Monday, December 20, 2010

The Upshot

Around 1986 in the Philippines, on the wave of media exultation following the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship, a radio announcer with a show called Gintong Kaalaman went on national TV. He was the trivia-spouting weatherman with the swooping hairpiece and the slight schoolteacher hunch. Through the TelePrompTer, he looked at you out of a cocked left eye and a swagger-ready left shoulder and started with, “Alam ba ninyo na…”

Ernie Baron was a curious sort, and proved it by inventing the Baron Super Antenna and the tetrahedron, both of dubious efficacy, at best. The latter was supposed to have the same supernatural power of the Egyptian pyramids, but now to make cheese, eggs salted, sharpen the brain and your kitchen knife, and charge batteries (for the non-believer’s electric knife sharpener).

The tetrahedron became a minor fad. Students supposedly walked to and from their classes wearing this “invention” on their heads for better grades. Even my neighbors—completely rational, mountaineers/boy scouts and tech school grads—believed in it and made their own, swearing by its efficacy.

Mr Baron surely had his 15 minutes and used it to peddle some useless products, but he was able to capitalize on a populace that was experiencing the highs of a new Philippines. Newfound empowerment, self-determination, and a media environment that was free from suppression of liberal thought and intellectualism.

Today, the world’s psyche is balancing on the tip of a sharpened edge. Climate change, capitalism, and the correlated collapse of the American empire all give us the right to be anxious and uncertain, to the point of pouring money into the next new technologies that may save us all. Companies that are developing SPF 5000, terrorist repellant, and gill transplant technology come to mind. Make no mistake, doomsday predictions and all, this is the most challenging and thus exciting time for humanity. With so much tumult, so many rules being upended, there is so much possibility—literally in our hands—that the barriers between thought and action, product, or service have all but disappeared.

A year ago, I was in San Francisco, working for a startup in a down market. A market whose only hope was to make products that could avert global disasters, a.k.a. God Save Us From Ourselves. Corporate greed, disregard for the balance of nature and for fellow man was threatening absolute chaos. It was a bummer of a place and time to start a story, not to mention a career in advertising.

However, it was also the age of the hyperlink, Obamania, and the Large Hadron Collider. If you aren’t hearing the universe sending signals that imagination rules, you should maybe stick to your 9-5 but chain your kids to a computer. Nowadays, we can create anything out of thin air. And that was why I was happy to be back in Manila. At least that was what I told myself.

Dickens famously said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Philippines is the land of paradoxes and love amidst difficulties. You have tight social cliques, but also 7,107 islands to leave them all behind. We have only one beer, but the best mangoes on the planet. You get three receipts when you buy a pack of gum, but, in traffic, anything goes with hardly the threat of punishment.

I knew it all too well. I also knew that I would need to leave all my California righteousness and the 15% tip rule on the plane if I wanted to seamlessly reintegrate.

But was seamless reintegration really the answer? Warren Buffet says, in a selling market, buy. And vice-versa. Always buck the crowd. Zig when everybody zags. For at night, the candle’s brighter than the sun.

This is the moment we have all been waiting for. Art, technology, games, politics, food, microbrews, weatherproofing, environment, peace and order, driver education, community organizing; there is virtually unlimited possibilities that can effect change—positive change in people’s behavior. And why now more than ever?

But every thorn has its rose; every essay has a silver outline; every economic downturn lays down prime fodder for fomenting change; every unmitigated natural or manmade disaster makes us ask why we need government and capitalists to take our money.

In times like these, we invite family and friends to dinner at our houses more. We feel better about going to the weekend markets than a faceless grocery. We cherish hand-me-down baby strollers to a pimped-out pram.

We value substance over form, especially at a discount. We go for the different against the status quo. We sift through the promises and look for promise. And sometimes, we get deluded into buying the ‘new’ for the lack of the ‘improved.’

In cycles, the universe is kind to the Ernie Barons, the Obamas, the mavericks of public opinion who do the opposite of what is said to be possible. After all, man does well enough alone to monopolize and overwhelm his environment with his vision of dominance. Natural law clears the path for the upstarts, with often brutal ways to cull the laggards, victims, and the dinosaurs. And if you find yourself in one piece when the slaughter ends, sharpen that knife, and get to work on the next big thing.

You have 15 minutes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do Your Homework

To mark the new semester in Assumption San Lorenzo, my former advertising 101 students have been pelting me with the same question for their first assignment.

