Sunday, August 30, 2015

I loved my MTV!

I’m watching Up Dharma Down tonight! I can't wait to see them live again. While this can't possibly be true I feel like the last time I saw them live was probably ten years ago. This has of course triggered my nostalgia and has me thinking about all that has happened since then, and how - holy crap - this is my tenth year of work.

My first job was at MTV where I got to spend hours and hours listening to live music. I had never been into the local rock scene the way some of my friends were, chasing after Urbandub when they were in Manila, cramming into Saguijo, delighting in the fact that we were watching Basti live in Jesus Christ Superstar.

The world was alien to me but working at MTV introduced me to a piece of Philippine culture and art that I had for a long time struggled to relate to. My siblings and I belong to an odd subset of Filipinos who grew up on more Western influences than local. Which is coincidentally what drew me to advertising. Completely faulty logic, now that I think about it as a planner whose trade is focused on understanding the local truths that make people tick. I always loved art, film, music and television, and wanted to have a career in that field. If I had grown up in the US I would probably have tried to work for a TV network or studio. In the Philippines though, I knew off the bat that I had no affinity for local television or movies. Given the available tracks in my Communication course in college, Advertising (rather than Radio, Journalism or Film) seemed like a media world I could relate to. There were many ads I remembered growing up ("Ketchup please, Luis", "Goodbye, Carlo!", "Magpakatotoo ka!", the Katrina Globe ad) and it seemed like an industry worth exploring.

My internship at one agency shop not only lived up to the hype but cemented my passion for the industry. Signed, sealed, delivered. Locked and loaded? A done deal. I fell hard that summer and despite a terribly tumultuous relationship I am still committed.

After graduating none of my idol agencies offered me a job, no matter how many places I sent my CV to. I was also having an identity crisis, not being able to decide whether the right field for me was accounts or creative. I didn’t even know then that planning existed! I had always wanted to do design and while I had enjoyed my internship, where I worked under a lovely creative team, I left feeling like the discipline was too dependent on eureka moments that you couldn’t quite plan for. This seemed like too scary and random a construct to spend every professional day in. MTV was meant to be a stop-gap but I picked something up there that set course for my entire career.

The best thing I got from MTV was my first exposure to digital. I started out in PR and after six months was invited to move to the digital team. MTV was waning in cultural influence but was still advanced in the practice of integrated communications. Our channels were on-ground, on-air and on-line, with products created to exist on all three. I found this amazing, especially the online side. It sounds so cliché and passe now but despite my early exploration of ICQ and Netscape-based browsing, most of the digital world was new to me. As a Digital Producer I was in charge of populating our website and managing our fan community. I ended up playing around with Dreamweaver and I ended up learning to create web pages (in a WYSIWYG way) and enjoyed capturing content about the different bands and artists that came into our studios, including a still-favorite Up Dharma. (Cue post about how I learned who Ely Buendia is... Coming soon.)

Even if it wasn’t the social media age yet I marveled at this world of two-way interaction, which while always being a part of how MTV did things, was maximized online. I enjoyed content creation and publishing, the exercise of trying to create pieces to share that would get people excited about our world.

Needless to say the MTV story ended extremely quickly. Our doors closed which somehow made the last three months there so sentimental and even more memorable. My “Almost Famous” band-aid year wasn’t meant to be extended or prolonged, only captured in my memories as the perfect first job to transition from being a college kid to someone in the working world.

I look back on MTV, my first world of work, with so much fondness. It was a good year with enough fun to last me the next decade of sleepless nights and endless stress. I remember my first few weeks doing agency work thinking, “So this is what real jobs are like.”

I have absolutely no regrets about this path and a career that has taken me from our office in an under-populated Fort to all sorts of cities. Most of all I owe many thanks to MTV for infecting me with the digital bug.

"Future" // Urban Dub & Dicta License
"First of Summer" // Urbandub
"Pag-Agos" // Up Dharma Down

Monday, July 20, 2015

hello lah

I never wrote an "I'm in Sing" post!

Maybe things happened too quickly between Shanghai, my break and the next move. Packing, searching for an apartment, moving money around, booking a Christmas flight home, meeting dozens of new officemates, trying to place people within a tricky org chart. Getting into the swing of things, thinking - hey, there's work-life balance here! Nobody books meetings past six. And then boom. Three unforgettable weeks when an avalanche of projects and pitches started to fall and haven't quite stopped. No time to take stock.

One of our creatives asked me if this is the worst I've had it. PSHAW. I was trained in the Manila school of advertising, I started out under a telco and I finished with  three years in Mr. Lim's sweatshop (I say with great fondness!). It's nowhere near the worst I've had it. In terms of workload.

It's been nine months now. The amount of time I promised myself I'd stay when I started at my first ad agency... where I, with a few internal moves here and there, ended up staying for eight years. When all the pieces just fit. And when they don't.

Singapore has been such a switch from Shanghai. I can't help but compare. Everything seems to be different between my PVG and SIN lives. I romanticize my year in the four seasons of the charming, tree-lined French Concession. I think I left with just enough time on the clock to be able to say that all the crap was part of its character. But as other friends who have made the same geo move have said - Singapore is the handsome, rich boyfriend who will impress all your kiasu friends. But Shanghai is the rugged, scruffy, massively imperfect guy on a motorcycle that you'll always be tempted to choose. Or as I told another friend, Shanghai is the mistress you can't help but love.

