Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme_April2016.jpgIn our latest "postcard from..." series, Chris Kyme (pictured) discusses Hong Kong as an upwardly mobile city.

They wander the streets. Alive yet somehow lifeless. Seemingly programmed by a mysterious inner force, not in command of their own actions or thoughts. Like a spreading human disease, they are coming to obstruct you.

No I'm not talking about yet another Hollywood mega production on the old living dead theme, this is the world of the phone zombies! Every city has them of course. In some places, special phone zombie lanes have been set up to ensure that they can phone-stare without obstructing normal people who have places to go and things to do.
In Hong Kong it's a particular problem of course. You find yourself wandering down the street thinking 'Hm, the pedestrian traffic is particularly slow today' only to find that the street is quite empty and you have been obediently showing good manners to a girl who is so absorbed in her morning We Chat that she's switched gears to 'Snail pace' so she can walk and stare, only altering course as objects appear before her which she detects through some genetically developed radar system which has begun to evolve among this particular sub-species. I once witnessed the rather comical and seemingly choreographed scene of three young phone zombies round a corner and head down the steps of a fast food shop in perfect step and harmony without any one of them once looking up from their hand-held distractions. I was waiting for a director somewhere to yell 'Cut, let's do another take', only to realise it was a perfectly natural scene in this increasingly unnatural existence.

It can be bloody annoying of course because they get in your way when you're trying to get somewhere. But as with any other developing social traits, you learn to live with it.

But, the point of me raising it is not to have a rant (of course which I love to do), it's because it occurred to me the other day how brilliant all of this must be for advertisers who embrace the mobile channel. If practically the whole streetwalking population of a city are so absorbed in their mobiles all the time, that must mean a very captive audience. One of the old hoary chestnuts among clients when reviewing copy for ads is that, in Hong Kong at least, people don't like to read. So keep it short, to a view words. I've always believed that this is related to whether or not the copy is interesting (most of the rubbish we see polluting the daily papers being not), but whatever. In the case of mobiles, with the exception of those watching Korean dramas, if they are not reading on their mobiles what are they doing? Admiring the design?

According to Rudi Leung, founder and owner of Hungry Digital, one of Hong Kong's hottest new digital agencies, mobile is the place to be. In his words "It's powerful. Very powerful. Over 80% of the campaigns I produced were viewed via mobile, and I even purposely produce my videos to be mobile screen friendly."

According to the Hong Kong Office of Communications Authority, the official percentage of penetration among the Hong Kong public is very high at 228%.

Hong Kong boasts 16,708,098 mobile subscribers. That's a lot of people doing a lot of reading a lot of the time. Baffled as to how a city which has a population of 7.1 million can have over 16 million mobile subscribers, I needed an expert to explain, and Professor Rudi did not disappoint. "People have 2.3 mobile numbers in average. For a cab driver, probably 5. In the business world, it is very common that people have two numbers, and part of the reason is that some people get a new number is because they want to get the latest iPhone, which is usually bundled with a package with an operator."

Blimey, just how obsessed can a population be?

All of which consequently doesn't bade well for outdoor advertising, because if said subscribers are spending so much time with their heads down (which they are, annoyingly) then they're not looking up to see your nice smiley-faced new skin cream campaign.

Me? I just want to be able to walk down the street.

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