Staff Reporters
May 15, 2024

Asia-Pacific Power List 2024: Edward Bell, Cathay Pacific

Soaring to new heights, Bell has navigated the turbulence of the past year with finesse. With a return to profits and brand awareness scores climbing by 16%, the airline's ascent is undeniable.

Asia-Pacific Power List 2024: Edward Bell, Cathay Pacific
Asia-Pacific’s 50 most influential and purposeful marketers

Edward Bell 

General manager, brand, insights and marketing communications
Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong
Member since 2023

Edward Bell has been on a whirlwind journey this past year. Hong Kong’s beleaguered flagship carrier, Cathay Pacific, finally managed to shake off the lingering effects of the pandemic, reporting record operating profits.

The numbers speak volumes: operating income more than tripled to HK$15.1 billion ($2.57 billion) in 2023, signalling a robust resurgence from the pandemic-induced slump. The revival bested the previous record of HK$14.1 billion in 2010. It also marks Cathay’s first net profit in three years, with a commendable HK$9.8 billion in net income.

Yet, Cathay's comeback extends beyond the fiscal milestone. It's a testament to Bell's proactive approach to reputation management, especially in the aftermath of the May 2023 discrimination scandal that rocked the carrier and invited the ire of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Hong Kong.

This setback spurred Cathay to rebuild consumer relationships and revamp its brand through new campaigns and projects. Bell’s agency partners, VCCP Singapore and Publicis, have rolled out a string of engaging campaigns this year that speak directly to the needs and desires of their customers.

Take, for instance, the latest rebranding of its cargo business or the captivating brand campaign, 'Feels good to move’. This global rollout, Cathay’s first in over three years, spans over 25 markets worldwide, from Southeast Asia to the Americas, capturing the carrier’s spirit of movement.

KPIs around the effort weren’t solely about sales triggers. With flyers getting younger, the brand wanted to move beyond its established image to strike an emotional chord in a savvy strategy to engage Gen Zs. "It's all about forging an emotional connection, leaving a lasting brand impact," Bell told Campaign at the time.

In line with these KPIs, the campaign adopted a unique storytelling style—a 360-degree shift from the polished approach that digital natives find hard to relate to. In an ode to spontaneity, it celebrated the raw and the every day through fleeting experiences and sharp snippets of mundane moments seamlessly blending into a film.

And the impact was tangible—H1 earnings of HK$4.26 billion and nearly pre-pandemic air traffic levels affirming the carrier’s upward trajectory.

Bell's drive for innovation also shines through Cathay’s first dining-focused sensory campaign titled ‘The difference is in the details’ with creative partner VCCP Singapore. The effort was prompted by recognising a disconnect between actual dining experiences and brand impression. Cathay sought to fix this by focusing on iconic Hong Kong flavours, with the film doubling down on the attention and rigour put into food preparation. While Bell hoped to see a tangible shift in customer attitudes from this dramatic work, he nonetheless found the most rewarding aspect to be the intangibles. "The sheer beauty of it. Simple things made elegant," he said. "And I like the human joy at the end. We can all relate to that.”

In the last year, Cathay's brand awareness surged by 16%, resulting in a 4% increase in flyers opting for Cathay as their preferred airline across key markets. Additionally, Cathay Cargo witnessed a double-digit increase in brand consideration, generating hundreds of new business enquiries. This growth in the Cathay Pacific airline brand has facilitated the rebuilding of its passenger base. The airline also re-entered the Skytrax top 10 airlines in 2023 and was awarded 'best in-flight entertainment'.

Bell, who before Cathay Pacific served long and successful stints at FCB and Ogilvy & Mather, remains an outspoken advocate for the airline and the wider industry, regularly seeking his opinion at events. He is an avid industry speaker facilitating panel discussions on brand safety, attention in media and AI in marketing. He authored articles on marketing and serves as a board member of the WFA and The Marketing Society.

Bell continues to champion Cathay’s DEI policy that steps beyond gender issues to include people with disabilities, racial diversity, and sexual preference throughout its messaging. 

Asia-Pacific’s 50 most influential and purposeful marketers


Campaign Asia

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