This might make it sound like I'm not happy to be here. But I've come to love, if not the city exactly, much of my life here. Nine months have passed and as we've said, I'm glad I came.

And now it's 11:30 pm... time to get back to work.

Friday, May 8, 2015

signs of the times

What a sad and sadly accurate commentary of our times. This couple, this guy, this girl have all died in the last year as a result of overzealous selfie photography.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

State of the Agency Market

"Of the world's five largest digital networks, only one is owned by an established agency company: No. 5 Wunderman, owned by WPP.
IBM Corp.'s IBM Interactive Experience ranks as the biggest digital network, followed by Deloitte Consulting's Deloitte Digital, Accenture's Accenture Interactive and Alliance Data Systems Corp.'s Epsilon."
via AdAge

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Post-Digital Musings at Stream Asia 2015

Where do we go from here?

As marketers we claim to have a deep understanding of our customers and their culture. The fragmentation and complexity of our post-digital world, however, have made it increasingly difficult to put our finger on the consumer pulse. Technology, communication, socialization now evolve so rapidly that before we can wrap our heads around the status quo reality is once again different. I’ve recently discovered that it can help to have an industry support group of sorts that we can discuss and process these things with. The scenario may keep changing but what is important is to keep up the inquiry, to keep processing. 

I’ve been thinking about the idea of the Post-Digital for some time – what our world has become through digital and how it will continue to evolve. Trends like the Maker movement and the 3D printing industry have made me wonder if our digital future will lead us back to the basics of the physical realm, because while technology-enabled these developments feel distinctly analog. On the other extreme are innovations like virtual reality glasses, hololenses and smart homes, smart chargers, smart everything. These technologies make me wonder if we’ve swallowed red pill and jumped into the rabbit hole.

I finally got to explore this topic in greater depth last week at Stream, a WPP (un)conference that invites participants to examine the future of digital and communications. WPP brings agency folk together with clients, founders, media, social entrepreneurs, creators, makers and geeks of all sorts to exchange ideas and questions. It is an un-conference – no suits, keynotes or a set agenda. In this particular Stream drones were flying around and there was a trapeze. Standard activities are the gadget show-and-tell, Powerpoint-eoke, and midnight cook-off. It’s a little random. Much of the activity time is set for participant-generated discussions. When users arrive they can post a topic and anyone can show up to have an exchange and/or heated debate.

This is how, on a sunny Saturday morning, I ended up in a Post-Digital roundtable in Club Med, Phuket. (Though in true ad agency fashion by roundtable I mean a casual arrangement of lounge and folding chairs). More questions were brought up than answered, but it was comforting to discover that others in the industry also struggle to understand what our post-digital world is and will be.
I found that many comments and questions helped me firm up ideas on my earlier question about the duality of the post-digital. Here are three potential scenarios based on our group exchange:
  • The post-digital will go back to basics: The maker movement will teach us to work again with our hands. 3D printing will have us rediscover physics and then allow those proficient enough to produce their own goods. Individuals will be able to trade and barter with this merchandise. Relationships will become the main selling tool; there will be little need for mass-market brands in this DIY future.
  • The post-digital will lead us down the rabbit hole: Robots will eventually take over our marketing jobs as AI will apparently overtake human intelligence in about a decade. The children of Generation Z, our future consumers, will be raised as ‘screen-enabled’. Their intense interaction with five screens and up will have effects on real-world interfaces – they will expect taps and swipes to operate what in our time were analog things like faucets and hinges. To prepare children for the programmable future “reading, writing, coding” will become the building blocks of primary education.
  • The middle ground: We will live within an Internet of Things, with every machine sensor- and web-enabled. Machine-to-machine communication will become a thing. Most things won’t change – our need to convene, touch, socialize, make love, and emotion will remain a bigger factor in human and brand engagement than the strictly rational or data-driven.

The perspectives I heard were so interesting. Some, none, a few may prevail, only time will tell. What has become a little clearer to me now is that we are utterly unprepared for these changes. As we were discussing our value to brands and clients in this context one participant commented on marketers’ strong hesitation to let go, to be vulnerable to the changes. This is fair, though our preoccupation with processing this new space may be because we are the one generation that straddles both the analog past and the digital future.

After the session we parted ways, heading to other discussions that further exemplified the complexity – and sometimes absurdity – of our digital present. Talks covered everything from Bitcoin and the future of behavioral buying to “Digital Breaking Bad: The Illegal Undernet” and “The Selfie Stick: The end of mankind?”

It was good to be able to put my questions and thoughts forth to a group who were also processing these unprecedented changes. As an industry we have a lot of evolving and catching up to do. But it’s great to feel like we’re not alone in discovering and investigating this new landscape. If we can continue to come together and try to make fun or sense of the new digital world order, I think we’ll be ok.

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

social media tonality

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

Today's documentaries. Good stuff.


Experts talk about the Twitter-powered discipline of "live storytelling" - how to design stories that are not fully told and leave room for audiences to participate, grow and change stories. Twitter-sponsored (and even posted on the TwitterAds page) but they use good cases and examples from politics to brands. Real time newsrooms included.


Social media changes what it means to be a teen - the constant drive for likes, retweets and shares and the images and actions required to continuously generate those results. Celebrities have become their own media publishers and fans become impressions ready to be sold. Marketers, brands and media franchises are poised to take advantage.

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.