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Play ad: The changing landscape of Philippine advertising

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Ampon po ba ako?” a child in tears asks his mother. A scene like this conjures in our minds a typical narrative of loss—except this ad is anything but typical. A moment later, the child sprawls on the table and demands an explanation why there are four glasses attached to his back. With the truth out, the mother pulls her head off to finally reveal her secret—hidden inside her is a glistening bottle of RC Cola. It’s as surreal as it can get.  

(Am I adopted?)

The ad would shock the internet with its unsettling departure from the loud musical ads of the cola wars. On social media and forums, people debated its meaning. Some called it a surreal  depiction of a mother’s love while others lashed out at its supposed discrimination against orphans. The creators’ response: “Wala lang, basta!”

(For no reason, really. Just because!)

Behind this landmark advertisement is Gigil, an ad company that prides itself as “Manila’s ideas agency.” Composed of account supervisor Beverly Lubid, associate creative director Dionie Taneda, and art director Ynna Milambiling, the creative team behind the project worked to create something authentically Filipino. “One of the pillars of Gigil, nakalagay sa website namin, is that Gigil is Filipino,” Dionie says.

Standing above ad nauseum 

But what does it mean for an advertisement to be Filipino? To answer that, one must understand the two-way relationship between advertisements and culture. According to Moireen Espinosa of the DLSU Filipino Department, advertisements are products of the culture in which they are made. She explains, “You have to appeal to who you’re talking to, who your consumers are.” 

Because advertisements exist in the context of a changing cultural milieu, we can track an evolution in their characteristics. For example, Espinosa points out how advertisements of the past focused on the “hard sell”, where products would be shown with banners that say, “Buy now!” From that, they shifted into the familiar Filipino advertisements that reflected aspects of telenovela culture—high on emotions and melodrama. Commercials would feature either bright melodies with singing barkadas or moody stories of love and loss that tugged on the heartstrings.

A good example of how well emotional advertising can work is the Department of Tourism’s It’s More Fun in the Philippines campaign. Roshan Nandwani, the executive director for transformation and strategy at advertising agency BBDO Guerrero, shares that when she worked on the campaign, she noted how regions like Thailand and Indonesia were actually similar to the Philippines. Nevertheless, she says, the main focus of the campaign is that “It’s because you’re with Filipinos that make that experience better.” For this reason, Nandwani and the team shifted away from the type of tourism campaign that included beautiful drone shots of the countryside. “There’s always people; there was always emotion; there was always this feeling of welcoming that we wanted to make sure came to life,” Nandwani shares.

The way that Filipino culture uniquely shapes our ads becomes clearer when we compare local advertisements with foreign ones. She points out that other markets, like India, prefer advertisements that are factual, stating, “The less emotional you are with a lot of campaigns there, the better because that’s kind of the culture that they have.” Thailand, on the other hand, focuses on storytelling and humor—a dark kind of humor. With each country having its own preference, it becomes difficult for an ad made for the United States, for example, to be reused in the Philippines.

However, with the recent success of RC Cola’s commercial, we are seeing yet another significant shift in the local appetite for advertisements. Nandwani observes how RC Cola’s commercial bears similarities with the kind of surrealism and dark humor that worked in Thailand. “They’re kind of opening their minds to things beyond slapstick, and they’re okay with dark humor,” Nandwani says about Filipino consumers.

Where stars are born

As with any great masterpiece, the out-of-this-world RC Cola commercial had its own humble beginnings. Milambiling recalls that the idea itself was actually born after a long and tiring day at the office. “Puyat na kami noon eh. Medyo nakakatulong din minsan, tapos pagod ka na, tapos pinu-push mo na lang, tapos biglang ‘yung huling push mo na, doon lalabas ‘yung gem,” she shares, recalling the evening the idea was brought to fruition. But such sudden strokes of genius would not be possible, the team emphasizes, without the unique environment that Gigil studio provides.

(We were exhausted then. It helps somewhat to be tired and just persevering because suddenly your last push can bring out the gem.)

“They actually embody ‘yung pagiging Gigil…They actually give it their 100 percent, so nakakaganang mag-work sa ganoong environment,” explains Milambiling, referring to founding partners Herbert Hernandez, Badong Abesamis, and managing partner Jake Yrastorza. Both Hernandez and Yrastorza have history in the music industry, the former previously a guitarist for OPM bands Moonstar88 and 6cyclemind. As a former religion teacher at Ateneo de Manila University, Abesamis completes the triad that truly brings a multifaceted collection of backgrounds to the table. As Taneda puts it, “There are a lot of passions at Gigil—and those passions really make us gigil.

(They embody what it means to be Gigil.  They actually give it their 100 percent, so it’s motivating to work in that kind of environment.)

The question still remains, however, about whether or not the subversive advertisement really does have a deeper meaning. Amid the numerous theories and interpretations that emerged ever since the ad’s release, Milambilig emphasizes the sentiments of the advertisement’s director, Marius Talampas. “Once nilabas mo siya (advertisement) sa mundo, inaalay mo siya, and it’s up for interpretation,” she posits. For the team, the creative satisfaction brought about by the receptivity of the audience was much more important than ascribing a singular meaning to the ad. After all, “the core idea of our campaign is, ‘Basta!’ Not everything needs to have meaning,” Lubid maintains. 

(When you release an advertisement to the world, you’re offering it, and it’s up for interpretation.)

Making it big

The RC Cola campaign is just one of numerous ad campaigns that are released every year, and further part of a much smaller number of advertisements that go viral and spark a sales-boosting conversation. But how exactly this advertisement created such waves is a question that peers closely into the minds of the consumers themselves. 

Ultimately, it’s much more than just coming up with something shocking. A proper analysis of the wants and needs of the target market is the first step in producing something worthwhile. “The youth of today are very demanding of brands. We cannot just give you a message. Brands have to stand for a purpose; they have to stand for a reason,” Nandwani explains. The paradox of Gigil’s “basta” perspective is a suggestion that the meaning lies in the absence of meaning—and ultimately, that sold.

Above all, advertisement teams must work with the reality that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what makes an advertisement successful. “Hindi siya formulaic eh, hindi siya something na dahil nag-work for brand A, magwo-work din siya for brand B,” Taneda explains. But while the creative inspiration might be varied for almost all marketing efforts, the true marker of success lies in the sales. “At the end of the day, for any advertising initiative, the goal for us is really to sell,” Lubid explains. 

(It’s not formulaic. It’s not that because it worked for Brand A, it will also work for Brand B.)

In whichever manner this sales jackpot is achieved, whether it be through stirring the pot or sticking to what works, it’s the tangible numbers that triumph in the end and, perhaps, also the legacy that sticks with them.

By Iona Gibbs

By Lance Spencer Yu

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