"How do you prepare for a client's advertising campaign?"

The contrarian in me is trying to find different ways of processing this, to be out of the box and counter-culture.

The truth is, whether copywriter or art director; whether follower or destroyer of culture; whether you think your client is an idiot or a best friend, nothing replaces the rigors of analysis, elimination, and acknowledgement that best answers come from the most elegantly phrased problems.

To prepare for a campaign, you do the following:

1) determine the client's business objectives
2) identify the barriers to client's business objectives
  • is it a customer issue? (awareness, greater market share, dropping loyalty)
  • a product issue? (name is hard to pronounce, cultural inacceptance)
  • a PR issue? (business is perceived as 'bad,' past product failures)
  • a supply chain issue? (customers can't see it on shelf, store managers won't stock it, business doesn't offer delivery)
  • it can't be searched for on the internet
  • etc.
4) verify that the barriers to your client's business objectives are correct
5) explore the most natural way to communicate with the "barrier"
  • advertising
  • PR
  • supply chain management
  • direct marketing
  • branding/rebranding
  • etc.
Since my students specifically asked how to prepare for an ad campaign, let's proceed to:

6) make a creative brief
7) choose a fact, insight, truth in the creative brief to overcome the barrier
8) execute with a concept
9) test your execution with a focus group discussion (optional)
10) refine
11) present to client

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Last year, I got my break at joining the solid advertising agency, Harrison, Philippines, in one of the most strategically tight, executionally bright, and FUN pitch campaigns I've ever worked on.

Imagine my surprise when I was looking at my SEM results and found this on page 2.

Thanks Budj Tan for the credit and the honor.

Client: SAFI
Product: Papa Sweet-Blend Ketchup
Agency: Harrison Communications
Accounts: Maricel Pangilinan-Arenas, Monday Gonzales, Madel Palman, Tracy Ampil, Arvon Fernandez • ECD: Budjette Tan / Alex Arellano • Writer: JB Tapia / Carlos Garchitorena • Art Directors: Reinard Santos / Louie Aquino • Mastermind: Raul Castro
Production House: ProVill • Producers: Cris Dy-Liacco / Alec Humphries • Director: Luis Tabuena • D.O.P.: Take Onishi • Post House: Optima Digital •

Music by Dan Gil

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Case of Can v Should

Last week, the senate blue ribbon committee held members of the media at mic-point to deliver answers to the public regarding the August 23 hostage taking. Hardly anything but a Pacquiao fight would ever get as much mileage in the public light, and three weeks later, the fatal errors of that night are still only barely fading in the public’s eye.

Tantamount to the success of the parallel investigations by the IIRC and the Senate committee is finding the culprit or liable parties in the incident, which explains their casting a wide a net and questioning all involved.

The latest in the crosshairs of the senators were broadcasters from RMN, GMA, and ABS-CBN, who all vehemently defended their conduct and responsibility to report the news. Without guidance or censorship from the authorities at the time, the media were left to their own devices—namely, camera, lights, action.

As the incident broke down into chaos and folly, the world saw the incompetence of a nation in securing the people in its custody. Telecast live, suspended policeman Rolando Mendoza murdered 8 Hong Kong residents in a rain of gunfire before he was killed by assaulting policemen.

Somewhere in Florida, a pastor of a 50-weak congregation denounced Islam and planned an inconceivably deluded “International Burn a Koran Day.” From his decrepit place of worship, which doubles as a storehouse for his business of selling used furniture, Terry Jones called Islam "of the devil."

His actions sparked condemnation from national and world leaders, and as far as Indonesia and Pakistan, flags of the USA were burned and trampled. Even in his church, Dove World Outreach Center, attendance dwindled to a dozen of his family, who started carrying guns in a show of startling sense, and acknowledgement of the dangers of offending one of the oldest religions in the world.

After Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Mr Jones and explained that he was putting US lives abroad at risk, the pastor relented. His son, sidearm holstered, stood quietly and proudly as his father read his statement to the press circus on his lawn. The son was composed until after the end, when he enigmatically shouted, “It’s history man. This is history!”

Maybe it’s the pressure that the 24 hour news cycle bears upon producers; maybe it’s the indefatigable curiosity that sets journalists on the hunt for the four Ws and the one H; maybe writing about celebrities is a way to celebrity itself, but whatever happened to “no news is good news?”

