Thursday, May 24, 2012


by Roger Pe

Photo by Gerry Chin

The Philippines has not had serious branding effort until late last year when it launched a massively successful social media campaign, “It’s More Fun in The Philippines.”

Previous to that, its advertising had no focus, a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t thing.

It was by sheer luck that previous campaigns had brand retentions. As advertising with no focus and sustained drive, awareness must eventually dissipate and wrong perceptions remain.

The country’s tourism advertising was treated as tertiary, more like a seasonal thing and aired whenever people feel like doing it. At one point, it had to tie up with a big advertiser just to breathe life and keep it from sputtering.

Like a small cottage industry, it has not really took off like some of its more aggressive neighbors who looked at tourism, not as a mere government cabinet social function, but as a brand deserving better marketing and wholistic creative packaging.

A breath of fresh air, Philippine tourism today seems to have taken on some serious sense of blueprint planning.

Now it is talking, now it’s beginning to create ripples and many are hoping that it rides on the crest of a wave to attract more visitors to its shores. Watchers are hoping that it is not “ningas kugon” (flash in the pan) and doesn’t fizzle out.

By hiring no less than an advertising expert as its department secretary and acquiring the services of an ad agency whose output is consistently impeccable, there’s no reason why the world shouldn’t focus its “Eye on the Philippines.”

Will it work? The signs are up the wall.

As of the first quarter of 2012, the country has surpassed percentage targets and is poised to hit past its forecast: 4.6 million tourist arrivals (Indonesia’s figure more than a decade ago).

While it is a modest target, it is realistically possible, some observers say, knowing other problems the country needs to address within a short-term period.

“The Philippines deserves much more. It’s mind-boggling why the world’s third largest English-speaking country with one of the world’s most hardworking people is not up there side by side with Malaysia and Thailand,” says Eric Cruz, Head of Creative of Leo Burnett Malaysia, one of Asia’s most internationally awarded advertising agencies.

Cruz is correct. It is mind-boggling, that a country more beautiful, charming and friendlier than some overrated tourist destinations doesn’t get mind-boggling tourist receipts.

Cruz is proud of the many world-class Filipinos he encountered overseas. He is aware that Filipino talents, like its 3D animators are most sought-after by film producers abroad.

In an interview, the guy who is on a sentimental journey of finding his roots in the Philippines loves to dote on the power of the Filipino.

“The Philippines main export is human power and talent. And if we look at some of the most memorable things in the history of the web, the Filipino prisoners dancing to Michael Jackson was one of the pioneers of online content.”

The “love virus” was created by a Filipino, clearly that tells me the Philippines has talent,” Cruz added.

While there are capable post-production houses in Manila, he laments that some ad agencies still want to go either to Bangkok or Hongkong just for color grading or simple effects online work.

Way back, the Philippines used to attract many creative people from the region. We once had the best facilities, editors and technicians. Sad to say, a number of them have left to look for greener pastures overseas.

According to Cruz, the Philippines can be Asia’s creative hub. “We can be better than Thailand and Hongkong in film processing if only the government can help provide the vibrant atmosphere, modernize and infuse incentives to help our creative industries,” he said.

Similarly, he pointed out South Korea’s Samsung, which is using the Japanese formula in building its brand. Samsung’s brave and innovative moves have already overtaken Nokia and giving Apple a run for its money.

“What’s lacking is the infrastructure and knowhow and how to apply the talent and energy,” he said, “but that is not impossible,” Cruz said.

Cruz noted that the creative industry in the Philippines is picking up, having won golds in Clio, Cannes, Asia Adfest, London and made inroads in One Show and D&AD.

“The government could learn from other global economies, with regards to how countries like Japan, South Korea, Singapore and now China are turning to the creative industry to reinvent its economies,” he said.

He also took note that Filipino food has not caught mainstream status, as did its Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese counterparts inspite of the fact that it is just as excitingly sumptuous. “We just need to know how to market and create a spin to it,” he said.


Cruz took over when Malaysian advertising legend, Clio Lifetime Achivement awardee Yasmin Ahmad passed away.

For two years, the agency was at standstill finding someone who could fill the vacuum left by Ahmad. Until Burnett Malaysia CEO Tan Kien Eng flew to London and found Cruz in the city’s Wieden & Kennedy office working on the Nokia account.

Prior to WK London, Cruz spent eight and a half years at WK Tokyo, working with brands like Nike, Google, Honda, Aiwa, Kumon and Mori Building.

His achievements include the prestigious Tokyo Art Directors Club Award, a Cannes Cyber Lion, One Show Gold and Silver, and The Japan Media Arts Festival Excellence Prize.

He values real work and his views on scam ads will unnerve those who keep on perpetuating them just to make them look good to the advertising industry.

He co-founded WK Tokyo Lab, WK’s experimental music label and creative think tank, overseeing its entire visual output -- from directing music videos, to art directing and designing its packaging, online experiences and live events which helped redefine and reinvent Japan’s music industry.

