Saturday, January 24, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I've been published!

Miles away from my own book but I was contacted last year about one of my blog graphics being cited in a Marketing textbook. They credited me and sent me a copy.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Brands ride on trending hashtags to gain views and interactions. Participating in a high-traction topic increases their chances of getting attention from people who wouldn't otherwise have been exposed to their social presence.

This has served brands well in many cases. Oreo's spontaneous response during the Superbowl power outage and, a little closer to home, KitKat Philippines' tweet while Facebook was momentarily down both impressed fans and drove global PR pickups.


But not every hashtag is appropriate for brands to participate in. The trades were abuzz when DiGiorno pizza tweeted using #WhyIStayed, tying it to pizza consumption without recognizing that the hashtag was actually being used by people opening up about why they had stayed in abusive relationships.

John Oliver took note of this and shared his very strong feelings that brands shouldn't try to participate in every possible conversation, and that most people don't want them in regular conversations:

DiGiorno's hasthag use was obviously a mistake an oversight that the company has apologized for. There are lessons to be learned about thorough hashtag research as well as troubleshooting to see if they might be hijacked by trolls and with the brand eventually included in a thread of unsavory messages.

That's common sense though. Should, per John O., brands just shut up online?

In the Philippines and I suspect many South East Asian countries consumers have a much higher openness to brands and branded conversations. In one focus group I did with lower-SEC moms they described billboards and Facebook social ads as sources of information on important product news to pay attention to. Our consumers don't hesitate to like brand pages and interact with brand posts. In which case I think it doesn't turn anybody off to see KitKat commenting on Facebook being down. After all, KitKat's consumers are experieincing the same thing and in that context it tells current and potential consumers that the brand knows what they're about, that it has a personality and that it can be witty and have a sense of humor.

Still, it will be worth it to measure if consumers feel like brands are putting their noses where they aren't invited or shouldn't be involved. And even in the open web, maybe brands need to self-restrict.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Manila: A design problem

Traffic has been horrendous.
  • I was trying to get to Ortigas last week but had only hit Guadalupe (not even the bridge) after two hours. Google Maps says that distance should only have taken twelve minutes, and even if that is under the most optimistic of trafffic circumstances, it really shouldn't have - and in the past hasn't - taken 120 minutes. I had to cancel my meeting and turn back, spending another hour on the road before I got home. 
  • The next day my sister and I were in Toby's Estate in Salcedo Village. We called our car to come get us from our house, which is also in Makati. It took an hour to pick us up and another 45 mintues to get home. All in Makati!
  • It took my younger brother, who studies in Ateneo, an hour to get from school to The Fort, and two more hours in The Fort to turn on to McKinley.
  • This is from my own experience; I can only imagine the commuters' side of the story.
This is insane. Traffic doesn't usually get this bad until Christmas, or unless a bad storm causes extraordinary flooding. It has been raining but it doesn't usually lead to traffic this crazy. It's so unproductive and wasteful.

Some pretty pathetic pictures from news media pages:
Ayala Ave. - Makati Ave. intersection (via)

Pasong Tamo tunnel flooded as of 3:40pm yesterday. (via)

EDSA last night (via)

"Top photo was taken at 5:11pm. Bottom photo was taken
at 6:47pm. Same spot on SLEX-Nichols Bridge." (via)

Only short-term solutions being proposed. “We have to give priority to the public utility vehicles since private cars can find other roads apart from EDSA,” according to an LTFRB board member (Philstar), a scheme that would prevent private cars from driving on EDSA between 6am and 9am. This might help in the morings but completely disregards the worst traffic of the day - rush hour after 5pm. It also implies that there isn't enough room for both private and public vehicles on EDSA which isn't the case. The problem is that buses and jeeps stop anywhere and take their time loading passengers even if they are blocking traffic. EDSA is both highway and loading dock.

