Aviation marketing prides itself on creating a carefully curated vision of uniformity and embracing minimal creative or commercial risks. From perfectly polished crew members flashing their million-watt smiles to cliched visuals of pink sunsets and exotic locales—it's rare to see a brand crack through the glossy veneer and move beyond this risk-averse marketing landscape. So, Cathay's shift in storytelling in its latest global campaign that puts spontaneity, emotion and rough edges at the forefront is a bold departure from the norm, but a much-needed one.
'Feels good to move' is Cathay's first global rollout in more than three years; it's an ode to the innate desire to move—the real, raw and visceral experiences that define movement—the fetus doing its rhythmic dance, students impatiently waiting for a class to end or tiptoeing into grander life adventures, exploring new destinations. The effort simultaneously takes off in 25+ markets across Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Greater China, Australia, New Zealand, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. It also coincides with the group returning to soaring profits (H1 earnings HK$4.26 billion) and a pre-pandemic level of air traffic.
"We wanted to do a campaign that gets our brand back out there. We want to be more global and connect with more younger people and connect with contemporary society. We want to evolve. We want to keep moving," says an enthusiastic Edward Bell, Cathay Pacific's general manager of Brand, Insights, Marketing.
That's a tall ask from a single effort, but Bell says the creative arm Publicis Hong Kong managed to tick all the boxes. He talks about the work with great pride and calls it a shot of joy, energy, and fun that our travel-hungry souls crave and to which Cathay wants to be associated.
"The idea was to look back at why humans want to move—simply because it feels good. Movement is impatience but also symbolic of life and of future and is intimately linked with humanity," says Bell.
Natalie Lam, the chief creative officer at Publicis Groupe APAC, chimes in: "We're all born with a restless urge to move, never truly staying still even if we're supposed to. We are always thinking about the next move in life, or dreaming of the next trip when you're still enjoying the current one… This urge to move is exactly why we travel, make progress, and why a world-class brand like Cathay exists in the first place and keeps progressing—to facilitate humanity's urge to move forward."
Movement, the importance and the power of it, are well appreciated by Hongkongers and their de facto flagship carrier, alike. The severe Covid restrictions that lasted for more than three years, well beyond what most developed countries imposed, took this tiny archipelago on a ride through hell and back.
"Covid was the biggest disrupter to our lives and relationships. In the absence of a domestic market, Cathay took a terrible beating. But we are out of that phase, and the brand mission is crystal-clear: to connect with family, friends, society, culture, and the world on a profound and emotional level," he highlights.
L-R: Edward Bell, Cathay and Natalie Lam, Publicis APAC
The focus on emotion rides on credible data and insight. Cathay's pre-campaign research revealed that emotions play up in 25% of the times people choose one airline over the other—this, Bell felt, was an overwhelmingly convincing statistic to hinge their most significant marketing effort on since pre-pandemic.
"For once, it's not about selling service moments, or highlighting improved ergonomics or product demonstration—all these things are wonderful, but we have plenty of other efforts for these—to announce the return of Cathay on a global scale, we decided on putting emotion at the core and the centre of it," says Bell.
As a result, KPIs around the effort are not designed to trigger sales. In fact, with flyers getting younger, moving beyond a revered iconic brand image to strike an emotional connect is a clever strategy to hook the Gen Zs.
"It's all about striking an emotional connect, making a brand impact, building brand awareness and brand consideration," for Bell.
In line with those KPIs, Publicis embraced a unique storytelling style—a 360-degree shift from the polished and structured approach that digital natives don't relate to. The idea was to celebrate the raw and the everyday through fleeting experiences, sharp snippets of mundane moments, and seamlessly blend it into a film.
An ode to spontaneity
Directed by Grammy winner Pierre Dupaquier of Pharrell Williams 'Happy' (2013) and Dua Lipa's 'Fever' (2020), fame and edited to Danish pop duo Junior Senior's classic track 'Move Your Feet,' the film is a far cry from the meticulously staged imagery that is linked with the aviation sector.
Bell describes this unstructured, visual treatment as "nano brand moments," he says it is true to Hong Kong's image as a city that never stops moving and a reminder that travel isn't just about the destination; it's also the journey.
Natalie Lam, the Groupe's APAC CCO, is particularly proud of the effort and the storytelling format; she quips: "It is an amazing opportunity to defy the category clichés of beautiful destinations and travellers and look back into the very reason why humans want to move—simply because it feels good. We are very excited to bring a new way of looking at airline creativity with our brave clients at Cathay."
Though refreshing and edgy, the style might not cater to everyone's tastes. It's semi-unfinished, fragmented structure can feel disorienting to Cathay's older clientele, making them yearn for a more linear or cohesive narrative. When questioned on this, Bell is confident that the fragmentation will make the campaign stand out, "it mirrors the way we consume media today," he adds.
Either way, it's undeniably innovative and keeps in step with the modern traveller's spirit of seeking authenticity in every journey—a breadth of fresh air in an otherwise cluttered landscape.
The campaign will be broadcast on the streets of Hong Kong and across Cathay's social channels.
Watch the campaign reel here:
General Manager, Brand, Insights and Marketing Communications, Cathay: Edward Bell
Head of Marketing Communications, Cathay: Vivian Chan
Marketing Manager, Global, Cathay: Anthony Wu
Marketing Manager, HK, Cathay: Ricardo Lo
Assistant Marketing Manager, Global, Cathay: Maria Ng
Assistant Marketing Manager, Global, Cathay: Fanny Chan
Agency: Leo Burnett Hong Kong
Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Groupe Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa: Natalie Lam
Head of Creative Excellence Publicis Groupe APAC MEA: Jason Williams
Executive Creative Director, Leo Burnett HK: Christopher Lee
Group Creative Director, Leo Burnett HK: Halo Cheng
Creative Director, Leo Burnett HK: Huey Wong
Creative Director, Leo Burnett HK: Miriam Yip
Head of Art, Leo Burnett HK: Marcin Brzezinski
Managing Partner, Leo Burnett HK: Dennis Yeung
Business Director, Leo Burnett HK: Kenneth Poon
Associate Account Director, Leo Burnett HK: Holie Ko
Account Manager, Leo Burnett HK: Bella Yiu
Senior Account Executive, Leo Burnett HK: Tiffany Sit
Senior Account Executive, Leo Burnett HK: Gertie Tsang
Producer: Armelle Sudron, Prodigious
Production House: Iconoclast
Director: Pierre Dupaquier (We are from LA)
Photographer: Louis De Caunes
Production Service (Marseille): Shoot in Mars
Production Service (Hong Kong): The Kitchen
Music Track: Move your feet
Author/Composer: Jesper Mortensen
Publisher: EMI Music Publishing
Music Production: Prodigious France x BMM Network
Performers: ART FELT (producer), Dayeaux (singer)
Sound producer / Editing: Christophe Caurret, Creative Director/Head of Music PUBLICIS and Prodigious France; Carsten Krueger, Music Producer, Prodigious France