Asian airline Cathay Pacific has postponed the second phase of its high-profile international advertising campaign after a sex scandal involving photographs of crew members allegedly engaging in sexual acts circulated online and in Chinese-language newspapers.
"The timing of this scandal really could not have been worse in marketing terms," said a Cathay Pacific executive, speaking on anonymity with the South China Post. "A whole new set of pictures of staff in off-duty poses has been taken for the next phase of what has been an enormously effective global campaign.
"But the scope for the slogan and the campaign to be misinterpreted, or ridiculed or lampooned, in light of the cockpit incident is obvious. So it looks like it's going to be postponed at least for a while," he said.
Photographs were posted on the Internet showing a woman in a red outfit resembling airline crew uniforms performing sexual acts on a man on board an airplane. The man was supposedly the woman's boyfriend. The photos, depicting a pilot and a flight attendant, have received a flood Internet traffic and attention from Hong Kong and abroad.
Cathay Pacific's campaign was to feature advertisements showing personalities of the airline's crew in a personal-touch promotion, highlighting employees with bios and actual photographs in uniform. But the company has postponed the ad campaign in light of the sex scandal.
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The airline had success with the initial phase of its campaign, which made mini-celebrities of attractive flight attendants whose images were used in TV ads, publications and billboards worldwide, according to the South China Morning Post. The campaign featured 100 Cathay Pacific staff members.
But the photographs and scandal on the Internet caused a different type of mini-celebrity buzz that Cathay Pacific wants no part of.
Company chief executive John Slosar said in a statement that two members of the crew were "shown in compromising situations" in photographs but that those crew members are "no longer employees of the company." Slosar said there's no evidence that indecent sex acts happened in-flight.
Cathay Pacific is a service-based airline that boasts a five-start Skytrax rating. The airline caters to business travelers flying in and out of Hong Kong, the Asian financial center. But despite the success of the initial campaign, the company felt holding back was the best course of action in light of the Internet sex scandal.
The campaign's slogan was to be: "Meet the team who go after the extra mile to make you feel special."
"Let me be crystal clear about one thing," Slosar said in a statement about the scandal. "I find any behavior that recklessly soils the reputation of our company and our team members as totally unacceptable."
The second installment of the ad campaign was scheduled to roll out Sept. 1, but now it will be postponed until Oct. 1 because the company said "the original timing doesn't suit us," a company spokesman said.