Cathay Pacific Campaign Humanizes Its Employees. Will More Passengers Fly?

by , Jan 5, 2012, 1:00 PM
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I have no idea what kind of hook airlines can hang their branding and marketing efforts upon nowadays. No longer can they play up convenience, comfort, glamour, value, promptness, service, efficiency, flexibility, orderliness, odor or abundance of mass-produced beef stroganoff. What's left? "Fly Braniff, where a majority of the seats are firmly affixed to the cabin floor"?

There seems to be a single strategy left: the dreaded people-person approach. You know, like "to some minimal extent, our employees are decent human beings who have a passing interest in treating our passengers like petting-zoo denizens, if not social equals." For its current campaign, Cathay Pacific adopts just such a tactic, emphasizing the friendliness, general competence and eagerness-to-please-iness of its staff.

As part of its "People. They Make An Airline" push, Cathay Pacific attempts to distinguish itself on the basis of smiles per cabin inch, or something. Its flight attendants, you see, are practiced in the ancient art of making eye contact. Whenever possible, they refrain from waking up sleeping passengers to ask if they'd like a pillow. They don't unjustly persecute esteemed individuals and besmirch the twin traditions of customer service and democracy for playing word games on an iPad while taxiing for takeoff. The pilots and non-customer-facing employees are way cool, too. You haven't lived until you've had your cargo reserved by cargo reservation sales agent Keiko Kohno, who plays the piano.

It's a curious approach, especially as fliers continue to lose their crap about paying for what they used to get for free. That said, one has to admire Cathay Pacific for trying. The online scrapbook of staff biographies humanizes company personnel in a manner that's not possible anywhere else. Somehow, the airline has found something remotely interesting to note about each of the myriad featured employees, which probably says as much about the marketing peon who executed the campaign as it does about the individuals themselves.

The problem, of course, is that passengers aren't likely to judge a flight attendant on his past life as a short-order cook or elephant whisperer or monk. No, he'll earn a thumbs-up or thumbs- down based on the alacrity with which he delivers a stiff drink to wash down that pre-flight Lorazepam. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that without in-person reinforcement, the Cathay appeal has exactly zero staying power. Nobody bases an airline decision on manners or fashion-forwardness. These are things that do not matter, except in the rare instance where several carriers boast the same exact pricing and scheduling.

I do appreciate how the online videos strain to forge some kind of personal connection. Nadia used to break out in song behind her schoolteacher's back; Kelly used to wander around at an amusement park in an "oh, the wonder of it all!" daze; Barbara used to be a motorcycle-driving journalist who reported on what appears to be mid-intersection house explosions. Somehow, the clips convince viewers that these experiences have vested the individuals in question with superior customer-service skills. Nicely done.

So all the talk about forging a "personal connection" and having a lifelong "passion for helping people" doesn't feel too phony. Pouring out tea at tense times, talking heartbroken passengers through pre-boarding breakups, stealthily upgrading a girlfriend by transferring over her fella's frequent-flier miles - the folks at Cathay Pacific seem pretty darn okay to me. But I'm still flying with whomever's cheapest.

5 comments on "Cathay Pacific Campaign Humanizes Its Employees. Will More Passengers Fly?".

  1. Adam Hartung from spark partners
    commented on: January 5, 2012 at 1:40 p.m.
    Wow, the author clearly doesn't fly as much as I do. No longer is low price the dominant search element. Flying is cheap enough, give me some service and help the process be something other than awful is a pretty good idea. I hate that he pooh-poohs the Cathay effort, as it is a big deal for a lot of us flyers.
  2. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC
    commented on: January 5, 2012 at 2:38 p.m.
    Yes, it's a liitle hokey and yes, the "why my job is important" hooks don't always pass the laugh test, but overall it's an effective way to raise awareness and consideration of the airline - which competes with some of the best. BTW, I hope you wouldn't let a few bucks stand between you and good service, at least on a long-haul flight. If you are spending a whole day on a plane the quality of the in-flight experience starts to matter. A lot.
  3. Henry Harteveldt from Hudson Crossing
    commented on: January 5, 2012 at 5 p.m.
    Mr. Dobrow: Cathay's primary customer is, frankly, not you. They don't seek out travelers who want just the "cheapest" fare - their focus is the premium business traveler and, secondarily, the premium leisure traveler. For the premium international traveler, service matters, particularly so on longer flights. What CX is doing to humanize the airline makes sense, as it fits the airline's long heritage of delivering top-grade service. I agree with you that some elements may be hokey, and the airline will have to work hard to consistently live up to the promise this campaign sets.
  4. Jomie Leung from Jomie
    commented on: January 5, 2012 at 9:38 p.m.
    I go the communication with the senior manager from Australai who claims that he works in CP in HK for 5 years then he found girls/women on the dating site. Yeah, he emailed his rubblish words to represent CP greatly. Yeah, expensive flights for this Crab Pacific ? He wrote this to me : Alan King Kayakkingoz2000@yahoo.com.au Jan 3 (2 days ago) to me God teaches forgiveness and so i forgive you Hate is very strong and even ex gf who cheated i dont hate Meery xmas and happy new year - sun tie geen hong Also belief that evil wished comes back to sender.. So i will pray for u coz i know u dont mean it Dont write back - u have negative energy and u r not funny or nice to talk with Cheers
  5. Joe Buhler from buhlerworks
    commented on: January 9, 2012 at 11:50 a.m.
    Horses for courses. For the bottom feeding price shopper this will not be the right brand message but for that market segment brand doesn't matter anyway. For the less price sensitive segment - and it still exists in both business and leisure travel - it is probably more effective. In any case the only airlines that will be able to deliver on the smile factor are in Asia - remember the Singapore Girl anyone? I would not recommend using this approach for one where the staff for premium cabin and long haul travel is selected based on seniority.

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