Blue and white lanterns, similar to funeral laterns (inset), are seen in an advertisement. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong
Blue and white lanterns, similar to funeral laterns (inset), are seen in an advertisement. Photo: Airport Authority Hong Kong

Blame it on the late mid-autumn (“Zhongqiu”) festival – which will be celebrated on October 4 this year, instead of in September, because of an intercalary month in July – but some advertisements intended for the moon festival period seem distinctly more Halloween-themed this time round.

The latest advertisement from Hong Kong’s Airport Authority is one such that seems to get things mixed up, irking traditionalists ahead of their planned family get-togethers.

In an attempt to market a special discounted fare program, the quasi-governmental organization used blue and white lanterns – similar to what one expects to see at a funeral. In Chinese culture, only red lanterns are meant to be used for happy occasions, such as weddings and new year celebrations.

Worse still, the ad used a homonym for “festival” and “discount” in its slogan that also happens to mean “shortened life.”

Holy moly! Some netizens were not happy. One said sarcastically that the Airport Authority intended to reunite us with our deceased relatives rather than our living ones, while another noted that his mom would kill him if he brought lanterns to the mid-autumn family dinner.

Others pointed out that the lanterns in question were “tiffany blue,” not the traditional dark blue used at funerals.

In the wake of the ad’s poor reception, the Airport Authority quickly removed it from its official homepage.

Unfortunately, there were others. Kee Wah Bakery also put up a printed ad that also seemed more appropriate for a funeral than the moon festival – at least according to Horace Chin Wan-kan, a former assistant professor at the Department of Chinese of the Lingnan University, in an article for Stand News.

Eric Tsang (left) and Annie Liu (right). Photo: Kee Wah Bakery

In the ad, TV star Eric Tsang holds what looks like manjusaka, a type of flower that symbolizes that a person is nearing the end of his life and on his way to Nirvana. The flower is often seen at Japanese funerals.

The same ad also had Taiwanese TV star Annie Liu hold an oiled-paper umbrella, with both characters dressed in colors suggestive of mourning. According to traditional Chinese culture, oiled-paper umbrellas aren’t much use in Autumn, given the dry weather – unless they’re being used for leading spirits to hell.

What the hell, indeed. It seems rather unlikely that the 79-year-old bakery firm, famed for its mooncakes, would want to signify to its customers that death is within the reach. Such a message would definitely put Kee Wah at a disadvantage ahead of its most lucrative festival of the year.

No, the only explanation is that advertisers have had one eye on the Halloween season all along. It’s all about timing.

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