The Saga of Langham Hotel’s “Big Deal” viral campaign

Posted on June 1, 2009 by Comments Off

Last week I came across this post in the Dark Side Hong Kong blog about a Langham Hotel online video that I felt painted the city in a bad light.  It depicted a tourist leaving the Langham Hotel and roaming Kowloon in search of a meal, struggling to order at a local daipaidong (street food stall), being served rice porridge with a large chicken foot, and finally retreating to the hotel to munch on spring rolls in the comfort of the hotel’s restaurant. 

View the video on Youtube.

As a longtime Hong Kong resident I was disturbed by the depiction of my city as a backwards Chinese city, so I retweeted:

RT @TheDarkSideHK @ewc21 Langham Hotel viral video proves parodying street food not the way to promote a hotel.
11:35 PM May 25th from web

Subsequently the videos were withdrawn as a result of the negative Twitter response from various people:

RT @TheDarkSideHK: A pretty ‘Big Deal’ indeed! Langham vids removed:
3:46 PM May 26th from web

An article in Marketing Magazine quoted Langham Hotel explaining their reasons for pulling the campaign:

“While we’re pleased that we’ve generated discussion in the forums with the videos we’ve created, we were disappointed that the satirical tone of the videos was misunderstood in some circles. As a result of the potential to magnify the tone in a direction that was not intended, we have decided not to continue with this campaign.”

I was displeased with the perceived lack of remorse, so I tweeted a response to Marketing Magazine:

@MarketingEds “Satirical nature?” I don’t think Langham gets why their viral video is alienating people.
9:12 PM May 26th from web

But here the story takes a bit of a personal turn.  Last night I had drinks with Douglas White, a business associate and friend who runs Prosperity Research and is fairly active in Hong Kong’s social media scene.  To my chagrin I found out that his company was behind Langham’s campaign.  A long conversation ensued, where I discovered that:

  • The video I saw was the third in a series, and the fourth video was to be the payoff, where the tourist ventures out again and truly enjoys Hong Kong after her initial bout of xenophobia.
  • Doug was clearly angered and hurt by the negative response, with some of the attacks becoming fairly personal.  In one Dark Side HK post the word “douchebag” was used. He was painted as a foreigner living in Hong Kong who did not appreciate or understand it.
  • Doug wanted to respond online with a lot more detail, but was not allowed to do so by his client. 

There are some lessons here about social media campaigns that I think we can all learn from:

  • The bulk of the work in a social media campaign occurs after you release your content into the wild.  Persistent listening and vigilant responding will help steer the message.  I liken it to floating a paper boat down a river; the real work starts when you release it, you have to follow along and make sure it gets to its desired destination.  Many marketers sit back and relax once their viral video, mini-site, DM, etc. is released.
  • You cannot assume social media consumers have context.  They log in and out, catch discrete pieces of information and respond in kind.  Think first about creating viral content that is self-contained and includes all the context required, don’t break up the message for an eventual payoff.
  • First impressions count.  Anticipate the fast twitch response and design your content as if that is the only reaction you will get. 
  • Satire and humor are dangerous playmates.  Always test your content with a sample of the intended audience, not just the closed box of marketing team plus vendor.

In time we will forget about this.  I applaud Langham Hotel for their foray into digital marketing and hope this incident doesn’t scare them off future campaigns.  And I apologized to Doug.

Cathay Pacific and the Customer

Posted on May 16, 2009 by Comments Off

Cathay Pacific Cargo Boeing 747-400BCF taxis t...

As a frequent flier with Cathay Pacific, and a shareholder, I’ve always been interested in Cathay Pacific’s management.  The entire aviation industry is going through a period of turmoil, but of course it is also these interesting times that prove the mettle of leaders. 

I recently attended a breakfast where the key speaker was Tony Tyler, Cathay’s CEO.  I enjoyed his presentation, significantly enhanced by his candor and willingness to be transparent about the challenges that Cathay Pacific is facing today.

Afterwards I wrote him a simple email expressing my appreciation, and to my surprise received a reply. This impressed because CEOs usually delegate such correspondence to their customer service or PR department.  The fact that Mr. Tyler took the time to personally reply speaks volumes about Cathay’s commitment and attention to customer satisfaction.

Cathay Pacific and its subsidiaries employ over 27,000 staff worldwide.

Here is another example of his personal attention to customers.

The email is here, posted with Tony’s permission.




From: Tony Tyler
Sent: Saturday, May 16, 2009 3:00 PM
To: David Ko

Hi David,

Sorry for the slow reply, and many thanks for your kind comments.

