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A Rolls by any other name brings sweet success

Roaring into the centre of town the other day on my Honda Superhawk motorcycle, I realised that I was travelling behind a Rolls-Royce bearing a silver label stating that the car was called "Full Success".

There is nothing surprising about travelling behind a Rolls-Royce; Hong Kong has more of these cars, on a per capita basis, than anywhere. However the name, appearing where I expected to see "Silver Spirit", was unusual. The British car company seemed to be making a special accommodation for the Hong Kong market - where it is practically impossible to sell anything without suggesting that it will bring success and prestige to the prospective customer.

Checking with Spencer Lam, the general sales manager for Rolls-Royce, I discovered that the owner had indeed chosen the name. "You're so lucky to see that car", Mr Lam told me, "it's very special." Apparently Rolls- Royce customers are given whatever they ask for on their cars.

As Christmas time is the season of commerce in Hong Kong, barely sullied by religion, I freely offer this piece of intelligence to the Rolls- Royce marketing department. They should note that the lucky owner is definitely on to something which could help shift even more Rolls-Royces.

I know this because a friend of mine spent some time as an advertising copywriter and found himself putting together an advert for a luxurious German car. The manufacturers were very proud of its technological innovations and its many engineering triumphs and insisted that these featured prominently in the advertisement.

"You can't sell a car on this basis in Hong Kong", objected my friend. "Why? This is very successful in Germany," said his client. As the client is always right, an advertisement was duly produced highlighting the technological wonders of the new model, saying nothing about the immense prestige it would bestow on its owner. Sales immediately plummeted.

Hong Kong customers want to be told that if you spend a lot of money you will gain a lot of face, and they like to be reassured that the purchase will somehow put them at an advantage. One expensive brand of cognac is exclusively marketed in Hong Kong on story lines which show that the wily cognac drinker is always able to put one over on his hapless foreign business partner.

Most consumer products are sold on the basis of prestige. A brand of shirts promises executive success; a Japanese car offers the prospect of driving its purchaser to untold riches on the stock market; an apartment in a new block lets purchasers "tower" over their business rivals, and so on.

Hong Kong is often described as a money-mad, success-driven society. Like many generalisations, this one contains an element of fact. No wonder that makers of luxury goods make a beeline for the colony. At Christmas time sales of designer watches, up-market brandies and other quality products are remarkable.

The point about these goods is that they are bought because they are expensive. How else can an average wannabe tycoon show that he has already made it? Only the seriously rich can afford to relax; they have nothing to prove. Some are even seen wearing Japanese watches. Those wanting to join their ranks have to be given face by showing they are in the big league in terms of spending power.

As for me, I'm thinking of applying to Honda to see if they would agree to the renaming of my motorcycle as "Moderate Success", instead of "Superhawk". We all have to start somewhere.