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Are Empty Billboards in Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel a Sign of an Advertising Winter or Transformation?

James Huang | 2024.06.23

Reports suggest that all the advertising billboards in Hong Kong's Cross-Harbour Tunnel are now empty. Is this an indication of an advertising downturn, or are we witnessing a fundamental transformation in the industry?

Historically, the four iconic billboards in the Cross-Harbour Tunnel commanded media costs of HKD 5 million during their peak, even fetching HKD 3 million during the 2019 protests—exclusive of creative and production costs—making them inaccessible for many brands. However, cost is secondary; what truly matters is whether the investment is justified. With HKD 5 million available for media spending today, one has a myriad of choices. How would you choose to allocate these funds?

In the past, brands often committed to thematic branding campaigns annually. The conventional formula involved heavy TV channel spots plus high-traffic outdoor advertising to launch the campaign, supplemented by additional terrestrial TV spots and high-frequency outdoor advertising as reminder channels. This combination was almost foolproof, making brand campaigns highly competitive. 

Things have changed now; even investing tens of millions in media might not yield notable engagement. Why? It all hinges on the shift in media consumption and preferences between two generations.

Back in the 1990s, during the web 1.0 era, media consumption was one-directional. Essentially, whatever content media channels fed consumers was passively received. With sufficient reach and frequency, branding campaigns stood a high chance of success, provided their messaging was decent.

However, we have reached the web 3.0 era, where user experience emphasizes co-creation. It is no longer a simple case of “you talk, I listen.” Modern consumers now seek opinions online and contribute their own. With the rise of mobile-driven media, audiences spend most of their time glued to their phones, whether commuting or walking down the street, giving little attention to outdoor advertisements. As a result, it is increasingly challenging for expensive billboards to provide returns commensurate with their costs.

Does this mean outdoor advertising is dead? Not at all. Some outdoor campaigns continue to thrive by aligning with modern audience preferences. Recent successful examples include HSBC Payme distributing $5 QR codes, HSBC erecting recruitment booths on the streets. Success now requires two key elements:

1. **Interactive Elements**: One-way messages no longer capture audience interest. Interaction and participation make brand-to-audience engagement more enjoyable.
2. **Creating Talking Points**: If a campaign can generate buzz, it encourages more people to participate, evolving brand-to-audience interactions into audience-to-audience co-creation.

Some outdoor campaign has limited “follow through” and “action to take” elements. It makes the content felt distant from the audience, lacking participation and ownership. This generation's mantra “If I'm not involved, I don't care” rings true here.

Today's generation has grown up in a digital age where media consumption has shifted from “what you feed” to “what I choose.” Brands must now focus on incorporating interactive elements in their campaigns, blending online and offline experiences to create personal, participatory, and co-created content. 

Another reason to emphasize customer participation in brand building is this generation's critical thinking skills. A mere sound bite or slogan won't sway them. Shared values are crucial. If a brand advocates for environmental sustainability, for instance, repeated engaging experiences will strengthen a customer's loyalty, far surpassing the impact of a HKD 5 million billboard.

Think about this excerpt from Marketing 6.0:

“These trends inspire businesses to provide increasingly immersive customer experiences that blur the lines between physical and digital touchpoints. By combining the advantages of offline interactions, such as multisensory experiences and human-to-human engagement, with the benefits of online experiences, including personalized interactions on a larger scale, companies can create truly immersive customer journeys.”

This shift underscores the importance of welcoming the new age of advertising, where experience and engagement trump traditional methods. It's about creating lasting impressions through shared experiences and memories, which, unlike a pricey billboard, are far more effective and enduring.

Conclusion: How Mercury Technology Solutions Can Help Navigate the New Advertising Landscape

In today's rapidly evolving digital era, traditional advertising methods like billboards and one-way media messages are becoming increasingly less effective. The shift from Web 1.0 to Web 3.0 signifies a move towards co-creation and interactive engagement, making it imperative for brands to adapt their strategies to resonate with modern audiences.

Mercury Technology Solutions is well-equipped to help businesses navigate this new advertising landscape. Here’s how we can make a difference:

#### 1. **Interactive Campaign Design**
We specialize in creating multi-channel campaigns that blend online and offline experiences. Our services include implementing interactive elements that engage modern consumers who crave participation and co-creation. By leveraging our AI and machine learning capabilities, we can design personalized, engaging campaigns that resonate with your audience and encourage active involvement.

#### 2. **Data-Driven Market Insights**
Utilizing advanced analytics, Mercury provides robust insights into consumer behavior and trends. Our AI-driven analytics can pinpoint which content and media platforms perform best, enabling us to tailor and optimize your campaigns to ensure maximum impact and ROI. This data-centric approach ensures that your marketing investments are directed effectively.

#### 3. **Enhanced Digital Marketing and SEO**
Our comprehensive digital marketing services, including SEO and SEM, ensure that your brand remains visible and relevant in the crowded digital space. We help create and execute strategies that not only draw attention but also convert interest into action and loyalty.

#### 4. **Customizable CRM Solutions**
Mercury’s CRM solutions enable you to track and manage customer interactions effectively. By understanding your customers’ needs and preferences, you can create campaigns that align with their values and expectations, fostering deeper connections and long-term loyalty.

#### 5. **Omni-Channel Strategy Implementation**
We emphasize the importance of a seamless omni-channel strategy, integrating both online and offline touchpoints to provide a holistic, immersive customer journey. By combining the strengths of physical and digital advertising, we can craft experiences that create lasting impressions and drive sustained engagement.

In a world where consumer preferences and media consumption habits are ever-changing, Mercury Technology Solutions stands as your partner in innovation. Together, we can build strategies that not only meet the demands of today’s market but also anticipate and adapt to future trends. Embrace the new age of advertising with Mercury, where experience and engagement are key to enduring success.

Are Empty Billboards in Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbour Tunnel a Sign of an Advertising Winter or Transformation?
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