Wednesday, July 5, 2017


by Roger Pe
July 6, 2017 issue
Business Mirror

Back in the early 90s, when Philippine advertising entered a new phase, and ads that were called “malinis” (produced with polish but not exactly compelling) were no longer potential award winners, ad agency people shelled out cash every payday. They made payments, handed out to Mrs. Salta, a businesswoman who peddled rare-to-find advertising creativity books.

Mrs. Salta became a fixture in the Philippine Madison Avenue firmament during that time. She made glossy, imported books affordable by offering “6-drops” or more, depending on one’s capacity to pay.

It was safe to say that most people who worked in an advertising agency knew Mrs. Salta. The security guards, receptionist, accountants, people in the creative department, including secretaries, the suits and, yes, even the industry chi-chi crowd knew of her.

She was completely the antithesis of the ambulant tocino ‘suki’ who visited Makati offices often. She dressed to the nines and did it with style. She had a bodyguard who always carried bags of them, and she had a shimmering white van parked somewhere near her place of business.

Creative department secretaries would suddenly sought her upon request of concept teams who were experiencing a drought of ideas. For those who had plenty of cash to spare and wanted tomes of them, she would gladly escort them to her splendid vehicle, to let them see her other stuff not available in any bookstore in the Philippines. 

Mrs. Salta became a buzzword so much so that she had a parody account in an advertising rant site, Café Creatives. Though people forgot her given name and remembered only her family name, she became more popular.

Her bestsellers were The Art Directors Annual (very thick, you could knock an unusually big rat out using it), The One Show (a copywriter’s dream), Epica (for those who wanted to poke their noses on what’s hot in Europe), and the Communication Arts series (they were the bomb and they made most Art Directors drool).

During the time of pagers, they were the creative‘gadgets’ to show off when advertising congresses opened. Though a little pricey, they were quickly gobbled up as soon as the security guard at the lobby hollered, “Mrs. Salta is in the building, show up or hide now!”

Mrs. Salta’s goods were in demand. Whether a few months delayed, or hot-off-the-press, they brought some kind of approval from industry colleagues. They made the guy next to your cubicle envy, a magnet to many, the cantankerous, introverts and other characters inhabiting the creative sanctuary. A copy on your table erased people’s initial impression of you, that you were not a run-of-the-mill hire and you had taste in your bones itching to surface. 

Some say, Mrs. Salta was advertising God’s gift to advertising. “When all you see were product freights and boring manufacturer’s copy lines, Mrs. Salta was an oasis in the middle of a creative desert. You call her and she brings in books, pronto. Her wares inspired many. Sadly, some creative people ended up with work sounding like ads (that Doc Martens ad was legendary) from the books she sold,” a former copywriter, now a top creative director says.

When the Internet got a little faster and and its derivative sites entered the scene, Mrs. Salta’s books faded into the night. They became remnants of the past and gathered dust on many shelves, along with the old trophies of the Ad Congress. She, too, gently exited out of the picture.

Inspirational books, annuals and youtube

Some of us have been in advertising long enough to see the many transformations that have happened in the industry. Though the digital divide may have rendered some people in the industry into dinosaurs, many have crossed over and felt like a digital native. 

Where innovation and change in the industry continue to alter our landscape, one thing remained constant. Agency oldtimers, even the millennial generation, were taught to value creativity and honor, disdain from copying one’s work, confuse the public and mislead the consumer. 

There would be interesting debates. Occasionally, one would stumble into them on social media. Some would invoke the often quoted line, “great men think alike”, “there is no originality in this age anymore”, “it’s just plain coincidence” and all those stuff.

Some believed in the spin that people have put into that, “copying is innovation.” In the book “Borrowing Brilliance” by David Kord Murry, the author revealed: “Brilliance is borrowed, and that in order to create, first, you have to copy.” 

Don’t raise your eyebrows.

