Good Work, Bad Life? Demystifying the Glamour of Creative Labor in Advertising Industry

Grant Data
Project Title
Good Work, Bad Life? Demystifying the Glamour of Creative Labor in Advertising Industry
Principal Investigator
Dr Tse, Ho Lun Tommy   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
Cultural and creative industries, Creative work conditions, Creative industries policy, Ethnographic research, Advertising, Sociology of labor
Sociology,Cultural Studies / Cultural Policy
Block Grant Earmarked for Research (104)
HKU Project Code
Grant Type
Seed Fund for Basic Research
Funding Year
The cultural and creative industries (CCI) have been contributing enormously to the economic growth of today’s globalized economy. In Hong Kong, CCI consist of eleven component domains: art, antiques and crafts; cultural education and library, archive and museum services; performing arts; film, video and music; television and radio; publishing; software, computer games and interactive media; design; architecture; advertising; and amusement services (""Hong Kong Monthly Digest of Statistics"" 2014: FB3). CCI have shown the highest growth rate in their contribution to GDP among the six designated industries in Hong Kong (from 3.8% in 2008 to 4.9% in 2012), and a comparatively higher rate of employment than that of the other industries (""Four Pillars and Six Industries in Hong Kong: Review and Outlook"" 2015). A global expansion of ""knowledge economy"" has constantly emphasized ""human creativity as the ultimate inexhaustible source of growth"" (Menger 2006:801; as cited in Hesmondhalgh & Baker 2011:3). Similarly, CCI’s role as a vital economic force has been emphasized in Hong Kong’s policy addresses since 1999; in the same year, the city’s first large-scale investment in cultural infrastructure was launched, the West Kowloon Cultural District project, which was aimed at shaping the district into a creative hub (""Cultural Policy"" 2015). Bolstered by such initiatives, the growth rate of CCI reached a peak in 2012, a year in which their contribution to GDP marked HK$9.78 billion, an increase by 9.2% from the previous year. CCI’s current annual growth stands at 9.4%, which is considerably higher than the general growth rate of 5.6%. Moreover, CCI provide approximately 200,000 jobs ranging from the media, fashion to animation industry. In this light, CCI in Hong Kong presumably holds a promising future with a continuing potential for economic growth and employment opportunities, thereby attracting young and educated individuals to enter the creative field. However, actual conditions facing creative workers are in contradiction with the ideological optimism. As noted by the cultural industries scholars Hesmondhalgh and Baker (2010: 18), a vast proportion of CCI workers in fact struggle with the amount and quality of work, an uneasy reality in contrast with the popular positive image of the industries. These problems usually spring from workers’ perception of ""self-exploitation"", a blurring of work and leisure, feelings of isolation and anxiety, and a lack of solidarity, autonomy, job security and social recognition (Gill 2002; Ross 2003; Ngai, Chan and Yuen 2014; Chan, Krainer, Diehl, Terlutter & Huang 2015; Tse 2015). Miege also highlighted that CCI are particularly vulnerable to technological and organisational changes (Miege 1989; as cited in Hesmondhalgh & Baker 2010: 6). To arrive at a qualitative understanding of the industries’ significance in the evolving global market, Miege selected specific forms of media according to their ""models of production"". In line with this approach, the proposed research selects one form of traditional media – advertising – (and its three branches: ""4As"", ""2As"" and freelance) that is of particular significance to Hong Kong in terms of its influence in ""regionally scaled markets"" and relevance to the local demographics of the workforce (""Baseline Study on Hong Kong's Creative Industries"", 2003). Ultimately, the proposed research intends to uncover the reality of CCI in Hong Kong. Riding on the Principal Investigator’s rich work and research experience in the industries, this project will (i) provide ethnographic studies on creative laborers’ work conditions in Hong Kong and (ii) critically examine the favourability and problems facing CCI in Hong Kong. By focusing on the selected industry – advertising – in conjunction with qualitative research methods such as ethnography and in-depth interviews, this study will engender critical and authentic viewpoints/pers