The Man Behind Hong Kongs Infamous ‘Tennis Training’ Posters


Johnny Kwan, the Man Behind Hong Kong’s ‘Tennis Training’ Posters

Walk down any road in the heart of Soho, Central, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay, and Sai Ying Pun and you are bound to see an A4 piece of paper that will look instantly recognisable to any Hong Konger who has lived in the city in the past 10 years.

Plastered on abandoned shops, store front shutters, and white space beside old buildings, white A4 posters reading “Tennis Training 2540-8333" have been taped and seen all over the city since the early 2010s, advertising the training services of tennis coach, Johnny Kwan.

The Beat Asia was granted an exclusive interview with Johnny Kwan to learn about the man behind Hong Kong’s “Tennis Training” posters, his passion for tennis, the secrets of his ingenious marketing strategy, and why he has posted over 100,000 posters around the city in the name of business.

Johnny Kwan, 56, is a born-and-bred Hong Konger who has worked as a full-time tennis coach for over 10 years in the city. However, it was only in the early 2000s that the sport piqued his interest.

At an early age, due to a steady focus on academics and schoolwork, sports never came naturally to Johnny. “My ball sense [in school] was poor. I was very short. None of my friends [thought] that my physical education can get a passing grade. My sports performance was close to failing,” Johnny told The Beat Asia, recollecting on his childhood years.

After Johnny finished his studies of sociology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University, he decided to become a private academic tutor. With his new career, tutoring allowed him a flexible schedule and space to learn new things. “Because the class time is extremely flexible, and it is known that well-disciplined sports can improve one's vitality and concentration, so I go cycling and sailing whenever I have free time.”

In 2006, nearing the age of 40 years old and with a passion for sports and exercise, Johnny enrolled in a basic tennis training course that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) was offering in the city.

“I joined the course,” Johnny explained, “because I had learned a lot of mathematical theory before. The mathematical principles are exactly the same as the basic tennis theory. It was invented by the French and popularized by the English. In the world, it is a fair competition. This kind of exercise suits my body shape and personality.”

During his training in the LCSD program, Johnny quit his academic tutor position and began concentrating on training and “enlightening” his own methods.

Following a switch in profession, Johnny saw potential for a career in private tennis coaching throughout Hong Kong, working with young and old Hong Kongers to hone their ball skills and practice on the court.

Advertising his services was the next step to growing his new (tennis) shoes.

Johnny began sticking up posters around Hong Kong in 2004 to help “a friend passionate about tennis” and offer his tennis coaching services. At the same time as his friend quit his day job to coach, Johnny began offering lessons to “elite students” in his new career switch.

“Over 10 years ago, there [were] few electronic advertising media [platforms as compared to today,” Johnny told The Beat Asia. “I think that street posters advertising is a direct and quick way to [reach] my potential clients in a target zone.”

The poster, designed by Johnny himself, was, and still is, simple. “I did not want it to be colourful, only using black and white. I personally believe simple is a better concept. It is better to simplify something confusing. Don't be too imaginative, do what you want to do, while you are still young, and don't delay!”

The A4 poster reads “TENNIS TRAINING” in a simple, bold, black font with his phone number - 2540-8333 – written on the third line. Occasionally, posters will include scribbled Chinese or Hindi characters to attract a wider range of customers, typically reading “private tennis coaching,” “can use English in training,” and “youth tennis study.”

Posters would be put up on temporary construction structures or shuttered stores. Johnny would tape that back and stick them up in high locations using a retractable stick.

“I think that a habit is important for [posting], I do it three times per week. Mostly, the [posters] get put up on vacant shops at Sheung Wan, Wan Chai, Tin Hau, Central, Happy Valley, Causeway Bay.”

“The vacant shops are the useful places for touching eye contact of my potential clients.”

“Setting a target is vital for success,” Johnny said, in reference to his business of coaching and poster advertising. “I usually [post] at least 100 posters each time [I leave] for training. Persistence, consistency, and patience are the key to success.”

The fact that many of you reading this story find the poster instantly recognisable is due to Johnny’s tenacity to plaster the whole of north Hong Kong Island with his simple, yet eye-catching ad.

“In the theory of mathematics, the law of large numbers was inspired by this principle [of street advertising]. The more you do and practice, the expected value will become greater. Accumulation accompanying with success.”

Johnny estimates that since the early-2010s, he has posted over 100,000 posters. “Now, I post less, but I still keep going on."

In a final comment in the interview, Johnny pointed out that the "Roman empire [was] not built up within one day. Perseverance is a major key in success, pacing on step by step."

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