Cathay Pacific’s Gay Ad Causes Controversy (But Shouldn’t)

Filed Under: Cathay Pacific

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Cathay Pacific’s rebranding. Cathay Pacific’s previous slogan was “Life Well Travelled,” but they changed it to “Move Beyond.” For a variety of reasons I don’t like the rebranding, as they go from one of my favorite airline slogans, to one that’s downright confusing to many.

Cathay Pacific’s “Move Beyond Labels” ad

The one thing I really liked about Cathay Pacific’s new ad campaign is that they were quite bold (by Hong Kong standards) in using a gay couple for one of the ads. This particular ad shows a gay couple walking down the beach holding hands, and has the tagline “Move Beyond Labels.”

So while Hong Kong is more progressive than some other places, an ad featuring a same sex couple most definitely isn’t the norm (just as it wasn’t in the US several years ago).

Controversy & lack of accountability

I guess this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but this ad is causing some controversy. Eagle-eyed Danny Lee from the South China Morning Post notes that this ad seems to be largely banned in Hong Kong.

Both the Airport Authority and MTR Corporation have allegedly rejected this content, with this being the only one of Cathay Pacific’s ads not showing at the airport and in the MTR.

Cathay Pacific is very much in favor of equality, and it shows. As Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg unapologetically says:

“The inclusion bit is really important. No matter who you are, when you come to work at Cathay Pacific … we want you to be who you are and feel really comfortable and be a productive part of the team and that’s what we strive for.”

Other than that, it seems like the problem here is that there’s almost no accountability. The MTR and Airport Authority don’t take responsibility for not displaying the ads, and blame their ad agencies. The ad agencies say they’re just following guidelines.

A spokesperson for MTR noted that their ads are handled by JCDecaux, but that they pass on the following guidelines to them:

“Clients should follow the contract terms and conditions and agency’s guidelines, to ensure the advertisements comply with the laws of Hong Kong as well as codes of practice in the advertising industry.”

Meanwhile JCDecaux, the agency that handled the ads, said that MTR told them that the following types of ads wouldn’t be allowed:

“immoral; or which offend the generally accepted standards of public decency or the social or cultural standards of the society.”

“which … in any way caus[ed] discomfort, fear, distress, embarrassment or distaste to the public” would be rejected.”

The agency says that alternatives were offered, and therefore they decided not to go with this ad.

I can only imagine the strong discomfort, fear, distress, embarrassment, and distaste that so many people must have experienced seeing two men hold hands. My husband, my chihuahua-pomeranian-shih-tzu-poodle (we just got the DNA results for him last week — can you believe that’s what he is?? UGH!), and I, would like to sincerely apologize.

Following the anger regarding how this has been handled, MTR Corporation issued the following statement:

“We note recent public concern over the advertising campaign of an airline. MTR Corporation is unequivocally committed to equal opportunities in all aspects of its business and supports diversity. It does not tolerate any form of discrimination of the grounds of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, family status or any other factor.

We have immediately communicated with the advertising sales agency and have requested the agency to fully consider the Corporation’s commitment to equal opportunities and diversity when it considers advertisements in the future.”

If they were actually committed to all the things they claim they’re committed to:

  • They would have communicated more clearly with their advertising agency to begin with to clarify that something like this shouldn’t be problematic
  • They’d immediately undo this, rather than just say that they’ll consider these factors in the future

The world on the whole has come a long way when it comes to LGBT rights, though clearly there’s still a long way to go.

It’s outrageous that an organization can claim to be “unequivocally committed to equal opportunities” and claim not to “[discriminate] on the grounds of sexual orientation,” but then block an ad showing two men holding hands…

(Tip of the hat to @HKTBlog_Dom)

  1. Thats just a copy and paste computerised PR response. This is how Hong Kong works unfortunately. I think in no way will they actually put up that ad any time soon. Especially when there are other alternatives.

  2. Sad that we still live in a world where some consider a man killing a man is more honourable than loving one.

  3. The truly bizarre aspect of the ad is that anyone might paddle in the sea while wearing a suit. It’s just weird.

    MTR is active in the UK. PR pressure here about their apparently discriminatory position in Hong Kong might achieve something. These companies hate being hit in the wallet, let alone looking dumb.

  4. Many in HK still view gays as exotic, somewhat tragic figures rather than something to be mainstreamed on billboards. Contrast these days with Taiwan, far more open and inclusive. Even just 30 years ago it was common for Hong Kong people to deride Taiwanese as being ultra conservative country bumpkins .
    Now Taiwan is the far more liberal.