Many famous men were accused of ripping other people’s work like Newton, Shakespeare, Helen Keller, J.K. Rowling, T.S. Eliott, Jane Godall, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Google guys, to name a few. According to Murry, their ideas were constructed from borrowed ideas. Newton admitted his guilt that to “see farther, he had to stand on the shoulders of giants and build on the ideas of others.” 

But creativity for brands is a valuable asset. Though philosophers have time and again, argued that “ideas give birth to other ideas”, one is tempted to ask: “Does that give license to one to copy someone else’s work?”

The term Renaissance during the 14th century means creative explosion. Artists, during the earlier part of this wonderful period, were obligated to improve the original, give a rebirth of some sort to the stale status quo. Innovation, enhancements and collaboration efforts in which one idea was copied were the rule of the day. Copying was understood and expected.

But soon after, the free market economy began to develop and artists who valued their work began to break away from their patrons and sold their artwork independently. Michaelangelo and Da Vinci signed their masterpieces against copycats and frauds. Copying and plagiarism were now condemned.

Furthermore, Murry explained” “We are forced to conceal or disguise the source of our ideas for fear of social or legal retribution. No one wants to admit for fear of being labeled as plagiarist or idea thief.”

Today, whether one is an industry old-timer or barely new in advertising, one can see a virtual rip-off, tweaked, rehashed, recycled or derived from another idea within the universe that he or she moves - because of the Internet where one can do research fast, the task is a lot easier. 

In an industry that honors creativity and originality, you know the feeling of being uncomfortable, much more dismayed, at the sight of an ad with uncanny similarities to the one that you once encountered. 

Déjà vu

We recently had a spate of familiar ads and they created quite a buzz. Here are some of the most talked-about over the last twelve months:

Vodafone TV Commercial, 2014. Touching and emotional, this one, from Jung von Matt advertising agency Germany, manages to be moving without being mushy. A young girl crosses items off her grandfather’s bucket list and, through the magic of her gadget, takes him along to her many travel adventures. The bucket list “crossing out” scene is the highlight of the ad as it is repeated often as the commercial progresses. 

Smart TV Commercial, 2017: Except for the change of characters and setting, the story is virtually the same. The granddaughter now becomes a young man. The elderly man becomes an elderly woman. The opening shot (guy on top of a hill and “crossing out” scene in particular are very noticeable.

Digital Media UK, Corporate Brand Identity, 2014: Triangular in shape, color elements of the logo are in bright primary and secondary colors.

PLDT Logo, 2016: Almost the exact replica of the former.

McDonald's TV Commercial, 2007: This tv commercial produced in 2007 is echoed in a Jollibee tv spot a decade later. The ad uses a famous Eraserhead song ("Ang Huling El Bimbo) as soundtrack, and opens with a narrative of a man who remembers his childhood sweetheart. “Tuwing pupunta ako dito, naaalaala ko ang lahat,” he says with a lambent voice. He tells us how he met her and eating out together with their moms. The commercial ends with a sad note through passage of time to the present. The girl is now married and introduces him to her husband. A voice wafts in the air with “At kahit hindi kami naging sa huli, s’ya pa rin ang first love ko.”

JollibeeTV Commercial, 2017: The ad opens with a title “Inspired by a true story” and a hashtag (that it is a brand series). It then takes us to a wedding scene where a man starts to reminisce how he met the girl in a fastfood store. From his narrative, the audience is made to believe that the man and the girl will say “I do” in a few minutes. We are told that he vowed to make her laugh, always be there whenever she needed him, never change and make her the happiest girl. But the storytelling trick and punchline, “Kahit hindi naging tayo” break our hearts. The girl is marrying another man.

The DOT "Sights" tv commercial and a South African Tourism ad heve a central figure that caused a maelstrom nationwide, Asian adlandia, and even landed on the pages of Advertising Age and Adweek New York. The bone of contention was the use of a blind man throughout the material. The controversy is perhaps, tIn biggest in local advertising industry, eclipsing the scandal spawnd by "Nakatikim Ka Na Ba Ng Kinse Anyos?". In the ensuing events, DOT fired McCann WorldGroup Philippines, the ad agency, for the similarity.

