Branding Hong Kong: Charting the City's History
Can you sum up our SAR in a symbol? We examine its evolving logos.
Hong Kong has always been one-of-a-kind: The culture, the history and the diversity have helped shape it into an incomparable city. So how do you sell that to the rest of the world?
With a logo, apparently. Our government started working on a new logo for the city shortly after the handover in 1997. It needed an image that would reinforce the city’s international image at a time when all eyes were on the brand new SAR, something that would allay fears of immediate integration into mainland China. “At that time, much attention was focused on the return of Hong Kong to China and it was the ideal time to shape a visionary, unique identity for Hong Kong,” says Brett Free, Deputy Director of Information Services for the government.
In 2001 they came up with the slogan “Asia’s World City” and a logo—a flying dragon made up of the Chinese characters for Hong Kong (香港), while also incorporating the letters “HK” (Can’t see it? It helps if you squint and turn your head sideways. Kind of). “It was intended to represent Hong Kong’s continuing link with an historical and cultural icon. At the same time, the modern rendering of the ‘flying dragon’ also symbolizes the meeting of East and West that is a defining characteristic of Hong Kong,” says Free. The cost of this exercise? $9 million.
In 2010 the logo got a controversial revamp, initiated by then-Chief Executive Donald Tsang. The visual identity was given “a more contemporary look while maintaining the virtues of the original dragon logo” says the government. How? With the addition of three colorful ribbons to the logo. The blue and green ones symbolize blue sky and a sustainable environment, while the red one is a silhouette of Lion Rock, representing the “can-do” spirit of Hong Kong people.
How much to design, develop and add those three ribbons? An additional $1.4 million of taxpayers’ money, a sum widely criticized as a waste of cash. While Free believes it was money well spent, the question remains: Does this logo capture the spirit of Hong Kong?
We’re not sure if one symbol can actually represent an entire city, which is why we’ve taken a closer look into some of the city’s most visible logos: The branding that’s evolved with the years—and the logos that have never changed.
The Brand: Its current woes notwithstanding, this broadcaster has been in Hong Kong for more than half a century. Originally named Rediffusion TV, Asia Television (ATV) was Hong Kong’s very first TV channel, as well as the first Chinese-language channel in the entire world. Even though the company has been in turmoil in recent years and its future is uncertain, there really was a time when they produced quality programs instead of running old shows on loop...
The Logo: A total of five logos have graced TV screens in the past 59 years. The company started off in 1957 with a ball of exploding electromagnetic radiation, representing how information was quickly transmitted. The channel went free from 1973 onward, commemorated with a new rectangular logo that looked (sort of) like a TV.
In 1982 the company changed its name to ATV, with Chinese and English channels renamed “ATV Gold” and “ATV Diamond” respectively (see? It’s not just a mainland thing). To match the names, the company’s logo was changed to a Chinese coin. Luckily that didn’t last long, and the logo was changed into the iconic loop in 1988, when new owners Lim Por-yen and the New World Group took over. This classic logo was used for 20 years, until it was changed again (thanks to yet another new owner) in 2007. This time the logo was inspired by the letter A and the infinity symbol, intended to represent Asia and its infinite creativity.
What of the future of ATV? Jeff Wong, senior manager (PR & publicity) at ATV, tells us that the company is coming up with another new logo which will be unveiled shortly. This is to complement the new direction of the company (again, it has a new owner), given that its broadcasting license will expire in April this year. “It’s not like the company is going to close down,” says Wong. “We have already submitted our application for a new free-to-air TV license, and we are planning to develop a satellite TV channel, as well as going digital.”
The Brand: The flag carrier of Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific has long been a symbol of the city to international travelers. Celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the airline has become the third largest in the world.