Born in the Philippines, Cruz grew up in Crame, a Manila suburb, with his grandmother for the first 12 years of his life. He went to school at St. John Academy in San Juan and St. Martin up until 4th grade.

He grew up the same as any other Filipino boy loving Mazinger Z and Voltes 5 with an interest in drawing fast cars and robots.

His aunt was an Art Director who actually put him in a Klim tv commercial for which he lost the lead cast because he scraped half of his face on the ground from riding his new plexiglass skateboard, a Christmas gift from his mom in the US.

In '83 he saw Benigno Aquino Sr., father of today’s Philippine president, Benigno Aquino Jr. get assassinated on TV and three months later, his family migrated to the USA to follow his father.

They had a brief layover in Tokyo, but never did he realize he would one day live there, and landed in LA where he would spend the next few years of his life adjusting to becoming an American.

His parents separated and he ended up living with extended families - between LA, San Francisco, New Jersey and New York for the next four years.

On a field trip to a place called Art Center in Pasadena, when “fashion illustration was the shit, and Patrick Nagel was the bomb”, he saw a deer at the parking lot, he remembered thinking to himself: I would love to one day go to this college.

His parents discouraged him from pursuing a career in the arts. But he figured, if he can do what he wanted he could give it his best shot.

Cruz won scholarships here and there but lost one, which really woke him up: a scholarship won by another Filipino, whose portfolio he thought was really sharp and focused. He ended up going to School of Visual Arts in New York. But that loss gave him a kind of strength.

He discovered graphic design and gravitated towards it because one could fuse the language of art, illustration and design into one and he could do album covers, books among other things.

Cruz took off a year to do a co-op, a paid internship to earn some money and finish university. He learned a lot working at Norfolk Southern, USA’s second largest railroad company, designing annual reports, magazines, etc.

While checking out Portfolio Days one day in Washington DC, he met a recruiter from Art Center, who offered him a scholarship.

So excited, he literally drove home at 105mph in a 60mph zone, a sign he thought was from his grandmother encouraging him to attend Art Center.

He also did an exchange program at art centers in Switzerland wanting to learn how and why Europeans did such good work but still managed to live such healthy lives.

Cruz then started his career in San Francisco working at Studio Archetype, owned by digital pioneer, Clement Mok, who was also the founder of Front Page, a web design program, which later sold to Microsoft.

Soon over, a recruiter from Wieden & Kennedy came down to Art Center to review graduating portfolios. WK flew him up to Portland to meet with a few teams, Coke and Microsoft.

After a shortlive career at WK, Cruz then moved back to LA and joined a company who had just renamed themselves Imaginary Forces from RGA LA.

Here, he learned how to do motion graphics and make design move, as well as how Hollywood movie magic was done, shooting and producing TV commercials and music videos, the highlight of which was designing titles for the movie “The Mummy”, which was a great project for him.

Cruz went to Cranbrook to de-professionalise. It was during this time that he investigated himself, his roots as a Filipino-American, trying to find out why we are, who we are and how we came to be.

On the Internet, he found out that Filipinos actually had their own form of alphabet called Alibata or Baybayin, which the Spaniards made extinct, which wasn’t common knowledge for most Filipinos.

Cruz created a modern version of the alphabet, what Alibata could look like if it were alive today. This exploration led him to create a body of work, a film and print piece, entitled "Bahala Na", a portrait of the Philippines, which featured the Mangyans of Mindoro, one of the last two tribes that still uses this ancient form of writing.

While backpacking through China, he sent John Jay, Wieden & Kennedy Global Executive Creative Director his reel. The long and short of it, he began another career affair with WK. He moved to Tokyo a month after 9-11 happened and stayed there for the next 9.5 years.

WK Tokyo is where Cruz grew up and made the best work of his career. Realizing that he wanted to live in a country that spoke English again after almost 10 years, he moved to WK London, and stayed there for 14 months, had a baby and wanted to settle back in the US.

On his way back he was offered a job in Malaysia. He had always wanted to work in Southeast Asia, and Kuala Lumpur seemed a close sibling to the Philippines, a new challenge to run an office where he could both practice and teach a creative staff of 125 people.

Cruz has never worked in the Philippines but was recently in Manila to give a lecture about his work and critiqued the latest work of Leo Burnett Manila for the network’s “IPC” - Internal Product Committe sessions.

Last week was Cruz’ first professional connection with the Philippine creative community, a sort of a homecoming for himself.

Over an interview, he said “I would love to one day return and teach other Flips what I know how to do. I wanna give back one day. I would love to have more of an ongoing interaction with the ad industry in the Philippines. I also want to do some personal projects here sometime soon,” he said.

Cruz has great hopes for the power of Filipinos.
The award-winning creative director has an advice to those who want to make it in the field:

“Learn the craft and pump something original in the global broadcast. The rest will work itself out. People worldwide will find those who do something great. I’m a firm believer that everything exists, waiting to be discovered,” he said.