Advertising and Marketing

There’s too much fun in the Philippines

A certain pizza place we shall now disguise behind the name Norwich Pizza had been acquired by a large food conglomerate we shall call Bumblebee Food Corporation for purposes of discussion. BFC sought to turn Norwich from a simple mom and pop type of operation into a highly profitable nationwide franchise.

It set about doing this by hiring a very prominent ad agency to deliver a strong and appealing message to the public. The firm wisely picked a celebrity, a certain Ms Nonita Flowers, to be in their commercials.

Within months of the launch of the media campaign, sales rose rather well in line with projections made by the company’s bean counters. Unfortunately, after a quarter of stellar performance, revenues started to head south quite dramatically. This puzzled the head honchos at BFC. Everything had been proceeding according to plan until very recently. What had happened?

To investigate and remedy the situation, one of BFC’s vice presidents who successfully steered another major acquisition, the Chun King Express, was brought in. The vice president proceeded to inspect the premises of Norwich. Within a month or two, he had not only arrested the decline in sales, but restored it to its previous trajectory.

So how did he do it?

Well, having cut his teeth in the fast and furious world of Chinese takeaway, the vice president of Chun King knew the importance of maintaining good customer service. This could only be achieved if the stores were equipped with proper equipment particularly in the kitchen. Within the first few weeks of his assignment, the new manager had placed orders for new ovens to replace or augment the standard kit that had been originally installed in Norwich stores, which he deemed highly inadequate.

The capital investment paid off and Bumblebee proceeded to earn a positive return on its acquisition of Norwich, albeit at a lower rate in the first year than previously expected due to the unforeseen expenditures. The vice president was given a fat bonus for his efforts in rescuing the venture. Money well spent from the point of view of BFC’s board and stockholders.

This case study demonstrates the importance of coupling good marketing with good operations. Without a quality product, no amount of spending on ad campaigns could restore or improve the brand’s sinking reputation. In the fast food business, it doesn’t matter how tasty the food might be, if customers have to wait too long, they won’t be coming back.

The same can be said of tourism and travel. The Department of Tourism under Sec Jimenez is looking to increase the flow of visitors into the country with a catchy slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines” and the usual slick marketing campaign. It is in talks with Singapore to co-brand the two nations as the “sunshine belt”.

These ideas are brilliant, but the problem is that the Ninoy Aquino International Airport is already operating above its normal capacity with visible signs of wear and tear all too evident. Even with the renovation of Terminal 1 and the recent conclusion of the decade’s long case involving Terminal 3 paving the way for the full use of it for international flights, these developments will not unclog the bottlenecks due to the limited number of runways. No amount of renovations will fix that as there is no more room for expansion. As arrivals are slated to rise from 3.9 million in 2011 to 4.2 million this year, how will the airport cope?

This problem is compounded by the growth in domestic flights. During my recent visit to the Philippines, I spent an hour waiting at the departure lounge of the domestic terminal in Manila for a flight to Kalibo. The reason given for the delay was “heavy congestion”. After boarding the plane, we were grounded for close to another hour waiting to be cleared for take-off. As the plane finally taxied onto the runway, I stared at my watch, then at the frustrated businessman seated next to me.

Only two hours delayed, not bad,” I jokingly uttered. He laughed. That was all we could do to cope with the situation.

The same thing occurred on the way back. As the voice boomed in the speaker stating that our flight was behind schedule, a power outage stopped it in mid-sentence. It was nearing nightfall and the blackout was quite a shock to the passengers.

“It’s more fun in the Philippines!” I heard a man snicker in the darkness.

Meanwhile on a separate road trip up to Northern Luzon, our convoy experienced a very weary trek. Each town we passed through, every ten kilometres or so, caused us to slowdown as their town hall plazas, central markets, public schools and cemeteries were all located along the main artery causing both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

The road widening still unfinished due to the slow spending rate of public works projects in 2011 delayed our trip in certain sections. We were told that an extension of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway would provide better access to the North bypassing most of these populous towns from Tarlac to La Union, but our guide said this had been halted by the new administration. It was clear though that such a road project was long overdue.

That’s as far as infrastructure and transport corridors are concerned. We haven’t discussed the problem of environmental degradation. In both Baguio and Boracay where I took my family, the effects of what urban planners call regional agglomeration were quite evident. Tourism was enticing a major “big box” shopping center to expand in Baguio. Such a move could upset the already congested situation, worsening the air quality, not to mention the aesthetic and cultural appeal of the tourist destination.