As far as future fuel hedging strategy is concerned, here are some bullet points:

  • We WILL continue to hedge!
  • We’ll attempt to manage both volatility (smoothing out the ups and downs) and sustainability (making sure we always have at least some supply at around our breakeven price or lower).
  • We’ll take care in future to limit our exposure to unexpected and extreme changes in prices by implementing “stop loss” provisions.

So that’s the plan – but of course there’s a cost to this, which looks high at the moment!

As far as the B787 goes, it will be a very good aircraft but possibly a bit small for CX.  It’s really a replacement (greatly improved) for the B767, which we don’t have.  Another very interesting aircraft for us will be the A350, which uses similar technology but is larger. 

We are also very unwilling to be early customers of ANY aircraft type, for various good reasons.  So far, experience of early customers of A380s and B787s has validated this view!

Best wishes


>>> David Ko <> 08-05-2009 09:31 AM >>>

Mr. Tyler,

I wanted to drop you a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed your presentation yesterday.

As a Diamond member and a shareholder, I had been pondering the future of Cathay Pacific recently and thus was gratified to hear your confidence in an eventual complete recovery, even if the timing is fuzzy (as it is for all of us.)

I was also hoping to hear more details about your future fuel hedging strategy, and your thoughts on purchase of fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Boeing 787.  We didn’t get to that, but you covered a lot of other measures in place which is terrific.  While acquisition of other airlines is tough as you mentioned, I did wonder if you would consider acquisitions that relate to technology on board aircraft that improve the experience, for example companies that implement wireless broadband. 

There is no doubt that Cathay is one of the best-managed airlines in the world, owing in no small part to you, both in your current role as CEO, and previously as COO. 

I look forward to cheering you on as you continue in your current role and also as chairman of IATA.

Take care



Update (20 May):

Met a business associate for lunch today who read this post and automatically assumed I was making a business approach to Cathay Pacific.  Turns out I can’t send emails to companies and blog about it afterwards without people thinking I’m trying to win a client.  Folks I do occasionally send emails to complete strangers because I like them, not because I want their business.  :-)

Censorship for Hire in China

Posted on May 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Yesterday’s Southern City Daily (南方都市報) carried an exposé on a rising segment of China’s booming digital PR industry, deletion of negative articles and postings.  According to the article (Chinese-only online version here), organizations or individuals claiming to be PR companies are offering to delete such negative content on request, asking for fees ranging from RMB10,000 ($1280) for major portals such as and, to RMB1,000 ($128) for local web sites. 

A reporter posing as a food company approached one of these firms and was able to have negative news specific to that company deleted within a day.  The entire transaction was done over the web, with upfront cash deposited into a bank account.  The article also said that the only kind of news these companies won’t touch is anything government-related.

How do they do it?

While some firms claim they employ hackers, practitioners of this dark craft say it’s just media relations.  Portals such as and commonly carry news from mainstream news sources, so these PR firms simply ask their journalist friends in the media outlets to contact the portals and request the news items be taken down.  It’s that simple.  What’s unusual is the speed and efficiency that these firms can promise.

The article first appeared in “Legal Evening Daily” (法制晚報).

Appearances can be deceiving

Posted on April 15, 2009 by Comments Off

This doesn’t have anything to do with PR, it just made me realize what cynical people we’ve all become.  It’s rare to get a wake up call like this.

Watch Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent by clicking here.


In the 12 hours since the post above Susan Boyle has become an Internet sensation, with over 10 million views on YouTube, and right this moment she is the top trending topic on Twitter. I have watched the video a few more times since last night and it never fails to touch me.

Here’s an eloquent post about the Susan Boyle phenomenon from the Seattle PI blog.

And a comment under that post that sheds more light on Susan’s life:

Hello My name is Ann and I come from just a few miles from Susans home. I’m in Edinburgh and she is in Blackburn which is a teeny wee village on the outskirts of Bathgate. Susan lived with her parents until she sadly lost her Mum 2 years ago. they never allowed her to have boyfriends and she was a good girl and listened to them whilst others, including me, would have rebelled.
She is the talk of EVERYWHERE right now. i hope she can handle her fame and that she has plenty people looking after her and her cat Pebbles.
Go Susan!!
Do it for us plain Jane Scots lassies :)

Fewer businesses planning to hire in HK

Posted on April 14, 2009 by Comments Off

Received the Hudson Report for Q1 2009 in my inbox while I was on leave last week.  (Hudson is a recruiting agency.)