There are other angles to the problem:
  • Do we have the right roads to accommodate the number of people who move around in Manila everyday? 
  • Is there adequate public transportation? Do these systems encourage a commuter culture vs. public vehicles?
  • Are public transporation drivers properly educated about being a good citizen on the road? Are they equipped with the proper protocol and guidelines for not causing traffic? Are they incentivized enough so that they can think not only about themselves but for the good of the entire community on the road?
  • Does the city accommodate walkers and bikers with sidewalks and bike lanes?
  • Do we have enough urban centers in the country, enough to depopulate Manila?
  • Are zoning laws being properly implemented? There are no businesses or buildings on major freeways in other countries, with space for vehicles to properly exit major highways to enter businesses or business districts (unlike Megamall situation which uses EDSA as their driveway, with more buildings added practically on the highway every few years).
  • What causes flooding? What are the streets that flood fastest / most frequently? 

It can seem pretty hopeless. What is one to do in the face of horrendous late-afternoon to evening to nighttime traffic? Leave work early? Not work at all?

We need design thinking! To come up with long-term solutions. Band-aids won't fix these problems. Haven't we already done the yellow lane and the coding scheme? But new cars and the unsupervised public transporation build on top of that and they are soon inadequate. We need to isolate the root causes of flooding and traffic in order to put real solutions in place. We need design thinking to find and address the problems on different layers and create a system of solutions that involve government officials, businesses, public transporation operators, private vehicle owners, commuters, pedestrians, traffic enforcers.

There is an answer to this; other cities have done it. There are cities where people don't even want to buy cars because it's so much more convenient to commute. What we don't know is if the right confluence of vision, strategy and implementation will ever come together in the hands of the lovely people in government to make Manila a city we can be happy to move around in.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Like / Live

The power of the real world in the post-digital world.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Smart's Free Mobile Internet Offer

In a piece on Philippine mobile growth opportunities back in 2010 I said that telcos should let us surf for free. Smart has done just that!

Their announcement last week made headlines. Though they were criticized for having only a 30MB daily limit, they have updated their offer with "Unli Facebook" which I imagine is the service that many Filipinos want mobile access to anyway.

Is this a move that they hope will further quash Globe? (Who sounded like real sour grapes after Smart's announcement went out.) Or is it an attempt to lure more subscribers into the mobile browsing habit? Will Facebook give Smart a usage rebate after they see Philippine engagement rates surge even higher?

The offer is on until January next year. It would be interesting to see, from the Smart side, if this offer gets users into the paid data habit.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Digital Best: Museums

I've visited many museums as I've travelled through different countries, definitely one of my favorite parts of getting to know new cities.

My all-time favorite is definitely MoMA. I have a soft spot for lots of New York museums because I guess I've spent the most travel time there. The Met, the Whitney, the American Museum of Natural History are some of my favorites. The Tate Modern, National Gallery and British Museum in London struck a chord as well. Some historic sites like the Tower of London and Hampton Court, while not exactly museums, had wonderful displays of information and artifacts.

Two things I've learned over the years that inspire me as a marketing professional:
*Museums make some of the best use of digital technology through Participative strategies that invite feedback and interaction. This makes what can be complicated or intimidating art or history more accessible and personal. (This also reinforces a belief I've had for a long time, which is that advertisers are often not the most advanced at digital use.)

*Museums are a fantastic model for Engagement Planning: They strategize how to present content and lead visitors through multiple content areas to deliver a narrative. They need to account for first-time, second-time, seasoned visitors. They acknowledge that different people will have their own preferences and make their own choices about moving around their content space. And they can opt to invite as much or as little participation as possible.

I have some fantastic examples for each of these points, gathered from museum visits through the years, which I'll share in a couple of future posts. (Glad I've gotten these thoughts down as they've been percolating for quite some time!) Stay tuned.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mobile Philippines: 2014 Update

Last Five Years: Re-examining mobile penetration and marketing 

Mobile is one of the most exciting digital arenas. I first wrote about Philippine mobile adoption in 2010. I spent a good chunk of 2010 in New York and mobile was the biggest buzzword. Everyone seemed to be asking, What's your mobile strategy? You end up comparing the digital trends in developed markets with our own situation. Everybody here seemed to be buzzing about the "killer app", but it didn't come, at least not from a local brand. Even for some of the clients I worked with who were ready to forge ahead with mobile, it was tough to strategize given the market gaps. New technology was mostly available on smartphones, which for a long time was Apple-dominated and limited to higher-income brackets and which excluded lower-income segments still on legacy phones. Despite our established mobile penetration, it has taken awhile to see significant numbers in smartphone penetration.