Where’s the line between copying and coincidence in similar creative ideas? We interview advertising copywriter Dan Goldgeier, a provocative advertising and marketing columnist for based in Seattle, Washington and here’s what he said

Do you believe what some people say that nothing is original in this world anymore?

Goldgeier: “That's a pretty complicated question. I think people can take parts of other ideas and synthesize them into something original. But in advertising, as you know, of course, we work in familiar formulas: Story, layouts, headline formulas, visual techniques, etc, so it feels like there's little original happening.”

Goldgeier also granted us permission to reprint his article on the subject in full:

“Recently, some ad veterans were noticing, and lamenting, the similarities between this Nike ad (1995) and Kaiser Permanente ad that ran during the summer Olympics.

Yes, the two commercials have much in common. And the Kaiser ad is many degrees inferior to the Nike spot.

For those of you who weren’t in this business 20 years ago, it’s hard to overstate how admired, lauded, and inspirational the Nike “If You Let Me Play” ad was. Not just to its intended audience, but to the ad industry as a whole. It’s one of the ads that made me want to get into the business and attempt to do that caliber of work.

So for advertising people of a certain generation, alarm bells went off when watching the Kaiser spot. Was it a blatant rip-off, a heartfelt homage or mere coincidence?

I don’t claim to know how this happened. But I’ve been in advertising long enough to know that ad ideas often share attributes with work that’s been previously done.

I’m not interested in assigning blame here. I’m much more interested in the nuances of the decision-making process involved, because it’s a window into the current state of creativity in advertising and marketing.

Did somebody know about the similarities in the KP spot before it got filmed? By “somebody” I mean anyone, including the creative team, their Creative Directors, AE’s, agency management, producers, directors, and all the associated layers of client marketers.

There are only three basic scenarios to explain what happened:

1) Somebody knew there was a similarity and didn’t speak up.

It’s a TV spot running during the Olympics. There’s a lot at stake for all involved. “Let’s hope no one really notices” is a quiet thought in the minds of many ad professionals when they’re pursuing an idea that could backfire.

Someone could’ve also noticed similarities a little further down the timeline — after concepts were approved, budgets were determined, and the production hairball began rolling down the mountain. Is it better to remain silent than be the voice that derails a major project? You try putting on the brakes with millions of dollars involved. It’s not easy.

2) Somebody knew there was a similarity and did, in vain, speak up.
“You know, that idea kind of reminds me of…” I’ve heard that a bunch. I’ve said it sometimes, too. That kind of reservation can fall on deaf ears. Perhaps a less forceful team member who voiced objections was slapped down and told to shut up. Don’t underestimate the collective power of a bunch of people in a conference room to justify bad decisions or pretend the elephant in the room doesn’t really exist.

And don’t underestimate the power of a C-level client executive to say, “You know, I’d love to do a spot like this one,” as he or she sends YouTube links out to underlings and the agency. For client-side marketers, their careers go merrily on even when encouraging or approving derivative advertising.

Faced with a similar situation, many people in our business, according to Goldgeier, would state out loud that they don’t care if a proposed ad resembled an older one. Think of how it easily it could be justified: A change in target audience, or product category, could be enough differentiation in their eyes. It’s no wonder our industry’s code of ethics would fit on a Post-it note.

3) Nobody knew there was a similarity.

Were the entire team of agency and client folks working on the KP ad simply unaware of the Nike spot? It might sound far-fetched, but yes, it’s possible.

I’ve taught aspiring copywriters who knew next to nothing about the ad industry and its history. Hell, they didn’t even watch “Mad Men.” And don’t assume that junior creatives have ever perused the dusty copies of CA and One Show annuals that line the bookshelves in the remote corners of agencies.

Plus, our digital world has left old-school advertising uncataloged. While YouTube is a good repository of many old commercials, there’s no organization to it.  And good luck trying to find hi-res images of old print ads the ad world used to celebrate.

