Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme_April2016.jpgChris Kyme continues his "Postcards from..." series and this time he asks when is stupid not stupid?
Just recently, a photographer friend and neighbour (okay, it was Gareth Brown of Blow Up in Hong Kong..plug plug..) pointed me in the direction of some, er, interesting outdoor ads he'd seen out and about.
Now I always think that the outdoor environment is often a better gauge of the health of local advertising in any market than what you encounter online or in print. Because it's out there around us every day and very visible. Or as is the case of most of what we encounter, invisible.
But Gareth drew my attention to something which was very visible and not necessarily for the right reasons. A campaign for local fashion brand called BSX shows a poster containing some of the most bizarre copy I've ever seen since I attempted to complete a leaflet brief after a night out in Wanchai, and giving new meaning to the word mad in Mad Men.
I quote: "We are looking for the bottom part of the town. We talk to many beggars. Our noses inhale attentively the misery."
Now as someone who used to go drinking with Steve Elrick, I'm no stranger to the 'bottom part of town' and whoever wrote this has been inhaling something and I'm not sure it's misery. In fact it seems to be a job description of what it's like to work in a big agencies these days. At first I wrote if off (commenting on Linked In) as an example of the general decline in the standard of English in Hong Kong (if it's supposed to still be living up to its claim as "Asia's World City") and in particular what we see seeping through in the public advertising arena.
Diesel-Jeans-ads.jpgSome expressed concurrence with my views, tut-tutting along with me, how sad it is etc. Another reader saw it another way, as just another example of advertising using nonsense copy (for it cannot be claimed to be anything but) just to draw attention to the brand. An interesting viewpoint, which brought to mind similar examples, in particular, some of the past work of Diesel Jeans, with somewhat mad crazy non-messages which were cleverly and strategically designed to appeal to mad-crazy fashionistas. "Hey, look how wacky we are!
We're just plain nuts."
BSX copy.jpgHaving visited the BSX website, I was not so sure that the copy on the ad was deliberate nonsense as a strategic approach. They seem to be standing for something (tagline 'Victory or Nothing') like the rebellion of youth etc. And it wouldn't be the first time fashion brands have used their messaging in the name of causes after all (Benetton etc), which can sometimes backfire as in 2003 when Hong Kong brand Izzue misguidedly decided to adopt Nazi WW2 propaganda and design for its promotions, and even worse, tried to defend it amidst the obviousl backlash which ensued.
So it could well be that in this case it really is just an example of clumsy poor use of English (these days we are subject to the clumsy poor use of Chinese in Hong Kong advertising as well, so no surprises there).
However, after a few days, I found myself quite liking it. Nonsense it may be, but it can't be any worse than 'Living in true colors', 'Let your child's intelligence have fun' or ' Radiate your wings', to quote some of the gems we've seen on property ads in recent years.
I'm liking it because it's not boring. Because they are trying to do or say something (although I have no idea what 'Chelosophy' is). Liking it in a way that it just started to grow on me. Liking it more than the general monotonous jungle of dull we are usually surrounded by every day. I found myself not inhaling its misery, but admiring its ballsy youthful expression.
Funny how it works sometime isn't it?

Chris Kyme is chief executive officer at Kymechow, Hong Kong


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