This year seems to be a tipping point. Digital and marketing experts are now asking local brands to ensure that their mobile strategy in place. We have some encouraging numbers – 15% smartphone penetration, still much lower compared to our Southeast Asian counterparts, but this is expected to surge to 50% in 2015.

In recent years we've seen stronger Pinoy adoption of global digital trends.

Major Developments
In 2010 I identified three key areas that were barriers to mobile adoption in the Philippines. Major developments in these areas have driven local penetration and usage.

Hardware: The Android OS accelerated the launch of local phone manufacturers and lowered phone price for lower-income segments, driving smart- and feature phone penetration. MyPhone, Cherry Mobile and Star Mobile have spurred smartphone growth with handsets priced in the USD 50 – 250 range. Even these lower-priced phones have cameras and can access the web, and through Android have access to the Play Store for apps. Android is the most popular operating system, with 91% of Philippine smartphones running on it. (Pinaroc, 2013)

Connectivity: Telcos have done their part! They've been offering data plans and products for prepaid users - such as standalone mobile browsing offers and social networking access bundled with Unli products - to make it easier to go online.




The next hurdle: Speed and reliability is still a big issue, however. Many Filipinos are not satisfied with their internet speeds on PC, let alone on mobile. This is definitely a gap area that needs to be addressed.

Content: With access to the Apple App store or the Google Play store, users now have so many apps to choose from. "32% of smartphone owners download six or more apps per month." (OnDevice, 2014) Social media sites Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, what I would guess are the most popular mobile apps in the country, all have mobile interfaces. Games remain to be the most popular type of app download, and music streaming services like Spotify or local Spinnr have become extremely popular.

The next opportunity: Locally-created, locally-contextualized apps and social/mobile content. We're using a lot of global social networks and apps but when will we find our clear voice in software content?

You're Up, Marketing!

There seem to be different grades of mobile strategy adoption. The most aggressive I've seen locally has probably been ABSCBN Mobile - an entirely new convergent product segment built with a bet on mobile and content.

Marketers certainly have more toys to play with now, depending on what is optimal for their digital strategy: Mobile Ads, Apps for Enterprise-level (e.g. pizza delivery), Apps for campaigns, Mobile content (e.g. Spotify for Coke or Spinnr for Smart), Mobile Commerce. On a more basic level much of the content developed for Twitter, Facebook and especially Instagram are accessible on mobile and can/should be considered part of a mobile strategy.

Local brands may not have maximized mobile yet, but it's encouraging that penetration is growing. The exact areas I identified in 2010 as barriers to mobile adoption have all been at least partially addressed. The landscape is ripe for innovation.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Brand PH: Filipino cuisine

Our food is our secret weapon in building Brand Philippines.

I wrote about how our exports can be our best brand experience products. With the continued rise of Filipino cuisine that may be happening.

Last summer, a Halo-halo explosion.

This year, Anthony Bourdain sampled Jollibee. Wonder what his expectations were after such a memorable food trip here in 2009.

Bourdain may have inspired the fun-loving staff at Buzzfeed to taste it for themselves.

