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A tram bears the logo “Hong Kong - Asia’s World City”. Photo: SCMP / Nora Tam

‘Asia’s World City’: how did Hong Kong get its iconic label?

  • In 2001, the city had returned to Chinese rule and was struggling to craft a new narrative and sense of place in the world based on ‘enduring truths’
  • Branding experts behind the phrase recount their experience creating a logo that has come to represent Hong Kong in the past two decades
Hong Kong

The logo of a fiery red dragon, emblazoned with the name of the city and a bold declaration “Asia’s World City”, has come to represent Hong Kong in the past two decades.

What’s behind its longevity, and what were the sources of inspiration for the branding experts involved in the effort to encapsulate Hong Kong’s identity in 2001?

Peter Knapp, global chairman of branding specialist Landor & Fitch, said the first phase began with an examination of the city’s story and place in the world. “I think the research was really important, that it was not only done within Hong Kong and the region, but also internationally.”

The logo is seen on a Cathay Pacific passenger plane. File photo: AFP

Knapp recalled his team surveyed local stakeholders and audiences around the world to find out the attributes best suited to the city, before they started refining ideas and testing them.

“The intention of destination branding is telling … positive stories that really are based on authentic truth,” he said. “We’re not here to create a fantasy. We’re here to put a spotlight onto things that are really good and make sure that everyone understands those and sees those clearly.”

Among those attributes gleaned from the global survey were “enterprising, innovative, diverse, and cosmopolitan”, according to a government document detailing the “Brand Hong Kong” initiative.

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The firm’s president for the Asia and Pacific region Jonathan Cummings, who also worked on the project in 2001, recalled that the former British colony was at the time also struggling to position itself, having returned to Chinese rule just four years earlier.

“What is it? It’s not a country … There’s this whole SAR term that was slightly undefined and new to people,” Cummings recalled, referring to the city’s status as China’s Special Administrative Region. “So the government felt that there was a need to … create a platform that really pulled together the kind of core strengths of Hong Kong.”

The trick was about finding a connection that would resonate with people, he said, while at the same time providing sufficient uniqueness for Hong Kong to differentiate itself.

A “Brand Hong Kong” logo is seen on a digital signboard on top of the Queensway Government Offices in Admiralty. Photo: Edmond So

Cummings said they wanted to put Hong Kong on a par with cities like London and New York, but also highlight that the difference was its location in Asia – and so the phrase “Asia’s World City” was born.

The red dragon on the logo represented other aspects of Hong Kong, according to Knapp.

“The dragon represents energy, dynamism and all those other things which very much were a symbol of entrepreneurialism and the liveliness and the colour of Hong Kong itself,” he said.

But the Chinese mythical creature was also crafted in a way to remind people of English typography.

“You’ve got the counterpoint between the modernity of the typography and the more cultural, more traditional look of the symbol of the dragon,” he said, adding that it was also about “East meets West”.

Asian expats still see Hong Kong as a ‘land of opportunities’

Apart from the need to base the brand of a place on “enduring authentic truths”, Knapp alluded to another must-have ingredient, saying that even though the audience was overseas, the views of those living in the city were not to be ignored.

“It had to have a global sense of magnetism to it. But also, the other important thing is that this wouldn’t have worked unless it is embraced by Hong Kong itself, by its residents, by its business population,” he said.

“Had it been rejected internally, it would never have gained the traction and the fame that it did. It had to be known and loved internally in order to then be celebrated externally.”