Don’t get me wrong. We need a free and independent press. Their role in society is irrefutable. Maybe more so than a police force. And most importantly, the a professional press—one that questions vague, motherhood statements of their on-air interviews; that challenges their sources to provide evidence on claims before publishing; that can practice self-restraint, even for the sake of self-restraint—is one of the stoutest legs of a true democracy.

But that night, our press were just like the police, confused, excited, weak in the knees. And just like the police, they should be held accountable for participating in a crime scene, and unwittingly playing the mouthpiece, and the eyes and ears of a cop gone rogue.

"The people do have a right to know," which is why I protest the role of the media in the August 23 hijacking, and the plans by Terry Jones to burn the Muslims' holy book.

Because while the press is so adamant and well-versed in their right to deliver the news without fear nor favor, I now wonder whether it ever crosses their minds whether they should.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Screw it. Let's just not hold elections.

Despite record confidence in PGMA’s administration and praise for moving heaven and earth to secure the upcoming vote, the commander-in-chief, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, cautioned the public that "I'm worried" over poll automation, adding "maybe it's [elections] just not worth it." Throwing her hands up in a gesture of dismay and absolute dejection, she said "Elections will fail, and there's nothing we can do to avert that outcome."

Little less than 100 days before the May 12 national polls, all systems are grinding to a spectacular halt now that there is no safeguarding one of the most potent manifestations of democracy. "We have spent every bit of political capital, manpower, and pork-barrel funds in our efforts." she said, "I even banned my Dato and Mikey from playing counter strike [to free up government server space]. Nothing has worked. But in retrospect, I’m glad we bent over backwards, because now it’s easier to kiss our own asses goodbye."

The public has seen nothing except the valiant efforts of the administration to secure worldwide confidence. COMELEC even hired IT technicians from Brazil, posing as sexy models who could regularly be found in Tabu Tuesdays, while actually programming code on their cell phones. House representatives also brokered a landmark deal with DND and PNP officials in their home provinces to dismantle their private armies, in an effort to preserve the atmosphere of order and trust. [Valentine's Day Update: After Q.C. Councilor hopeful Ara Mina's declaration to be "For" private armies on Mo Twister's show on local cable channel ANC, I.M.O, national officials have reversed their decree, reinstating the priority of accumulating guns, goons, and gold. However, now, they are to be referred to as "For" Aramina's Privates. Asked to comment, host Mo Twister stated "RE:IMO EP15- A.M. VS. P.A., IMHO, STFU!1 PWNED LOLZ. BRB" ]

But the kitchen sink was officially thrown in with the importation of retired computer guru, Bill Gates, former Chairman of Microsoft and founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "When I first arrived in 2007, I was sure that we could do it. We had so long to prepare. And we were on track all the way until this weekend," a visibly exhausted Bill Gates said. "Now I have this eye twitch because I was staring at the computer screen for hours. I've never worked so hard in my life. But we—I—blew it.”

Gates has been working alongside COMELEC Chairman Melo in guaranteeing the information management systems, as well as clearing installing firewalls in all BIR computers that block facebook applications, particularly, the wildly popular Farmville.

He has even been helped out as Deputy Press Secretary for Mrs Arroyo, since the death of Cerge Remonde last week. "[N]ot that she needed the credibility...everyone trusts her. But she wanted you to know that all is lost. It’s up to God now to reveal who should be mandated to be the President.” Gates said, reading from a prepared script. “And, if God says it will be some sort of ‘minister’ or 'ministress' in some ‘prime’ function, then so be it."

Gates then went off script, speaking from the heart."Think about it," he went on, "since G-Lo [Arroyo’s rap handle] was swept to power extra-constitutionally in 2001, she has been hands-on in fortifying the credibility of ‘one Filipino, one vote.’ She wants her legacy to be that of a transparent leader and one who will graciously step aside when the time comes. Unfortunately, June 30, 2010 might as well be three Sundays ago. It's off."

Gloria went on the record this weekend, touting her record of smooth transitions of power and paying for a correction in her massive "Then and Now" advertising campaign. "In all branches of government," the ad reads, "we have seen improvement in the lives of Filipinos. Except for the COMELEC. It was much better in 2004 when I trusted those who were counting the votes. What a waste of money these new jagoffs was."