And just a few months later, All hail, sisig! by the New York Times.
"Ears, jowls, belly. They come brined, blanched, shattered and fried, each tip blackened and alchemized, each pocket of fat approaching liquefaction. A raw yolk idles on top. Stab it and churn. This is sisig, the greatest pork hash — arguably greatest pork dish — on earth. Say the name with two flicks of the tongue, somewhere between a whisper and a hiss."
He also loved halo-halo: The lone dessert is a knockout: halo-halo (which is pronounced “hollow-hollow” and means “mix-mix” in Tagalog) is a funnel of shaved ice — not a powdery snow but coarse, so it knocks against the teeth — with aerated milk percolating down strata of fresh young coconut and coconut jelly; bananas sticky from simple syrup; spongy see-through palm seeds; and whatever berries are in season. At the top is a hunk of leche flan under an up-do of lavender-hued whipped cream, infused with ube (purple yam) and studded with popcorn. ... It is over the top yet somehow demure, Audrey Hepburn hiding the heart of Anna Nicole. When it was handed to me, everyone in the room hushed.

The lovely people at Buzzfeed have completely jumped on Pinoy food bandwagon.

Sampling Street Food

Sampling our Junk Food
I have to say though, they missed out on the really good stuff -- Chippy, Piattos, Curly Tops, local haw flakes..!

They've also listed "The 24 Filipino Foods You Need In Your Life"
And (as a result of their Pinoy immersion?) seem to have developed a very odd fascination with Sam Milby..! Whaaaa?

Cuisine as Brand-Builder
Our food might say more about us than we think. Thought when Anthony Bourdain came to the Philippines for his show he seemed frustrated not to be able to encapsulate what our cuisine is all about. That might be one reason we've had a hard time presenting it to the world. But you can sum up Filipinos in four F's: Family, Friends, Faith, Food. That's really what we have at our core. Food isn't a passion point, it's just such a big part of who we are. It's at the center of every social gathering and maybe even the main reason to get together. Now that we're spreading across the globe it makes sense that we would bring our cuisine with us. With Pinoy chefs and cooks making their mark across the US (count them on Top Chef!), we might be getting a new-generation hand at presenting our food.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Virality Lessons: Ice Bucket Challenge

Breaking down the #icebucketchallenge engagement drivers 

You've probably seen loads ofcelebrity Ice Bucket Challenge videos. I first saw my favorite late night host Jimmy Fallon doing it, after being challenged by his bestie Justin Timberlake. There are throngs of actors, musicians, athletes, even people from the tech sector accepting the challenge with their own content posts.

It started as a way to promote pet charity projects (Matt Lauer was one of the first to do it on the Today Show), but ended up attached to ALS awareness and fundraising after golfer Chris Kennedy challenged a cousin whose husband has ALS.

The trend caught on and "more than 15 million people have joined in on the conversation about the ice bucket challenge on Facebook, including posting, commenting or Liking a challenge post" (Mashable).

Besides the gimmick and content spread, the challenge has also led to conversion. "As of Thursday, the ALS Association, a national advocacy, care and research association with 38 chapters, had raised $7.6 million in donations in two weeks. That compares with $1.4 million raised during the same two-week period last year. The donations came from existing donors and 145,918 new donors" (WSJ)

#icebuckethcallenge engagement drivers

In the past couple of years we've seen the spread of user-generated virals like "Call Me Maybe" and last year's "Harlem Shake" videos. The #icebucketchallenge seems to have picked up faster and has proven to be effective at both awareness and conversion.

Different organizations have tried to use social to spread awareness for different causes, such as the cryptic messages for the "I like it on..." breast cancer awareness meme a few years ago or drives that ask users to change their status images to show support. I don't think we've seen a massive success of either type of campaign locally so this is an interesting case to learn from in terms of engagement drivers.

How the challenge works: You get challenged. If you accept, you fill a bucket with ice-cold water (may or may not have actual cubes, or may be mostly ice cubes ala Martha Stewart) and pour the water on yourself (it can also get poured on you by someone else as was done for the awesome Chris Pratt or by your own custom bucket-pouring contraption ala Bill Gates). You are then allowed to nominate another person to do it who must comply within 24 hours. If they refuse they must donate cash to support ALS.

This meme has several spreadability factors working for it
  • It's simple to execute
  • The result is visually compelling to watch and share, especially when done by celebrities willing to look stupid online (except for you, Justin Bieber)
  • Most of all the mechanic of challenging someone else, of tagging them, fuels the spread. The call-to-action is one-on-one and when your name is called to do something, you are more compelled to answer and participate
Most interesting is that it hits two major marketing objectives at the same time, awareness and sales or conversion.

