Ad Testing: Does Cathay’s New Campaign Move People?

Ad: “Born to Move” (:60 version) |¬†Advertiser: Cathay Pacific | Agency: McCann

The recent Business of Design Week (BoDW) held in Hong Kong 19-23 November had numerous world-class speakers talk about brands, design and innovation. In the spirit of the event, we thought it would be interesting to review an ad from one of Hong Kong’s most recognized brands: Cathay Pacific Airways.

Coinciding roughly with the BoDW, Cathay launched a new “Network and Frequency” campaign which includes over 10 different TV commercials, shown at high frequency on TV as well as on numerous large outdoor screen locations.

This review is the result of formal Ad Testing conducted on the first, one-minute version, TVC of the campaign with the theme “Born to Move”.


The research consisted in semi-structured interviews during which participants were shown the advertisement. Participants were not told beforehand who that advertiser was. Some participants were shown the advertisement more than once, particularly when not being able to identify the advertiser on first viewing. All test participants had flown Cathay before, flew at least twice a year and had mid-to-high income. There was an equal distribution of male and females, aged between 28 and 40.


The ad features scenes of people jumping around or dancing in various countries worldwide over a soundtrack of increasingly frantic percussions.

Filmed on site at each location, with a very polished cinematography, careful image and sound editing, the ad is an obviously big production.

And the result pleased many test participants; “I like it, matching music and images”, “Catchy”, commented one participant, referring to the soundtrack. Apart from visual aesthetics, some participants found the overall “energetic” and “dynamic” tone of the ad appealing.

Mistaken Industries

Regardless of their likeliness for its execution, most participants had difficultly relating the ad to Cathay or to airlines in general, and tended to associate it with those of other industries.

During the tests, one participant thought the ad was for a “garment company”, then for a “sport shoe” before finally noticing the Cathay logo on the second viewing. Summarizing the thought of many, one participant concluded that “[You] could replace the logo with that of any sports shoe”. Yet another participant though that it was a “Coca-cola type of ad”.

The tone and manner of the ad gave the perception that the ad was targeted to younger consumers, “between 18 and 27”, and lead some participants to believe that the intention was to re-brand Cathay as a younger airline; “Cathay is getting younger.”

Effects of Brand Dissonance

While some participants welcomed this change with enthusiasm, considering it a “novel” and “refreshing” take on Cathay Pacific, it didn’t fly for everyone…

In fact, most other participants disliked the ad specifically because they felt it did not match the advertiser; “nothing to do with Cathay”.

In some cases, people disliked the ad overall in spite of their likeliness for the aesthetics. One participant stated liking the ad, until he realized what it was for: “Good ad, before seeing the logo”.

Searching further revealed that the dislike was not only due to the ad appearing like that of another industry, but to some participants because the message did not match the one they expected, or wanted to hear, from Cathay.

When questioned about their perception of the airline, almost unanimously people mentioned service quality, staff friendliness, caring, etc. While these are also propositions of some other airlines, they are generally perceived as Cathay’s strengths. These were also the attributes that people recalled from previous ads which left a strong impression.

Although the research did not focus on particular segments, it would be interesting to see how the apparent change in target audience to a younger one and the brand disparity affect one of Cathay’s main customer base; business travelers.

Uncovering the Subtext

Today’s consumers, with easier access to information (through the internet, word-of-mouth, etc.), are more informed and in general more educated, which makes them more sensitive to subtext and more critical. The new, more insightful, consumer’s tendency to capture meaning sometimes unintended by the advertiser means that ad or concept testing is more important today than it ever was.

The study uncovered interesting findings that illustrate this.

The entire campaign intended to play on two meanings of the word “move”; moving as in many destinations, and moving emotionally. While many participants captured the concepts of “moving to many destinations” because of the various locations shown and the word appearing textually, the execution of the concept of “moving” itself was shown to carry potential negative connotation.

Who is “Moving”?

When perceived as an action from Cathay, the term “moving” can suggest an impersonal, mechanic attitude from the company. One participant explained feeling “like a sack of potatoes or a FedEx parcel… moving you to destinations… “. While the participant may have in fact been referring to another ad from the same campaign which literally states “Moving you to over 90 destinations”, this finding does identify potential issues in leaving concepts open to alternative negative interpretations.

Jumping on the Same Spot

A few participants during the study read the ad on another, more subtle, level. While acknowledging the ad showed different locations worldwide, they thought that most people were shown jumping in place: “standing in one spot and not accomplishing anything.” Another participant remarked that “[people] jumping on the same location doesn’t reflect that Cathay flies to different places.”

These observations had a negative impact on the perception of the ad, and to some extent, of the Brand itself.

Addressing Potential Issues

Questions concerning intended brand message aside, there are a few potential adjustments that could have been made in order to address some of the issues that were source of customer disconnect.

It would be interesting to discover whether the following minor adjustment would increase the likeliness of the ad:

  • As one participant suggested, introducing “a few shots of flying at first, or something related to Cathay” in order to emphasize travel and make the relation with Cathay easier;
  • a more prominent Cathay positioning at the end to avoid viewers not identifying the advertiser;
  • showing movement that is not on the same spot to avoid negative subtext ;
  • using the words “move” or “moving” differently to avoid negative connotations

It should be noted that this study focused only on the first ad of the campaign, and that other ads tend to focus on only one of the numerous locations, each in a slightly different tone and manner.

While it would be hard to predict what effect seeing other ads in the campaign would have on consumers, it would also be difficult to predict which ads consumers will see and how many times.

Ad testing, conducted during the development process, is an effective way to mitigate risk by identifying potential issues prior to launch, while changes are still possible. Especially with huge advertising budgets in which ad testing would represent only a very small percentage.

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David Jacques is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. He has created the first Framework that brings together cohesively every aspect of Customer Experience Management. He is also passionate about having an in-depth understanding customer values to create emotionally-engaging customer experiences not only at individual interactions but also seamlessly between them.

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