The Logo: The first logo was a globe showing a map of Asia, symbolizing the carrier’s coverage. Bought by the Swire Group two years after it was founded, for a long time the carrier used the Swire logo to accompany the name “Cathay” on their planes, alongside a simple green-and-white-stripe livery. Not until 1994 did the brand introduce the now-iconic “brushwing” design. “The brushwing suggests a bird in flight, and the use of a calligraphic brush-stroke showed Cathay Pacific’s roots in Hong Kong,” says Ruaraidh Smeaton, Manager (Brand) at Cathay Pacific. In 2014 the airline had yet another revamp, ditching the corporate green and red background and setting the wing free. “Centered around our timeless brushwing icon, we sought to simplify, clarify and beautify. The brushwing no longer sits constrained inside a box, and has been gently harmonized and set free,” Smeaton adds.
The Brand: Vitasoy started out making soy milk for those who couldn’t afford actual milk in the 40s, and grew into the city’s beverage giant. It makes a huge number of signature Hong Kong drinks, including their famous lemon and chrysanthemum teas. The brand also popularized soy milk in the west, bringing Hong Kong flavors to Europe and America since the 70s.
The Logo: For the past 76 years, Vitasoy has used a logo stylized from the Chinese name of the brand. There have been subtle changes to do with how the strokes of the Chinese characters link together, but the overall look and feel has remained the same, even after a major revamp of the brand in 2008.
The Brand: This home-grown underwear brand dates back to the heydays of textile manufacturing in Hong Kong, when the city was full of factories and “Made in Hong Kong” garments spread across the world. The manufacturing industry may have moved to the mainland, but this brand continues as a household name for quality undergarments.
The Logo: The backstory of the brand began in the 50s in socially unstable times, when the Chun Au Knitting Factory wanted to bring a little warmth to the poor of Hong Kong. They used a painting of three adorable little chicks to show what the brand wanted to bring to society: one pecking at the grains on the ground to symbolize warmth and prosperity, one calmly sitting down to symbolize peacefulness and quality of life—and one looking up, hoping for a better future. The brand’s logo has been evolving ever since, with the latest version launched in 2013 in time for the company’s 60th anniversary. The new design is a single piece of thread in a soothing, modern green—but the chick is still looking up towards a better future for all.
The Brand: When we talk about Hong Kong history, you can’t miss this banking giant. The bank rose to lead Asian finance by the early 1900s: It operated across China, was the first bank in Thailand and helped set up the banking sector in Britain’s Asian colonies. The bank continues to play an important role in the city’s financial sector, despite moving its global headquarters from Hong Kong to London just before the handover.
The Logo: The current hexagon logo was created in 1983, just in time for the bank’s international expansion. Before that the bank used a more complex coat of arms, with an illustration of trading ships in the harbor—the opium ships it once handled perhaps, which could be the reason for the redesign. You can still see the crest on old HSBC bank notes, which are rarer but still circulate. The current logo, designed by world-renowned designer Henry Steiner, was a development from the bank’s house flag, a variant of the Scottish cross of St. Andrew. HSBC says the logo resembles a red hourglass, as well as a tangram puzzle, which is intended to symbolize versatility and diversity.
The Brand: You haven’t been to Hong Kong if you haven’t taken a ride on the Star Ferry. And you’re not a Hongkonger if you haven’t debated whether it’s worth paying the extra 50 cents not to smell the diesel engines. Founded by Dorabjee Naorojee, the Star Ferry was one of the very first forms of public transportation in Hong Kong, and has served the city for more than a century.
The Logo: The three-colored Star Ferry logo has been used since the very beginning. It symbolizes a dancing star in the harbor, with the blue representing the sea and the red representing the dawn. The star in the middle? That’s the shining, energetic Star Ferry, of course. But that’s not all. Naorojee was a Parsee, and the five-pointed star is said to be a symbol of his Zoroastrian faith: The same star that guided the wise men to Jesus.
Of course, we couldn’t miss out on the one and only. The iconic, the very much aesthetically pleasing, the logo of all logos: ours! With 25 years of history, HK Magazine has been the best thing in Hong Kong since 1991 (we never said we were humble). Throughout the years, our logo has changed, evolving from a more boxy 90s style into a more modern look. Well, we like it, anyway.