Social for good, highly participative, inherently viral, pretty brilliant.

Friday, August 1, 2014

last year

It took days to sort through a year's worth of Shanghai photos. There was much to see, but the most prominent subject (besides the mandatory yes-I'm-Asian-ok-fine-I'm-Filipino food shots) was of the nieghborhood. One of my favorite things about Shanghai is that it is both coming and going, some pieces stuck in humble local life, and some bits zooming ahead and pioneering the future. My stroll down photo memory lane reminded me that this year was more about the lively, maddening city than about work life. I've never been able to say this as a working adult. This year has done wonders for my soul.

Why did it end? Mis-fit, is all I'll say here - not one I regret and definitely not with the city.

Shanghai is a million things, soothing and crazy at the same time. It wasn't at all where I thought I'd end up in my first post outside Manila. It was at first disconcerting how little of my comfort zone there was to be found there - food safety, air quality, English all missing, but especially friends, a serious deficit at the start. In time I came to relish the feeling of having my own corner of the world, with nobody from my past in it and the great new people I met almost a completely different set from everyone else I know back home. Even if I've left, probably for good, part of me will feel like I can disappear into the city again if I ever need a break.

Shanghai was my next work move, which by all means I got, but the surprise was being able to focus on the not work. As regional posts go, the pace was slower and I got to spend more time outside, seeing, tasting, trying, doing.

I've come to appreciate the slow-down, even if it was never the plan and though the free time was at first quite jarring. My highest-Liked Facebook post to date broached the possibility that I'd entered an alternate advertising universe one can have work-life because our whole team would start packing up at 5:45 everyday and actually leave by 6. My teammates would tell me their after-work or dinner plans and I couldn't believe anyone would really be able to keep their appointments. Who knew.

I'm holding on to this a little longer, milking it and maybe reinvesting in my sanity. Recovering after eight straight hard years, or maybe preparing for the next intense set. The thought freaked me out at first, even if my gut told me I absolute wanted to lie low instead of jumping right into a new role. This isn't me; I'm usually so gung-ho about work. A former teammate who recently found himself in the same ad work limbo said he was raring to go, that he was still hungry. I don't think my professional appetite has been satiated of advertising but I do need to stop for a bit and maybe taste new things. Maybe things moved too fast for too long. Maybe the politics tainted my love of the industry and the work. I'm giving myself three months to figure it out, no commitments, no matter how much that scares me.

I need to stay out of things for just a little longer, and find something old or new to inspire me. Who knows. But if there's anything I learned from Shanghai, it's the joy of discovery, that there's a new street full of low-key watering holes or cool little boutiques just waiting to be chanced-upon. That finding something meaningful doesn't mean you've been aggressively searching. That being open can be better than knowing what you want. Some of the good stuff is unscripted, meant to be chanced upon or discovered just when you thought you'd never been more lost.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Travel Local

How globalization sorta works out 

In one of our media studies classes at university we discussed globalization and the potential effects of “McDonaldization”. The worst possible outcome would be for cities to turn into generic collections of the same brands, uniqueness eliminated across the board. I have experienced this in a funny way – seeing a dress worn by another girl on the Singapore subway that I had wanted to buy in Manila. Or finding one of my favorite New York ice cream shops in Tokyo. Surreal.

The newness of traveling to a city can be diminished because so many of the brands are already familiar and accessible at home. It reinforces the feeling that we are just moving from one concrete cookie cutter city to the next.

When we were kids going to LA or Hong Kong we’d wind ourselves up in excitement over going to Toys’R Us, supertoystores with all the imported kid brands not having been set up yet in Manila. On another HK visit when I was eleven or twelve I remember when my mom let me try Mrs. Fields for the first time. Or, much later, the joy of spending hours in H&M and Uniqlo during trips to Singapore. And hoarding Muji notebooks in New York not knowing they would eventually end up here. A friend told me when she found out that Zara was coming here that she would be down one Euro shopping treat.

