Milking nostalgia at the MTR

With Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway being just a touch over 30 years old and the trains running just as smoothly as the opening day back in 1979, one might think that a feeling of nostalgia for the old days would be hard to find among residents of the city. However the MTR Corporation begs to differ: if advertising heavily on television doesn’t set them apart from other railway operators, then milking a nostalgia for the past will.

The first advert I found is titled “Please Excuse Us” and dates from 2010, and aims to convince residents that disruption to their everyday lives is a necessary part of the MTR Corporation building a better railway system – their tagline is “Hong Kong’s railway caring for your new journeys”.

Stepping through the commercial, the scenes are as follows:

  • 1976-79: with the first stage of the MTR underway, “Auntie Wong” is on a shopping trip and steps in mud because of cut and cover tunnelling works, and misses out on a sale because of a road closure.
  • 1981-1984: constructing the MTR Island Line, the future “Dr Lee” is late to school because of a footpath closure and works crews.
  • 1994-1996: now on to the Airport Railway, “Mr Ho” has to take the long way back to work after lunch because of a road closure.
  • 1996-1997: “Mr Cheung” is sitting in his restaurant with only one customer dining, because the street outside is blocked by MTR hordings.
  • 2010- : “Baby Tak” is held by his mother outside a MTR construction site
  • Close: the characters today, superimposed beside their their younger selves.

The footage appears to be a mix of historical films and material shot specially for the commercial, with a few appropriate period touches slipped in, such as MTR logos from years gone by, and a mailbox marked with the Royal Arms of the Hong Kong Post Office.


The second commercial I found dates from 2007, and was produced to mark the merger of Hong Kong’s two railway companies: the MTR Corporation and KCRC. The main feature here is the song “Growing Up With Me” (陪我長大) by Cantopop singer and actress Joey Yung (容祖兒), describing how Hong Kong’s railway network grew up beside her.

The opening scene of this commercial is a cartoon version of a diesel hauled KCR train passing through the countryside, with a young Joey looking amazed when a sleek Metro Cammel EMU arrives into the platform for the first time. Fast forward a few years, and a slightly older Joey is now taking a KCR train to school, and then to university, shopping, and nights out with friends.

The closing scene is the main song and dance number, with Joey stepping off a combined MTR and KCR train with her extended family, followed by dancers in MTR uniforms moving blocks around a giant railway network map, and closing with a young girl making a cats cradle with MTR line coloured string. Could they cram any more railway iconography into a 60 second long piece of choreography?

If writing a song for a 1 minute commercial was not enough, a full length version of the song “Growing Up With Me” (陪我長大) was also produced and featured on her 2007 album “Glow”, with the music video featuring singing her singing the song while wandering along an MTR train.

With the MTR Corporation producing commercials such the ones I have just shown you, once can see the high regard that the railway operator is held among Hong Kong residents, or at least their influence on the public. I find it difficult enough thinking of any Australian popstar willing to appear in a television commercial promoting a public transport operator, let along someone who would releasing a full length song espousing their virtues.

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