Across the region China continues to have the most positive business sentiment, but Hong Kong has become worse, with more employers planning to reduce headcount than increase it:

[Quoting from report summary]

  • Hiring expectations have fallen again this quarter. In this survey of 612 executives across key business sectors, 14% plan to increase hiring in Quarter Two (Q2) 2009, compared with 18% in Q1 2009. The proportion forecasting reduced headcount has doubled, from 11% to 22% this quarter;
  • Hiring expectations in Hong Kong are lower than in the other markets surveyed in Asia and are at their lowest since The Hudson Report started tracking the market in Q4 1998;
  • Across all sectors, 51% of respondents have implemented initiatives to cut HR-related costs in the last six months;
  • Headcount reduction and lower bonus payments are the most widely adopted cost-cutting measures;
  • Employers are still using a range of channels to find candidates, with direct recruitment and recruitment consultancies being the most popular;
  • Companies see open communication and CEO messages as the most effective ways of maintaining staff morale in tough economic conditions.

That last point is particularly critical; in tough times, communication from senior leadership needs to increase rather than decrease.

Survey of China’s PR agencies

Posted on March 31, 2009 by Comments Off

I had the privilege recently of attending this year’s first annual committee meeting of CIPRA (China International Public Relations Association) on behalf of Waggener Edstrom.  In attendance were the leaders of almost all the major PR agencies in China, which also made it an opportunity to reconnect with a few old friends.

One of the most interesting parts of the proceedings was listening to the results of the 2008 PR agency survey, comprising responses from 90 agencies operating in China.  While the actual results will be announced later by CIPRA, I found some tidbits quite interesting, for example:


  • 61 agencies out of 90 have offices in two cities or more.  Beijing remains most dominant, with Shanghai second, and Guangzhou and Chengdu at third and fourth.
  • The two largest sectors by market share were Automobile and Technology, at 15% and 14% respectively. Other sectors include FMCG (13%), Healthcare (8%), and Manufacturing (7%).
  • Emerging sectors were Digital, PA, CSR/Corporate, and Event Marketing.  Olympics-related PR also accounted for a large slice of the market in 2008, understandably.


  • Women outnumber men in the industry, at around 70%. 
  • Local agencies are by far the most numerous, as well as the largest.  The average number of staff in local agencies is 254, versus 125 for international firms. 


  • Out of 90 agencies surveyed, 66 have established digital teams.  Since 2005, every year over 10 agencies report establishing a digital practice.
  • Most common digital deliverables include: Strategic counsel, forum seeding, online news distribution, online features, blogger relations, online promotion, sentiment monitoring, SEO.

Outlook for 2009

  • Only 37% of agencies surveyed rated 2009 prospects as “good”, versus 71% in the previous year’s survey.  Of the remainder, 38% say “average”, 20% say “not very good”, 2% say “bad”. 

Obviously digital is on everyone’s minds, with the emergence of mobile computing (3G etc.) being closely watched for how that can be used as a PR channel.

Pushers and Hitters: China’s murky underworld of BBS manipulation

Posted on March 30, 2009 by Comments Off

Remember the “Make Money Fast” spam that used to clutter your inbox? We’ve sniggered at the gullibility of Internet neophytes that believe you can make money at home doing nothing but sit in front of your computer.  In China, however, being an online “pusher” or a “hitter” can indeed bring in a steady income. 

According to an 26 March article in the Southern Weekend, “forum seeding”, or “BBS flooding” (“guan xui” in Mandarin) is big business nowadays. 

Internet personalities, some using their real names but most adopting alternate personas, specialize in the black art of fomenting active, often heated discussions about any particular topic. Many initially did it for their personal enjoyment, but in recent years some have become guns-for-hire employed by companies with products or a viewpoint to push, hence the name “pushers” (“tui shou”).  With one-off fees ranging up to several hundreds of thousands in renminbi for the most well-known pushers, their success has given rise to the guan xui industry, where housewives or students with time on their hands are hired to masquerade as ordinary users and flood forums with postings with an agenda.  Over time, remunerating such work has evolved to a fine art, with each posting earning its owner one cent or more (down from five cents during the early days).  More prominent postings command more money, especially those that generate lots of follow-on discussions.  For folks with nothing better to do than linger in Internet cafes, a steady income of several hundred renminbi per month is nothing to sneeze at.

The latest fad is “hitters” (“da shou”)–hired guns that intentionally post negative comments about their client’s competitors.  While some companies draw the line at hiring hitters, restricting their BBS flooding activities to just pushers, at the end of the day the difference is purely academic.

Many PR agencies in China, especially local boutiques, have started to offer forum seeding as a part of their digital service offerings. While the ethics are questionable, the profits are clear. 

If you can read Chinese, this article is well worth a read.

Tags: , , ,

Protectionism vs. globalization

Posted on March 27, 2009 by 1 Comment

Attended an Amcham luncheon last Thursday where Hank Greenberg, former CEO of AIG, was speaking. I also took the opportunity to live-tweet an event for the first time, but quickly realized you can’t tweet and listen simultaneously very well, especially with a smart phone.

