Holidays ‘hijacked’ by ads on Facebook, Greenpeace study claims

Social analytics scan of local public posts around festive periods show large proportion involve sales promotions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 11:08am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 June, 2017, 11:20am

Major holidays in Hong Kong are being “hijacked” by advertisements and sales promotions on Facebook, according to a study by an environmental group concerned about consumerism, overconsumption and waste.

Greenpeace East Asia employed a social analytics service to scan all local public posts on the city’s most used social media platform in the week up to and after Christmas, Lunar New Year, Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day last year.

It found that up to three-quarters of public posts made during these periods were some sort of soft-sell sales promotion.

Most of these advertisements used subtle or casual approaches, such as telling a relatable story to appeal to prospective customers and attempting to use feelings such as love, warmth, filial piety, happiness and gratitude to prod people into thinking they must buy gifts for loved ones out of duty, said campaigner Walton Li, who led the research.

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“The five main holidays are basically hijacked by advertising,” Li said, adding that most of the messages often mentioned a discount or sale.

He urged the public to consider less material-based gift-giving and look into simpler ways of celebrating holidays to reduce needless purchases and reduce waste.

According to the analysis, sales promotions made up a third of Facebook posts with high social media interaction – such as likes, comments and shares – that had keywords related to Lunar New Year. They made up about half of all posts related to Christmas during the festive season.

The subtle messaging was even more serious on Valentine’s Day, with three-quarters of all public posts involving a sales pitch. The ratio was 67 per cent on Mother’s Day and 65 per cent on Father’s Day.

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Greenpeace argued that excessive consumption would be exacerbated as more people did their shopping online and targeted advertising got more sophisticated. The line between commercial advertising and public posts by celebrities and “key opinion leaders” was also becoming increasingly blurred, the group said.

Consumerism in the city has come under the spotlight recently in similar studies. One published by the Wofoo Social Enterprise last week found 57 per cent of adults in Hong Kong to be compulsive hoarders, with 11 per cent of respondents ­displaying compulsive shopping behaviour.

A separate recent survey, also by Greenpeace, found Hong Kong to be the most shopaholic and wasteful city by a significant margin when compared to cities in Taiwan, mainland China, Italy and Germany.

Two-thirds of Hong Kong consumers said they had more clothes than they needed, while half owned unworn items that still had the tag on. About 43 per cent of Hongkongers also admitted spending more than they could afford on clothes.