Many people currently working in advertising and marketing simply don’t bother to learn about anything that was produced even a few years ago. If they do learn, the old work isn’t considered so sacrosanct that it couldn’t be copied in some regard.

And there are, of course, degrees of rip-off: A copy line, unique visual, commercial plot, app idea, or just a style, film technique, or strategy. Some people merely look at ads from today and no matter how small the detail, it reminds them of some ad long forgotten by much of the world. This doesn’t just happen in advertising. All art forms have this type of conflict. Just ask Chuck Berry.

We’re also in an era in which many new marketing firms have popped up — content marketing firms, consultancies, digital and social media companies, etc. — whose leaders regularly disdain the very idea of “advertising” and declare that it’s dead. For them, even a vaunted Nike ad isn’t a sacred cow.

So what happens now with this particular Kaiser Permanente spot? A whole lot of nothing, that’s what. Other than the kangaroo court of judgy advertising insiders, there is no real punishment for ripping off someone else’s advertising unless there’s a legitimate copyright issue. And those are rare.

Unfortunately, there will never be a consensus as to what’s a rip-off or what’s fair game for appropriation. Crying foul will only generate crocodile tears. So we’ll continue to see new work that feels familiar or derivative, even if it means producing a commercialhat recalls a great Nike spot. Because some people just get away with it, when they just do it.”

Saturday, July 1, 2017


by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
July 1, 2017 issue

Coffee, tea or … chances are, you’ll choose the first.
You probably know the reason. Centuries of Spanish colonization introduced us to ‘tsokolate eh’ and ‘tsokolate ah’. Decades of American rule made us love coffee, espresso, decaf, americano, instant and other ways of preparing it. We relegated tea as medicine and for its other curative powers. Some even have a condescending thing about it. So it never prospered.
But did you know that two billion people around the world drink tea every morning? Here are more facts and they are startling: 
3 billion tons of leaves of tea are produced around the world for global consumption. The US imports 519 million pounds of tea every year and 1.42 million pounds of tea are consumed by Americans every single day. Turkey leads the world in tea consumption per person, (7 pounds of tea every year) roughly about 1,400 tea servings. 
Tea is also largely known as an anti-oxidant, elixir for healthy skin, slimming and can help fight colon cancer. 

According to global tea export index as of 2016, China is by far, the world’s largest consumer of tea, at 1.6 billion pounds a year. 
Kenya remains the global export leader with a 25% share of exports (mainly black tea). China is second with 18% (mainly green tea). Sri Lanka is in third place at 17%, with India at 13% and Vietnam at 7%. Argentina rounds out the top 5 with 4%. Indonesia continues to slide at 3% as tea growers in the country are switching to other cash crops, primarily palm oil.

For thousand years, Chinese people have consumed tea and drinking the beverage has become synonymous to its culture. As written in history books, drinking tea began during the time of Han Dynasty emperors in 2nd century BC. 
Recent findings conclude that tea originated in southwest China and an early credible record of tea drinking dates back to the 3rd century AD. 
Tea was then introduced to Portuguese priests and merchants in China during the 16th century. It then became popular in Great Britain in the 17th century. The British then introduced tea production, as well as tea consumption to India, in order to arrest China’s domination of the world’s tea market.

How it all began

In 2737 AD, legendary Chinese Emperor Shennong ordered his subjects to boil water before drinking it to help contain an epidemic. He was said to be drinking a bowl of boiled water one day when leaves from a nearby tree got blown into his water, changing its color. 
He took a sip of the brew and was delighted by its flavor and restorative effects. He subsequently tested medical properties of various herbs, some of them poisonous, and found the tea to have worked quite well.
A similar Chinese legend goes that Emperor Shennong and other gods of agriculture would chew the leaves, stems, and roots of various plants to discover medicinal herbs. If they consumed a poisonous plant, they would chew leaves of tea to counteract the poison.