I had lunch in Beijing today with one of our clients, an industry veteran of phenomenal intelligence who shared some interesting facts about Huiyuan that made me recall one thing Greenberg said at the luncheon, that Protectionism was one of the greatest threats facing our world economy today.  Huiyuan, you will recall, is the Chinese juice giant that Coca-Cola tried unsuccessfully to acquire.  The acquisition was blocked by China’s Ministry of Commerce, citing infringement of anti-monopoly law.

My client found this odd, when you consider that Huiyuan, while founded in China, is registered in the Cayman Islands, and partly owned by, among others, investors based in Israel.  His point was that we need to look at how we define the nationality of companies these days, and whether these definitions are even relevant, when shares of many publicly traded companies operating internationally are owned by a smorgasbord of international shareholders.  If a supposedly foreign company operates in your country, abides by your local laws, employs your people, and is owned by a mix of international shareholders including your countrymen, how really foreign are they? And is it fair to your own country’s economy to block their development?

In today’s globalized world economy, protectionism or xenophobia is not just anachronistic, it’s shortsighted and self-limiting.

What I like about Twitter: Brevity. Flexibility, not so much.

Posted on March 23, 2009 by Comments Off

I often get questions from folks about what’s the point of Twitter, often with a snigger about the inanity of broadcasting what you had for lunch or what movie you’re watching right this moment.  I must admit it took me a while to actually appreciate Twitter.

Twitter appeals to me personally because of the 140-character limit.  Perhaps because I am Asian and English is my second language, I’ve always lacked the patience to wade through long verbose emails or blog posts.  Tweets that contain links to noteworthy content are great, but so are tweets that encapsulate a single idea elegantly within the confines of 140 characters.  Under this enforced brevity, Twitter itself fulfils many functions.  It’s email (direct messages), blog, and discussion forum, all in digestible bites that allow numerous streams to be tracked. I can’t follow the RSS feeds of hundreds of blogs and still have a life, but with Twitter it’s a cinch.

However, there is a problem if you want to build up a steady following on Twitter but have very broad interests: you have to be focused in your subject matter. On Twellow, the “yellow pages” of Twitter, you’re only allowed to enter your Twitter account in 10 categories.  Commonly, any spread of discrete subject matter over three topics would be regarded as too broad.  I’ve seen people experiment with more than one Twitter account, but then you run into problems with software such as Tweetdeck, as each instance of the software only works with one account. Plus you can only run one instance at a time anyway.

Perhaps what would make Twitter even better would be allowing users to have different “personas”, so that, for example, you could have one Twitter persona for discussing social media, and another one for Asian food, all managed with the same email account.  Or you could have one persona for work, and one for family and friends.  For example, Facebook does customization well, with granular control that allows you to segment different parts of your profile for different friend lists.  Still, you can only have one Facebook newsfeed and it’s still either on or off. 

I wonder if this is an oft-requested feature on Twitter?

Tags: ,

New Facebook and managing expectations

Posted on March 13, 2009 by Comments Off

As expected the majority of comments from my friends on Facebook have been negative about the new look. Since they own the platform, FB can pretty much update the site whenever they like.  Of course, the possibility of a user revolt is always there, with users voting with their feet (or mouse).  Trouble is, there aren’t that many other comparable choices except MySpace, There’s also the community aspect of Facebook that keeps users from defecting; what’s the use of going to MySpace when all your friends are on FB?

It’s how the changes are rolled out that could be causing some gripes.  A key action when managing expectations is to communicate your intentions ahead of time.  Many comments run along the lines of “Didn’t they just upgrade the site not so long ago? Why fix what’s not broken?” or, “I just got used to the new look and they’ve changed it again.”  FB may want to consider annual larger upgrades to the site, with regular cosmetic changes throughout the year. 

Personally I think the changes are relatively tame and as a matter of fact, very welcome.  For example the ability to filter the newsfeed by groups.  Given my Twitter is linked to my FB updates, I do worry that I may be bombarding friends and business associates with the minutiae of my life, which while more accepted on Twitter, may clog up their FB feeds.  I’d feel better if I knew folks in FB have control over how they view updates.

Approaching 200M users, Facebook is now in the in enviable position of possessing literally millions of locked-in mini communities that won’t leave the site en masse unless something really drastic happens.  Drastic could be for example an extended outage, or a policy change that causes a massive, visceral negative reaction. And the mistakes would have to be compounded and sustained over days or weeks to cause an exodus.  It could happen if, say there was a change of leadership or influence from a new investor, or a fundamental strategic shift in pursuit of profit.  But even a surprise change in the site’s functionality, if universally reviled, could cause problems if not reversed in time. That’s not likely with the current revamp.

Tags: ,

Newer Posts / Older Posts

← Back to