  5. But Hong Kong has no problem with areas like Jordan which are wild red light districts for tourists with hookers standing on every corner with children walking through the area. Way to go Hong Kong.

  6. I remember even just a few years ago some folks are getting very mad about a girl’s decision to marry a black guy. HK is the greatest example of disparity.

  7. How did you get the idea HK is progressive ? Once you look past the neon lights it is one of the most conservative place I ever lived with deeply rooted family ideals held up by the establishment which rules HK… CX and HSBC that have a LGBTQ friendly view are run by the Brits on the other hands…. people think progressive views on gay marriage etc are a western ideal that should not penetrate Chinese values… at least the older generation

  8. Even IF HK wanted to accept this ad, the Chinese “hand on back guiding them” wont allow it. Not excusing anything. But that’s Chinese censorship for ya.

  9. Family (and traditional) values are still dominant thoughts in Hong Kong. As far as I know and based off my experience visiting, most of Asia aren’t embracing social change like this, sometimes outright punishing it.

  10. This wasn’t even a “gay” ad. This was an add that had gay couple, along with many different people. Don’t understand why people care so much about what other people do with their lives.

  11. So much for calling itself ‘Asia’s World City’…

    This is the same city whose government repeatedly fought against foreign workers working in Hong Kong from allowing their same sex spouses from obtaining dependent visas. Were it not for the government’s defeat at the Final Court of Appeals last year, foreign workers would still be barred from bringing their same sex spouses to Hong Kong.

  12. @Sung
    Yes, absolutely I agree. Some people care too much how others live their life. Nice add from Cathay. Shame on HK

  13. I believe MTR will manage the cross rail / Elizabeth line in London
    Why not cut and paste the ad on their social media ? See how that fares

  14. @ Icarus

    They are already heavily involved in London Overground and South Western Railway.

    This would not play at all well in London.

  15. It might just be a marketing strategy not to air it in Hong Kong, rather than being “banned” as such. We see it all the time where ads are targeted to their recipients based on geo-location or cultural backgrounds. As someone mentioned, Hong Kong still follows “conservative family values” and therefore CX (or whoever is responsible for deciding where these ads go) might feel the ad will be commercially more effective by selecting the ads that do not depict the gay men.

  16. There’s a joke: You won’t find any straight male flight attendant at Cathay Pacific.

    Cathay Pacific only wants people making money for the company, regardless they are straight, LGBT, or whatever.
    Money is everything to Cathay Pacific, not moral conducts or traditional values.

    It’s common value conflicts at Hong Kong. Sometimes they are very open, and sometimes they are more conservative than China.

  17. Equality needs to be fought for. People should speak up and press those responsible to make changes for the better.

  18. Funny this post appears 48 hours after Taiwan becomes the first Asian jurisdiction to legislate marriage equality

  19. Blast away at me if you wish, but I want to raise my children and pass on my values. I do not need Cathay Pacific to do that for me. It should stick to flying planes and not flying sexual moralities.

  20. @Dave S:

    Maybe you should stick to raising your children and passing on your (close-minded/underevolved/ignorant…) values and not tell Cathay Pacific how to run their marketing campaigns.

    Isn’t it funny how stupid it sounds when it’s reversed? Yeah…that’s how you sound.

  21. HK is going to play host to the Gay Games 2022, as it will inevitably draws athletes and visitors from all over. Very ironic that the MTR and airport authority reject the ad citing “immoral and causing discomfort to others….” and yet welcoming the LGBT community to drop their tourist $$$$ while visiting HK.

  22. Beijing doesn’t like the ad so it won’t run. Any company that does not do what Beijing says will be cut off from the Chinese market

  23. I’m DaveS (not Dave S) and Just want to make sure that I as a semi-frequent poster here don’t get identified with the views of Dave S. While he is free to express his position, I would say that the airline is simply marketing to a segment of its customer base and they have every right to do that. I loved the comment, though, about it being odd that two guys in full suits would be walking along an empty beach. How often does that happen?

  24. I was in HK two years ago and by coincidence the track cycling World Championships (part of the provided video shows a rider at the facility) was being held there. I was totally surprised by what a great spectator sport it is. Some of you might want to check that out when in HK. You can ruin your suit at the beach during the day and head over to the velodrome in the evening.

  25. @Dave S
    I would like to report that I’ve seen a lot of homosexual ads, I’m friends with homosexual couples and I’ve been to Pride parades, and still don’t find myself attracted to men.

