How to make Hong Kong women feel insecure on their way to work

Botox adThis is by no means a scientific study of ads on Hong Kong’s subway.

In fact, it’s based on my experience of a single journey on the MTR, from Sai Ying Poon on Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and back, which took roughly 28 minutes. But I suspect that is enough time to make any vaguely self-conscious woman think about going on a crash diet or calling a cosmetic surgeon.

Now, this is a tricky one to write with any credibility. A, because I’m not a woman (though I have sometimes been confused for one). And b, because I’m not from Hong Kong. Besides, there’s sexually-charged imagery everywhere these days, and this is nothing new in Hong Kong. But having traveled all over Asia, it struck me that I have never seen such a flaunting of flesh on posters anywhere, ever.

These billboards are in the order that I saw them on my journey. None are particularly risqué. But they do offer a glimpse at the sort of advertisers that are trying to get into the heads of women in Hong Kong on their way to work.

Here’s the first ad I came across, for discounts and coupons portal Jetsoguide at Sheung Wan station, with the same approach used by a different brand right next to it.

Ad on MTR

Now here’s the same brand, same campaign, same model (but with added arm pit) at Admiralty station.

888 ad

In this moving digital poster for H&M, Beyoncé is impossible not to ogle at (and look a bit dodgy while taking this photo).

Beyonce in digital H&M billboard

Botox, girls? Dr Protalk can make you look this good.

Botox ad

Inner beauty. In a bottle of tomato juice?

Kagome tomato juice

Everywhere you look, there are women staring vacantly at commuters.


A triumph of seduction?

Beauty ad on the MTR

Don’t look like her, look like me, screams this ad for a ‘non invasive’ fat melting product.

Ad on MTR

Watching you, watching me.

MTR ad

Love on an escalator.

MTR ad

Who wants boobs like these?

Boob job ad on MTR

Now me let be clear. I am not a feminist. And I’d be lying if I said these images didn’t brighten up my day a touch. But then, I am not in the majority of commuters who ride the MTR every day.

Women make up over half of Hong Kong’s population, live on average for six years longer than men, spend more money, and tend to be better educated. So why do brands treat them like the only thing that’ll grab their attention is an unrealistic idea of how they should look?

Ads of this sort are not unusual this time of year because it is summer, and advertisers clearly seem to think that women are thinking about how they’ll look in a bikini.

Ads for botox, boob jobs and double eyelid surgery are now as common as dim sum, and I’m told they reflect a society that is too busy to go to the gym and wants short cuts to looking good. “They are taking advantage of the Honkie mentality – why be average when you can be awesome?” a female 24 year-old vet science student from Hong Kong tells me.

A 22 year-old social media executive at a big agency in Hong Kong says that she often used to “feel inadequate and insecure” on her way to work because of the ads on the MTR, which “seemed to taunt me”. But she is now so used to seeing them that she barely notices them.

Ten minutes after leaving the MTR, I could not reliably recall any of the brands behind these ads (and not just because I can’t read Cantonese yet). They all seemed to blend into one. And I’m not sure commuters are paying that much attention anyway…

Are HK commuters paying attention?

…so why not try a different tactic?

Robin Hicks


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