Saturday, January 4, 2014

Brand Philippines

When It's More Fun in the Philippines was launched I especially liked the engagement strategy that got us involved in punning up with copy. I feel like "fun" is too general a claim even for the supposed happiest people in the world, but I appreciate it now that I've seen the campaign in my work and travels abroad. It has won effectiveness awards and was certainly successful at increasing the number of visitors to the country.

It was a fantastic effort, but I’ve always had a discomfort about the campaign. I’ve been mulling this over and trying to figure out why since the it launched and now I think I know what I dislike about it. My discomfort is not about the campaign, but about the brief. It is a great tourism push, but it doesn’t address the root of what I think is a bigger issue. Getting people here is not the only job that needs to be done.

What is Brand Philippines?

It's More Fun in the Philippines is a great invitation, but we also need to define our nation's brand that sums up our best qualities and offerings. Which is where It’s More Fun… falls short. Not that it was meant for this (I think). But we should be able to formulate a proposition about who we are. And we aren't just fun. We have a caring and healing touch, brought all over the world by our overseas workers. We are fluent in the global tongue, and other countries come here to learn it. Those are unique to us. We have an insatiable appetite for art and music. We make killer roast pig. We are the most engaged social participants.

Unfortunately perception of us may not even include these positives. We have a lot of baggage. In media studies in college we were told about a thesis that studied the search engine results of the keyword “Filipino”, which at the time returned mostly results for mail order bride websites. Some people may not even know we exist. I would have thought there would be at least a baseline awareness, especially to Americans who occupied the Philippines and had bases here until the nineties, but I've met several who embarrassedly, politely ask me to remind them what place I'm talking about when I tell them where I'm from. What do they think of Manny Pacquiao and how does that cast a light on how others see our country? Or what did the recent Yolanda relief efforts tell them about who we are?

The art of persuasion

I first started thinking about this when I discovered Monocle's Soft Power Survey in 2012. It was the first time I'd heard the term "soft power", defined as "the ability of one state to change the behavior of others through the means of attraction and persuasion, rather than coercion or payment". In the article the magazine names things like pop music, film exports, cultural initiatves, local brands that have gone global, etc. as contributors to soft power. Last year the UK was at the top of the list for football leagues and Olympic hosting coverage. USA was #2 with "Call Me Maybe" cited along with the "global reach of [their] entertainment industry", sports stars and their lead in foreign aid. Sweden ranked at #5 with mentions of Ikea and Steig Larsson. South Korea went up in the rankings (#11) thanks to PSY and the rise of K-pop. Mexico was a new entrant, with renewed interest its cuisine cited.

How now? An approach

This made me think about the approach to branding and managing Brand Philippines to the international community. It sounds like a typical ad agency brief, but the end result wouldn’t be communication materials. What if we could systematically expose international audiences to the best of our culture? Here’s my idea for how this should be rolled out.

First, our Brand would need to be defined. (I won’t even begin to get into this, but if anybody influential ever reads this, FYI, I know a team of brand strategists who would be perfect for the job.) This would ensure that all initiatives add up to establishing our one brand.

Then we would create a Brand Experience Program, to be launched in each key local market. The important thing would be more about activation than just exports. I have two ideas for initial elements.

Food & Alcohol. Cuisine is a way to immediately gain appreciation for a new culture. Filipino food is gaining popularity in the States, which would be an ideal place to start. Could we do lechon cookout pop-ups? A pan de sal café? San Miguel nights? One great example:

Our greatest export, People. With all our OFWs as scattered around the globe we have ambassadors all over the world to spread our values and culture. With our domestic helpers and teachers my mom says that Filipinos are helping to raise the world’s children. Should there be a briefing to help all overseas workers understand their collective influence on how people see our people, culture and country?

Music, Comics, Fashion, Art... initiatives are endless.

Lastly Brand Managers would need to be deployed in our most important target markets. They would execute and contribute ideas about Brand Experiences, and making sure that any tourism efforts deployed are in line with the new branding. They would also be in charge of keeping tabs on how their local markets see and think of the Philippines. 

Engineering perception

We have been getting bigger representation in global media but is all this exposure adding up to positive perception about us? With increased travel routes and budget flight options more Filipinos are travelling to other countries. How do others perceive us as we head out into the world?

This approach would hopefully get foreigners aware of our country and contribute to the push to get more people to come visit. But the end result could be a more specific, positive perception of us that would get foreigners to look at us kindly and welcome us when we travel and work abroad. They might understand us better and be even quicker to help when we need global outreach. Maybe they’d even be more willing to business with us.

This becomes more and more important not just to get people to come over but as we increasingly become global citizens.


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