    Homosexuality is not a “value”, it’s how people are born. I find females sexually attractive, but that doesn’t make other people “wrong” for loving people of their own gender. The only value you’re passing on to your children is that of intolerant and close mindedness.

  26. @Matt @Dean
    While corporations and the government can be quite conservative, the general public in Hong Kong is not as conservative as you make it sound like.
    A poll in 2017 found that 50% of the people in HK support same-sex marriage. That’s higher than many European countries.
    And speaking from experience, almost all younger people I know support same-sex marriage.
    (Local HKer here, never lived anywhere else in my life)

  27. I’m just saying you should love and respect your dog no matter what it grows up to be. DNA testing a dog= don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answer to.

  28. @tam I dont disagree with you but sadly the general population esp the younger generations are not calling the shots… it’s ironic btw that the father of joshua wong for example is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to bigotry and holding up outdated values. But yes talking to younger people give me hope …

  29. This is business as usual for Hong Kong and the big corporations that run things (like the MTR). Even back in 2001 the MTR banned ads/movie posters for the local film VISIBLE SECRET (2001) because it feature an effigy-Ghost riding in an MTR train cabin and we’re afraid it would scare passengers.

    SCMP article:

    Poster reference:

  30. Post the picture on Social Media of JCDecaux; we need to make visible what they want to hide.

  31. This is a stupid ad!

    @ Boris TV says: “But Hong Kong has no problem with areas like Jordan which are wild red light districts for tourists with hookers standing on every corner with children walking through the area. Way to go Hong Kong”.

    You are so stupid, who said people from Hong Kong have no problem of what you stated above?

  32. The only thing liberal about Hong Kong is its economy. I live here and it’s a deeply conservative place, especially once you step out of the central business districts and hipster areas of Hong Kong Island. I am the only non-local in my workplace, and things that shock my colleagues would have shocked my grandparents. E.g. they use hushed tones to talk about – shock horror – someone who is from a single parent family! It’s 2019, people!
    There’s also a weird disconnect with people who boast it’s “Asia’s world city”, yet almost proudly say “this is Hong Kong” when faced with anything backward, like this ad being banned. Like, it’s OK in the west, but this is HK, so we don’t allow or acknowledge that here and we’re not going to challenge it.
    Yes this is not all HK locals, but definitely the majority. So, not surprised at all.

  33. Going to HKG tomorrow for about the 100th time in the last 20 years.
    All of my friends are UK ex-pats and gay and married and educators. HKG has no problems with homosexuality that I’ve ever seen. It is a conservative place but there is no open persecution although my Cantonese friends in the gay community keep their sex lives out of the workplace (a professional behavior that every person should practice regardless of sexuality IMO).
    Other than that, as a minority subculture, they treat each other quite well in the hotels and restaurants.

  34. Unfortunately not surprising here in HK, but ridiculous. Some of the ads that DO get shown in MTR and Airport are outrageous. People hiding behind their ‘guidelines’. Bravo Rupert Hogg for making a stand.

  35. I’m very disappointed after seeing this amazing ad was rejected by airport or MTR for NO reason. I’m disappointed in how HK who claims to be a westernized city and yet so left behind in recognizing or supporting LGBTQ rights. Smh

  36. The fact that the ad had 2 Chinese holding hands I’m sure already made people uncomfortable. Not exactly a group of folks that like open display of affection. But considering how much worse mainland china is, Hong Kong is a good start to relaxed sensibilities. At least their younger generation is willing to figure out what is right in terms of sexuality, human rights and conservation. I can only imagine what I would have been like had I continued to grow up there.

  37. @iv: wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Thank you for putting it so succinctly and poignantly.

  38. Aging brands like to purposely create controversy to generate attention. Whether you are gay or straight, pro-LGBT or not, you should discourage money-making entities from using social issues to plug their products and services.

  39. @Matt
    Yes that’s unfortunate, but I am confident that LGBT acceptance will only get better in the future.
    Unlike the future of Hong Kong in general, which is extremely grim.

  40. @Bim
    I’m not sure what age group your colleagues are, but that has not been my experience at all (I’m a local).
    I’d say HK is probably at about the same level of progressiveness as Japan.
    The fact that this ad incident caused such a backlash that caused the relevant companies to reverse course and explicitly tell their ad agencies to approve this ad, is testament to that…

  41. @tam You are right, the future of HK is grim. I am really concern. Everybody freedom is at risk, not just LGBT community. For those that don’t know, a few google search can point you what’s going on.

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