Meanwhile, I was shocked to see D’Mall in Boracay. It sort of depressed me actually. I ended up skipping lunch because I had lost my appetite after seeing this transplanting of Divisoria or Baclaran to the once pristine island. It made me wonder if there was such a thing as having too much fun in the Philippines.

If tourism was sold to our government planners as an environmentally safer path towards development compared to industry or mining, I say, think again. There are no free lunches as economists are wont to say. We can’t expect rapid development not to have an impact on the natural habitat. It would be dangerous to think so.

I actually prefer having a greater emphasis on industry, because you can at least concentrate the site of industrial projects within a confined area and choose the type of industries (say light industries or agro-industrial ventures with a smaller ecological footprint) or provide incentives and regulations to govern the heavy polluting ones.

The Philippines has a lot of catching up to do in this area. I am not simply speaking of tourism now. Wasn’t inclusive, sustainable growth and development at the heart of PNoy’s social compact though? This administration like its predecessors is fond of catchy slogans beginning with Daang Matuwid (Righteous Path). It’s more fun is just the latest. But apart from having these platitudes, where is the plan? We have yet to see a blue print for developing the infrastructure, the security, the regulations and incentives that would responsibly manage the growth in our economy? The case of Norwich must be heeded; otherwise, the Philippines could remain grounded for a bit longer.

Rethinking Viral Videos

On the 17th of February, 2011, Datu Puti released a one-minute edit of its most recent commercial starring Manny Pacquiao.  While this in and of itself is not unusual, the mechanism through which they chose to do so was – they put it up on YouTube first. My friends from TBWA, the agency that developed the ad, were vocal and persistent in sharing the link on Facebook and Twitter.

To say “it went viral” is to understate how quickly my social network feeds became clogged with reposts. This was a bona fide online hit. The dialogue was witty, the subject matter entertaining. My sister posted it to her Facebook feed. So did many of my friends.

(Haven’t seen it? It’s here.

Go watch it; it’s worth your time and effort.)

What follows – and I need to be clear about this – is in no way an indictment of the work that Datu Puti, TBWA, and their unnamed production house have poured into the ad. It’s clear that this is work to be proud of. I liked the ad; the only reason I didn’t put it on my own Facebook Wall and Twitter feed is that most of my network had already reposted it.

There is one thing that bothers me about the video, and it has less to do with the video itself than with how the public received it.

For a great viral video, it doesn’t seem to have a lot of views online.

Let me be clearer: at the time of this writing (noon on 28 February 2011, a full 11 days after it was released), the video has 476,236 views on YouTube. I’ve found two other reposts on YouTube with 47,939 views and 19,843 views respectively. Beyond that… nothing. No Vimeo posts, no Facebook video posts.

The grand total is 544,018 views. Let’s round it up and call it 600,000 views to be on the safe side.

From one perspective, 600,000 views over 11 days is fantastic.

And from another, it’s terrible. We have 22.5 million Facebook user accounts in the country. For a “viral video” to have only 600,000 views says something about how our market responds to Web videos.

This leads me down several avenues of thought:

      1) Regardless of what Yahoo-Nielsen and Universal McCann say, video watching in the country is not as widespread as one would think. I blame user experience for this – I typically wait fifteen to twenty minutes to buffer a three minute video. An hourlong Webcast I subscribe to takes around five hours to load (at home, on my less congested Internet connection, it takes just two and a half.)

      The “video on demand” paradigm breaks down in the face of Third World Internet. After all, the Internet is full of distractions, and the user presented with a choice between waiting for a video to buffer and the chance to see something interesting right now will usually choose to be distracted right now. Also, time and bandwidth are finite and costly. If we want users to wait for videos to buffer, we need to provide incentives – something most agencies and advertisers don’t consider when they deploy Web videos.

      2) This opens up further questions. If Filipinos are watching videos online, what, exactly, are people watching, if not content developed for this market? How many videos do they consume in a session? How long are the videos they watch? How long do they wait for videos to load?

      And how do we get answers to these questions?

      3) The numbers aside, I can’t fault TBWA and Datu Puti for their strategy. They already had the TVC. Putting it online was a cost-effective way to maximize it. They didn’t need to shoot additional footage or develop new content for this video.

