Get yourself a clueless foreigner uncomfortably munching Jollibee’s Filipino-style spaghetti and you’ll instantly get a thousand likes from elated Filipinos. Other times, it’s some Hollywood celebrity endorsing a local brand, causing passionate fans to stampede to its stores. Without a doubt, Filipinos have normalized—and celebrated—the sight of a foreigner grasping Filipino culture in their hands.
With the country’s powerful social media presence, many local brands continue to fight tooth and nail for international endorsers and foreign content creators to conjure up reaction videos to all things Filipino. Our culture being acknowledged and showcased on the global stage is undoubtedly thrilling to see, but the so-called “Pinoy pride” can be both a blessing and a curse if we turn a blind eye.
Dishonor to us all
“Pinoybaiting,” a term coined by content creator M.A. Buendía, is a marketing strategy used by content creators to attract Filipino audiences and fans. “Foreign [YouTubers] exagge[rate] reaction videos to our singers, [or TV] shows, and films involving the Philippines in their plotline,” he explains. This content typically ranges from clickbait headlines expressing disbelief at how beautiful a local tourist spot is to half-hour videos on Filipino celebrities.
To Buendia, the country’s long colonial history has shaped this modern phenomenon. “It has been in our DNA to always crave validation and recognition from other races. Most of us think that we’re inferior to others, so when we’re getting some attention [especially from foreigners], we feel proud.” From beauty pageants to boxing matches, and now, to content creation, the utterance of Pinoy pride often requires foreign validation.
While some foreign content creators do strive to represent our culture genuinely, it is almost always devoid of social consciousness. After all, it is their white privilege that allows them to cultivate a back-to-basics, minimal lifestyle in beachy locales around the Philippines. This picture-perfect image often neglects the borderline gentrification and displacement of natives, such as in the case of the Ati tribe of Aklan.
Picking apart appealing facets of our culture without understanding the centuries of its erasure and its modern-day ramifications does more harm than good. Foreigners speaking Filipino in their vlogs, for example, can barely do good to the still predominantly Western education system that continues to benefit the elite and the powerful. With this in mind, Buendia urges Filipino users to be more critical of the content they embrace. “Wanting to be entertained and being an enabler of an unfair system are two different things,” he says.
The bigger picture
For certain companies, recruiting foreign endorsers is not the end goal. Smart Communications solidified its place in the industry by integrating the interests of its target market with its branding. First Vice President in Strategy and Corporate Brand Lloyd Manaloto cites popular culture as an example. “My own personal belief is that for a brand to succeed, it needs to be woven into popular culture. It needs to be connected; otherwise, it will not be relevant,” he posits.
Recently, Smart saw an endorsement boom as they sought out numerous popular culture icons—many of whom were foreigners. He firmly believes that marketing “involves trying to change behavior,” recalling a previous campaign in which big names like Son Ye-jin, BTS, and Chris Evans uttered the Smart tagline in Tagalog. Ultimately, people are loyal to the company because the latter fulfills its promise of delivering the best services possible, but these foreign endorsers are never far from their thoughts, “When you talk to the fans, ‘yun ang tinatandaan nila. It resonates.”
(When you talk to the fans, that is what they remember. It resonates.)
However, Manaloto insists that the practice is not entirely responsible for their success. Whenever the need for foreign endorsers arises, Smart strives to balance by unequivocally supporting local talents as well. He cites their cordial ties with the men’s national basketball team Gilas Pilipinas as an example. “When you have a company sponsoring a team like Gilas, it tells [people] that the Filipino can compete abroad; the Filipino can go toe-to-toe with the rest of the world,” he envisions.
At times, such a balance can be achieved in a single project. Earlier this year, Smart’s Valentine’s Day campaign was a celebration of local and international icons, with Ben&Ben writing a song for a commercial starring Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin.
Room for improvement
People are entitled to enjoy what entertains them. However, turning a blind eye on such red flags has consequences. Why must taking ownership of one’s national identity entail your favorite Western celebrity butchering the phrase “Mahal kita?”
As evidenced by Smart’s collaborations with homegrown talents, Filipinos are more than capable of making a name for themselves. Supporting them and the companies that are genuinely interested in giving them a platform is a step in the right direction.
Above all, it’s time to view our heritage and culture as more than just Instagrammable pieces. So much of our history and self-determination is embroiled in the struggle to challenge unjust systems. In this way, culture is not just about the feel-good iconography but also actively veering away from colonial commodification.
“The Philippines doesn’t need shady creators for publicity. We have so many talented and world-class personalities who bring pride [to] our country and put us on the map,” Buendia stresses.