secretary, who held office for a decade from 2007 until 2017.

While he was financial secretary, Tsang helped support innovation through spending US$560 million on expanding the Hong Kong Science Park and launching a US$260 million Innovation Technology Venture Fund. We have the utmost respect for Mr Tsang and I was fortunate to have met him at Rise conference back in 2017.

After various meetings and exchanges, we established the shared belief that insurance serves an important social purpose and share the vision to bring real protection to Hong Kong people.

It is our great honour to have John join our journey and he eventually became Bowtie Senior Advisor. We believe with John’s years of experience in financial development and his passion for technology, together we can build insurance products that truly serve Hong Kong people

Who are some of the rising stars in Hong Kong we should look out for?

Cindy Chow, executive director of Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund

In AEF’s portfolio, we can name some of these stars. For instance, Gogovan, the first app-based platform for delivering goods in Asia, which is dedicated in offering excellent delivery service through innovative technology. It connects individuals and businesses directly to thousands of drivers for their real-time delivery needs, and redefines the everyday delivery experience by providing a convenient and efficient service.

WeLab is another example. WeLab is reinventing traditional financial services by creating seamless mobile lending experiences. With its proprietary risk management technology, WeLab effectively analyzes unstructured mobile big data within seconds to make credit decisions for individual and SMEs borrowers. Not only does it increase the efficiency of the whole financing process, but it also increases the transparency.

Aqumon, a robo-advisory firm based in Hong Kong, uses an algorithmic, data and machine learning approach to provide clients access to diversified global asset allocation. Generally, with the high entry barrier of private banking, individuals have no chance to enjoy asset management services. Through Aqumon’s easy-to-use intelligent platform, customers can maximize long-term return at low cost, low risk, and with a high degree of transparency.

Sally Young, executive director of advertising sales for North Asia at CNN International Commercial

Private tutoring has long been a multimillion-dollar business in Hong Kong. Snapask, a Hong Kong-based start-up which is an innovative online tutoring app that offers fast homework related and other tutorial services, is a rising company we should look out for.

The company began as a Q&A format and has grown ever since to become a top EdTech start-up known for its on-demand academic assistance services.

Another rising star is Valerie Chiu, founder of Cocoparadise. She is a young entrepreneur trying to provide healthier food choices and to make sustainability more mainstream.

Troy Yang, senior vice president for North Asia at The Trade Desk

Not so much rising, as risen, but Alibaba will play an enormous role in the future of Hong Kong. Fintech is critical to Hong Kong’s position as a financial centre, and Ant Financial will be a key player. At the same time, Alibaba’s ownership of the South China Morning Post makes the company integral to public debate in the city.

Bono Chan, sales lead for Hong Kong at Adludio

Among the many talented women in this industry, I’d have to say the following two:

Sarah Cheung, the senior digital communication manager at Procter & Gamble Hong Kong. She has demonstrated outstanding knowledge in digital marketing and covers a lot of different aspects of marketing. She’s one professional who I believe has a bright future in the industry.

Sharon Ho, the senior content marketing manager at MoneyHero. She comes from a traditional background as an entertainment reporter but is now in charge of their content development. She fully understands how to deliver engaging content and knows how to manage consumer and company expectations well. I’d say she’s the greatest content strategist I have ever met.

Julia Clyne, head of media for APAC at Wall Street Journal

Anita Munro is already an established marketing leader in Hong Kong, however, her role as Managing Director of the newly formed agency, L’Atelier, provides an incredible opportunity for her to shine even further.

In just over a year, Munro has had to build a team from zero to over 200 people across APAC while simultaneously delivering cutting edge campaigns to L'Atelier sole client, LVMH.

The establishment of any new agency provides a rare chance to build a business from scratch, however, in Munro’s case, it has offered the opportunity to rethink the fundamentals of how agencies add value to their clients and to begin crafting what the agency of the future may look like.

Winky Moon, vice president of Racepoint Global

I’ve been blown away by Yueting (Lucy) Liu who co-founded Airwallex. At only 26 she was recognized as one of Forbes 30 under 30 and has expanded the company’s reach into international markets.

Andy Chung, managing director for Hong Kong at Xaxis

Sammy Li, the associate director of Mindshare HK and Julia Li, the senior client development manager of Xaxis HK.

Li had recently won the Greater China Young Achiever of the Year award from one of the marketing organizers and was nominated to attend Cannes Lion 2019 – the annual landmark event for the industry - this year!

Julia Li has led campaigns for important clients such as Alibaba, MGM Cotai and even Xaxis which has won numerous global and regional Agency of the Year awards. Julia has great potential and is no doubt one of the rising stars we take pride in!

Becca Ratcliffe, senior vice president and client services director for Hong Kong at Jack Morton

To me, rising stars are emerging leaders and disruptors. Carl Pei, the founder and chief executive of OnePlus, is shaking up the mobile phone handset scene taking on the likes of Apple and Huawei and he hasn’t even reached the ripe old age of 30.

We worked with OnePlus to launch the OnePlus 2 handset which was the world’s first product launch in VR with him and his team, which was a fun project and it truly redefined the product launches.

Another rising star is Victoria Chow, the entrepreneur behind The Woods, The Woods Annex and Kwoon by The Woods, interesting canned cocktails beautifully packaged up.

The Yardley brothers – Luke and Duncan, originally teachers from the UK – helped kick-start the craft beer scene in Hong Kong. They started brewing at home for friends and family and then set up a brewery. They also now have a beer shack on Lamma Island where they spread the word to expats and Chinese tourists alike.

If you would like to nominate your country for this series, please get in touch with Shawn Lim.

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