Hong Kong ex-pats living in Australia have called out a new ad campaign promoting Aussie tourism to the Chinese-controlled island, saying it ignores systemic human rights abuses.
Yesterday, a trio of spots dropped starring ex-Wallaby Nick ‘Honey Badger’ Cummins and his adventures in Hong Kong. The ads are for the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). You can read B&T’s original reporting HERE.
The ads have now caught the ire of former Hong Kong residents living in Australia who believe they trivialise the province’s human rights abuses, the pro-Beijing government’s crackdown on pro-democracy leaders, media censorship and the jailing of political dissenters.
The ads are the work of Sydney-based agency Always Human. B&T has contacted the agency for comment, however had not received a reply prior to publication.
Cummins has not spoken publicly on the ads or controversy.
The ads were first called out by Jane Poon, a former magazine editor who now lives in Melbourne and runs the Australia-Hong Kong Link.
“What he is doing is endorsing a government that is violating human rights,” Poon told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“The people of the city are actually struggling because of what the government is doing. By taking these jobs celebrities are endorsing a government that is condemned by the international community,” Poon added.
Ted Hui, a former Hong Kong legislator now living in Australia, added: “I have sympathy for those businesses, especially the small businesses. But the ads are treating Hong Kong as if nothing has happened.
“It’s not business as usual at all. It’s a very depressing situation Hong Kong is experiencing,” he said.
Hui did add that, as an athlete and TV celebrity, it probably wasn’t Cummins’ job to speak out politically but said it was “disappointing to see anyone being a part of Beijing’s or the Hong Kong regime’s propaganda”.
The ads are part of a campaign by the HKTB to promote tourism post-COVID and were reportedly filmed prior to the pandemic back in 2020.
Other critics of the ads have noted that they feature places and restaurants that have since closed due to COVID restrictions that caused tourism and foot traffic to grind to a halt.
The Cummins campaign is scheduled to run between October 5 and November 28. It also follows a recent out of home campaign that featured in Sydney and Melbourne from the Hong Kong government declaring a “new era” of “stability, prosperity and opportunity” for the global financial hub and the 25th anniversary of Britain’s handover of the city to Beijing.
When they first appeared, the billboards sparked a backlash from Australia’s Hong Kong diaspora.
Local community groups petitioned to have the billboards removed arguing the messaging contravened Ad Standards’ own code of ethics.
In mid-August, even Greens leader Adam Bandt called for the billboards to be taken down.
Bandt tweeted at the time: “Disturbed to see a billboard in my electorate glorifying Hong Kong’s supposed ‘new era’ after the brutal crackdown on democracy activists and civil society.”
It’s understood that Ad Standards did not act on the complaints.
Commenting on the Cummins’ ads, director of the Hong Kong Tourism Board Australia and New Zealand, Karen Macmillan, said in a release to B&T: “The video series shows the incredible variety of experiences you can do in Hong Kong and really captures its distinctly East meets West vibe.
“Nick was the perfect person for this campaign – not only because of his long-standing relationship with Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Sevens, but his infectious larrikin persona and adventurous spirit made him an obvious choice to bring the stories of some of our own local legends to life. This campaign is the ideal entrée for Aussies tuning into the return of the Hong Kong Sevens from 4-6 November following a couple of years of Covid cancellations.”
CEO of Always Human, Josh White, said of the work, “We had a lot of fun producing this campaign for the Hong Kong Tourism Board. Aussies have been craving to get back to Hong Kong, and what better inspiration than having the Honey Badger bringing to life the magnitude of different experiences you can have there.”