The influx of imported brands has even sped up in the last couple of years. Gap, Forever 21, Keihl’s, Muji, Michael Kors, etc, etc, etc.  Even food chains have arrived en masse – Starbucks and CPK were some of the first and now Ihop, Ippudo, Jamba Juice and Pinkberry are here. This year we’re seeing a slew of brand launches that I never would have imagined would make it to Manila – Pottery Barn, H&M… we’re just missing Ikea. It is a great time for Philippine consumers.

I can’t deny though that having all these brands so easily accessible has taken some of the fun out of traveling, especially on the shopping side. Now Manila has everything! Many brands we can find in a mall in Shanghai are now likely in Manila, Singapore, Jakarta, LA. And, following the imported brand trend, if something is popular it is probably just a matter of time before it gets here.

Even if a brand doesn’t have its own retail presence, someone, somewhere is importing them. Malen+Goetz are in Adora, Mario Badescu is now in Rustan’s, and Trader Joe’s stuff can be found in the SM grocery. A friend told me he was overjoyed when he found a Herschel bag in Hong Kong, but just a few months later I found them being sold at Bratpack. I even found Vosges chocolate bars in Healthy Options.

If we now have access to so many of the most coveted global brands right in our malls, is the thrill gone from shopping and other branded experiences when we’re abroad?

The gift of globalization may be that it neutralizes the exclusivity of the massively commercial. Because we have so many international brands that we don’t have to wait to get to other countries to experience, this frees us up to find the locally unique wherever we go. Friends took me to Symmetry and Bar Stories in Singapore, two wonderfully local joints. In New York I enjoyed shopping at Evolution and Kiosk, both awesomely local. In Shanghai I can point you to the one and only branch of CafĂ© del Volcan, which is I think the best coffee shop in the city. I can give you the number of Strictly Cookies, the best dessert to order, or lead you to Backroom and Taste, my favorite little boutiques in the French Concession, or show you my favorite neighborhood boulangerie and local Mexican/margarita joint.

I love that we’ve seen the rise of so many of our own food and lifestyle brands in Manila. When a balikbayan or foreigner comes to visit I won’t take them to Starbucks or boast about the new H&M. I’ll point them to The Curator, Wildflour, Ritual, Bucky’s, Chez Karine.  

There’s never been a better time to go local, here and wherever we find ourselves in the world.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

jimmy's vinyl

When Jimmy Fallon invited Neil Young to promote his new album on The Tonight Show, they replicated some of the recording process that Neil used for the show. Neil used this recording phone booth that creates one copy of the performance on vinyl. One analog copy that can only be played on one kind of analog device. Classic.

In the digital age where a couple of keyboard strokes can duplicate something instantaneously, will there be a movement toward these kinds of one-copy-only exclusives?


Adam and Blake tweet furiously during The Voice Instant Save window.

Last season The Voice introduced the "Instant Save". During results episodes when the bottom three contestants are announced, Carson tells viewers that they have the last remaining minutes of the show to tweet to save their favorite artist. As long as they use the #VoiceSave hashtag with the name of their favorite contestant, their voite will be counted toward that artist.

Sidebar: The first thing I wondered when Carson first announced the Instant Save was what listening software they're using. Then I figured that they are probably working with Twitter directly to get such real-time and accurate results. Really, the window only lasts ten minutes and they announce the winner in the final seconds before the show ends. The lesson - Don't bother with a listening software for hashtag tracing and just get in bed with Twitter directly?

This makes me wonder if the economics of the show are shifting. When American Idol premiered many, many seasons ago they depended only on SMS and call-in votes, telco-driven transactions. Later on they expanded to online voting. When I started watching The Voice a few seasons I go I noticed that they include iTunes song downloads of the contestants' performances in voting counts.

Either way, what does the new Instant Save drive? Are they giving up millions in potential SMS revenue? Or are they telling us that consistent viewer engagement has a bigger value now? Something to think about.