      I also need to point out that there are audiences online that cannot be reached any other way, who would not otherwise have seen the ad on television. After all, you can’t see the ads that come with TV shows if you don’t watch television. The advent of BitTorrent – merely the most recent iteration of peer-to-peer file sharing technology – has virtually ensured that a particular segment of the market no longer has a need for “appointment TV.”

      If I had a TVC, I would seed it online for exactly these reasons – to maximize the investment in the ad and to reach these online-only audiences.

      4) That said, for a viral video to actually “go viral”, marketers need to provide reasons for people to share it. The Pacquiao video provided these reasons as part of its content – it was amusing and topical. Many Web videos fail to be spread because they’re not interesting or engaging enough.

      Content that says “please forward” sounds desperate but sometimes works. As the discipline of digital marketing matures, I expect we’ll see more and more sophisticated mechanisms to get people to share content online.

      5) There is no easy justification for campaigns that rely on Web-only video. Compared to other online marketing tactics, Web video is expensive and not particularly engaging. Social media marketing can cover most of the online market, which makes Web video a costly adjunct to a social media marketing campaign, at best. This bodes poorly for Web video efforts like Flippish.com.

      6) Lately I’ve come to suspect that there are huge differences between how the different socio-economic classes use their online time and access. One of the key differences between these groups is likely to be video consumption. I strongly suspect that more affluent people view more videos online per session (and go online more times in the same span of time). This is another instance where what is obvious is, sadly, not supported by research – there is no published research that supports this behavioral split between the socio-economic classes. On the other hand, there is no research that debunks it, either.

    Does it sound obvious? It does to me, too. But verifying or debunking this theory has real implications for marketing strategy and audience segmentation.

    These criticisms aside, there is no doubt in my mind that Web videos are here to stay. There’s too much investment in them, for one thing – and in many cases the presence of money, interest and opportunities often precede a shift in market behavior. The next Datu Puti commercial may garner well over a million views – I simply don’t know. Pointing out what’s happening in the present is far easier, after all, than predicting the future.

    For the time being, though, the challenge remains: in a country of over 22 million Internet users, how can an online marketing campaign reach a significant portion of this audience? It seems that even Manny Pacquiao, formidable as he is, couldn’t provide the answer.

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    @mannyneps is a digital marketing specialist with a top ten ad agency in Metro Manila.  He is frequently wrong.  This no longer embarrasses him.

    Rethinking Viral Videos,” was originally published on Manny’s Still Wrong and is republished here with permission.

    Finding Your Niche

    “It’s all about finding your niche.”

    These were the words BBC anchor Rico Hizon told me during a writing forum sponsored by The Philippine Star last Saturday which includes writer Butch Dalisay, National Bookstore’s Miguel Ramos and award winning filmmaker Pepe Diokno.

    Niche, Hizon says means a field or interest that you can excel. In his case, it was business and financial news that paved way for his career in international media. He also advised to new media practitioners like me to continue improve my craft just like he does by going to the BBC School of Journalism for training every year.
    Essentially the topic is all about writing as a profession but the topic during the forum has expanded for me in Philippine setting which I decided to tackle in my latest writing.

    It occurred to me that finding a niche is what the Philippines needs. Both Hizon and Dalisay mentioned marketing as an essential tool if one must go out there to field him or herself in writing. Good marketing is what this country needs not just in tourism, business and arts but as an overall. But unfortunately, this is not the case.

    Marketing involves money and money is what this country lacks or lack thereof. With the recent happenings in the country, Filipinos wonder how we can market with all the red tape and corruption.

    We have good marketers. They can market the country all over the world but they must think and think with various strategies in mind. Still fresh from the Pilipinas Kay Ganda fiasco, marketing guys must look from an international point of view such as language and infrastructure. Figures are essential event the most basic ones such as how many is the population, the interest, GDP and all. It all plays a factor to finding the niche.

    We have all been saying that we have the most beautiful beaches in the world, Boracay being the top destination but how can we accommodate if accessibility and accommodations are not properly addressed? Places such as Batanes, Siguijor, Camguin Islands and Bantayan Islands are good places to visit but transportation is a problem. Accessibility is very important if we want foreigners to visit and I believe we should not discount the fact that the Filipino is also a market to watch, now that flying has become a lifestyle to many.

    We must address a niche, a niche that many have tended to over look. If we address the niche, then we have reached the level of the countries that we envy and who knows, they will envy us in the end.