In front of Palace reporters, she was more restrained, blunting the tone of the print ads. “You know the evidence; I was so hands-on in 2004; I personally managed the election progress and peacefully and fairly transferred power from myself to my successor and incumbent, also me.
“I could have stopped there, but I didn't." she said, breaking down and sobbing, "I could have left my legacy at the Hello Garci expose of my good management skills, but I really, really wanted show my power in creating trust and to cleanse the image of elections in the country for all eternity."

She referred to her repeated calls to the COMELEC Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano to safeguard democracy. When recordings of the phone conversation were leaked to the public, the former president/president-elect accepted the praise that went along with it, but in a surprise turn of events in a 2005 speech, apologized.

"I made an oath," the president said from Malacanang at the time, "to make the ‘04 elections Super-Secure. Unfortunately, ambition got the better of me, and I was only able to bring this 2004 election to the level of Very Secure. Therefore, this victory of mine is as empty as the FPJ influence in Maguindanao. Mea culpa."

Following that speech, the political backlash brought her 100% SWS approval ratings to a record-low 99.99%, and she has never looked back in her quest for fair elections since. She passed an Supreme Executive Order and raised the level of expectations for the automated elections to 'Ludicrously Secure.'

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, speaking for once on national-security issues that didn't have masa appeal, also weighed in. "Though the masses won't notice the effects, it is sad that the president will not sleep soundly tonight, knowing that her citizens' constitutionally guaranteed right to counted votes is now in doubt," he said. “I’m a lawyer, I know how to win. I was the oppressive architect of Martial Law, probably the most reviled of all of Marcos’ cronies,” he chuckled like lolo talking about slavery and prima nocte, “and I still won. But this automation…this is impossible. It's like the load that disappeared from my cell. What is that? And sometimes, when I call my nephew, I hear a song playing? Why? Disappearing load yata 'yon eh. Ano na ba ang presyo ng kuryente?"

Of course, the most seriously affected by this development are the thousands of candidates who are campaigning in earnest across the country. In a rare show of solidarity, all 21,000 of them issued a joint statement, read by constitutional framer Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ.

“As Filipinos, we know what it means to try our hardest, and cooperate to achieve the most impossible goals. But in an event as important as this, failure is not an option. Therefore, let’s spare ourselves the inevitable heartbreak and just stay home on May 12. If you happen to vote, be sure to voice your complaints if your candidate doesn’t win. That probably means that you were cheated, the machines were compromised, or blackouts struck at the most inconvenient time for the election period. And,” he added, “there is still the possibility that the ghost of Fernando Poe Jr. is haunting our servers.”

Friday, January 29, 2010


Gilbert Teodoro was asked in the recent DLSU debates what the extent of his gratitude was towards the thief-in-chief, to which he replied, “Utang na loob means paying goodness with goodness."

And I say unto you sir, if the people of the Philippines show enough goodness to elect you president, their goodness should be first on your list of debts to repay. Unless you are a complete tuta, your loyalty is to the Philippine people. When you were DND Secretary, as you are running for President, and even when you fade from the public's attention like the hazy Manila sky at sundown, your loyalty is to 92 million Filipinos, not to GMA.

“If you are given goodness, you pay back with goodness." Your words, sir. Don't ever forget.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Straight Shooter? More Like Quick Draw Believer

“Shooting Straight” is a column written by Valeriano Avila in The Freeman, a newspaper out of Cebu. “Shooting Straight” also appears in The Philippine Star under the name Bobit S Avila.

In his Freeman article (Dec 1, 2009) Mr Avila asks in his headline, “About that Facebook survey: Is it credible?” He is referring to the mock election being run by the Facebook App Election2010 that has run three rounds of polls with a fourth underway.

(For those unfamiliar with the term App, it’s short for Application Software that is nested in a computer program to assist the user in a task, in this case, creating instant voting in the Facebook program. Facebook, Inc. did not develop the Election2010 App. In fact, almost all of the Apps on Facebook are created by third parties—developers from outside Facebook; a concept that seems to elude Mr Avila, with comments like “Facebook came up with a third survey” when he should be crediting the developers of the Election2010 App.)

The results of the online poll seem to have a big impression on Mr Avila ever since he listened to almost-presidential candidate Chiz Escudero more than two months ago. Based on US President Obama’s success, Senator Escudero reportedly said, Facebook and Twitter results were more believable than SWS or Pulse Asia polls. But then-Senator Obama didn’t just read the results of one online poll. And this is the only target of Mr Avila’s focus; a Facebook poll at that. The internet deserves better representation, especially since online success relies on 1) a broad, integrated presence online with a single-minded message, and 2) converting passive internet users into active brand champions on- and offline, and not just on a single set of mock election results.

