Phone firm coy on 'gay' adverts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 March, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 March, 2001, 12:00am

Phone company Sunday has launched an advertising campaign charged with gay sexual innuendo in what appears to be Hong Kong's first major attempt to target the 'pink dollar'.

The company has refused to come out of the closet over its adverts, saying they are not meant to be overtly homosexual. But observers said the gay message was clear and could point to a maturing of the territory's consumer market.

A press advertisement for Sunday's new discount call rate shows three men in revealing dress, one of them kneeling, beside the words: 'You can't miss this opportunity.' The Chinese character for 'opportunity' is pronounced 'gay', and has the same meaning in Cantonese as in English.

The advert also urges customers to be 'happy together', borrowing from the title of the well-known gay film directed by Wong Kar-wai. A Sunday television commercial has a similar theme.

Jeffrey Yu Pui-man, chairman of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of Hong Kong, said the value of the 'pink dollar' or 'pink pound' had been well recognised in the West, where many advertisers focused on gays.

'Here it's relatively new, especially in a public medium, but if you remember a few years ago in the States, even Ikea was developing campaigns particularly aimed at the gay community,' Mr Yu said. 'This is a very good way of testing how tolerant the public is of this kind of message, and recognising that there is a gay community here.'

Sunday made headlines last year with an advertisement showing a taxi driver being visited by a ghost. Parents complained it was giving their children nightmares.

Mr Yu said this may be a similar attempt to stir up public debate. 'They just want to shock people and arouse controversy. The more controversy the better,' he said.

'I think they'll soon be hearing from the teachers' associations or whatever - there will be definite concerns, but if the TV stations are putting it on they must have considered that, so it's very difficult to know what the public response will be.'

Gay group Rainbow Hong Kong welcomed the advertisement, saying that while Calvin Klein, Ikea and furniture shop G. O. D. had targeted gays before, the Sunday campaign was more expressive.

'I'm glad to see it,' executive officer Noel Chen said. 'Hong Kong has taken longer than the West to catch on to the idea of the pink dollar. Gay people often have both partners working and they usually don't have children, so they have money to spend.'

Sunday spokesman Mark Chan said the advertisement was not explicit about whether the men featured were gay. 'We haven't said they are or they aren't, so we let the audience think about it. Our objective is to think of an interesting story with eye-catching characters.'

Mr Chan said the advertisements were meant to portray the men involved as ancient Chinese heroes. He said heroes were represented by the number 10, and adding that to the three men made 13, the cost in cents per minute of a call with Sunday.