Despite the New Media Marketing 101 course outline, Mr Avila gives the mock elections by Election2010 his full, sophomoric endorsement on its veracity and impartiality.

There was a survey that was totally fair because it wasn’t done by the politicians or their PR agencies, nor was money spent to collate this information. The latest Facebook mock survey covering the period Nov.23-29. Gilbert Teodoro bagged 58% of the votes, Noynoy Aquino bagged 31.76%, Manny Villar got 7.10%, while former Pres. Joseph “Erap” Estrada got 1.1%. The first two Facebook mock surveys showed Noynoy was leading the race.

- Straight Shooter (The Freeman), via Updated December 01, 2009

While the Election2010 mock poll could in fact be “totally fair”—conducted without bias or rigging it—the methodology is up in the air. This is where SWS and Pulse Asia surveys are a great, reliable resource; each survey result has details on sample size, age, and methodology for getting the information, not to mention complete transparency with regard to commissioner, or exclusivity or first rights to publish.

The Election2010 poll has none of these. Nobody went out to find respondents. The respondents may have found it by search, accident, or by referral. Because of this uncertainty, the trending in Gibo’s favor is not clear. Was it due to comments by any candidate? Did the Gibo machinery mobilize supporters to find that App and vote? Is there a margin of error, in the case of mistaken identity or accidental answering?

None of these possible causes are more or less improbable than the other, if at all. Neither are they unethical or underhanded since its credibility is far from established. But without Mr Avila’s discerning its methodology, and to then proclaim it to be “totally fair” is na├»ve and irresponsible as a journalist.

What’s more, Mr Avila published a similar article, this time in the Philippine Star, “A look at the surveys done by Facebook.” It is difficult to see that he is referencing the same poll, as in the Philippine Star article, the poll period has changed from Nov. 23-29 to Nov. 20-30. The poll results also changed, and so did his tone, saying instead that the “mock surveys of Facebook have become a counter balancer to the pollsters surveying voters in this country.”

Not only is he lacking with background facts, but the facts that he does have are not as straight as his column name suggests.

Apparently, Facebook came up with a third mock survey for Nov. 20-30th and lo and behold, Lakas-Kampi Presidential bet, Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro, Jr. bagged a significant 58.69% lead over Noynoy who bagged 31.90%. This was followed by Sen. Manny Villar at 5.80%, Erap at 1.45%. Now should we believe in the Facebook survey? Perhaps those batting for Noynoy would no longer believe it as he has slid down from the top.

- Straight Shooter (The Philippine Star) via Updated December 02, 2009

Clearly, his goal is single-minded agreement with Chiz’s two month-old Quixotism, “Facebook or Twitter is a better sampling than our present crop of pollsters.”

So if Facebook or Twitter is indeed a better sampling mechanism, it is important to look at similar indicators evident on these social networking sites. As of December 1, 2009, Noynoy’s Official Facebook “Politician Page” has 110,679 supporters as compared to Gibo’s 8,950 fans. Chiz’s Facebook Politician Page has almost the same number as Manny Villar’s page at just around 39,000.

On Twitter, the short messaging service online, Noynoy has 22,045 followers while Gibo has 5,105. At the same time, according to internet analytics, Noynoy is collecting more followers at a 2:1 ratio when compared to new followers of Gibo.

Even Senator Mar Roxas, Liberal Party candidate for vice-president, has more followers than Gibo, with 23,366.

In summary, Mr Avila is creating great, albeit negative press for Gibo’s success on this “Facebook survey” as he repeatedly calls it. And while the Arroyo-backed candidate is improving his online presence, the bigger picture, backed by solid and self-evident statistics, shows Noynoy with a commanding lead in terms of fans, supporters, and followers in this multi-dimensional field called social media or new media. And in spite of Noynoy’s early lead among Facebook and Twitter users, there is no indication that his snowballing popularity will slow, as week-on-week incremental numbers show.

On the surface, Mr Avila postures with healthy, journalistic skepticism in both of his articles. However, the straight shooting “skeptic” gets converted to “believer” in a quick draw, and that is the product of a lack of investigation, lack of hunger for facts, and lack of critical analysis.

Right away, Madam Congresswoman