Anxi, China’s Tea Capital

Though I have been to China (only by a stopover in Guangzhou airport), I have never seen the real beauty of the mainland. Fast forward after ten years, I finally set foot on one of its most beautiful cities, where I was to meet my brother whom I have never seen in my entire life. 
It was serendipity that brought me to Anxi, a small city in Fujian province, famous for its world class Tieguanyin tea. A nephew’s colleague in the civil government is also one of the city’s most recognized Tea Masters, Chen Liang Gu, who himself cultivates a vast tea plantation and exports high-grade tea to the world.

Anxi’s fame stretches throughout China, as well as around the world. Because of its high altitude geography, incredibly rich soil, moderate sub-tropical climate and plentiful rainfall, it is perfect for growing the best tea in China. 
“Long before India and Sri Lanka started growing tea, the Emperors of China were already enjoying it for centuries,” Chen told me through an interpreter. 
I came to know Chen when my nephew brought me to his tea saloon where he showed us how to prepare and serve tea, reminiscent of the emperor days. The drinking ceremony lasted cup after cup after cup, a cordial ritual with plenty of smiles, stories and handshakes after. 
Before calling it a day, Chen told us to get ready the following day with our thick coats as we will climb the hills of Yunzhongshan Mountain Reserve, a long 90 kilometer-drive from the city proper.
This was supposed to be China’s famous tea plantation attraction. If we have the Ifugao Rice Terraces circled by rice paddies, the mountains in this area are all covered with hectares upon hectares of refreshing tea shrubs and trees, with farmers tending to their lush gardens.
The breathtaking trip took us to rural China. We passed through magnificent mountain tunnels I lost track counting them. As we snaked through several vertigo-causing highland skyways, we arrived in Gan De, the gateway to Anxi’s jaw-dropping tea plantation. 
We had lunch in a roadside café that served us native chicken prepared like “Adobo” (swimming in tea oil when served to us), and a dish similar to our “Tinola”.
We trekked up a mountain full of tea trees, a knee and lung-busting challenge. The view was simply gorgeous and exhilarating. The experience was punctuated by weird sounds coming from the other side of the mountain. I was told that they were tigers growling.
On our way home way past sunset, we made a stopover in a mountain café. We had a feast of boiled duck (with meat falling off its bones), stewed mutton, pungent steamed rice and lots more cups of tea.

The best thing about Anxi is that it is a small county, population density is low, and it has lots of mountains covered with green forests, which means you will be able to find peace and quiet to accompany your hot cup of tea. 
Many tourists come to Anxi to learn the history of tea, visit its tea factories and its tea gardens are open to the public. The city has the world’s largest teapot, a sculpture located at the plaza overlooking many tea-drinking shops. It is here where the most famous tea-trading hall is located, called China Tea Capital, located on Hebin North Road. 
Within this complex, you will find countless shops, booths, and independent vendors with bags full of dried tea leaves for those who want to take a part of Chinese tea culture home. The prices here are lower than elsewhere in China since you will be purchasing straight from suppliers. 
Tea gardens are also popular stops where you may enjoy a beautiful setting surrounded by natural scenery and lovely music, all while tasting top selections of tea from each garden’s specific menu. Some are family-owned, others are owned by private clubs and tea plantations. 
Tea harvested between mid-September and mid-May in Anxi are the tastiest. The most popular type is called Tieguanyin, with references the “Iron Goddess of Mercy,” grown and produced in Anxi since the 18th century, and today, ranks among the most expensive teas in the word. 
Tieguanyin is a variation of oolong tea with a fresh and smooth taste. Oolong tea is characterized by its unique production process: Leaves are picked, dried under hot sun, and oxidized until they curl up, sometimes followed with a light roasting period. They have a wide array of flavors, but always come with rich aromas and complex essences. 

Other types of tea (including more than 12 types of Oolongs) you will find as you explore Anxi County are Ruan Zhi, Ben Shan Green Dragon, Huangdan, Benshan, Maoxie, Daye Wulong, and Meizhan, and Golden Cassia (also known as Golden Osmanthus). Elsewhere in Fujian Province, you will find production of jasmine tea.  
The traditional Chinese way of preparation is to put a small amount of leaves in your cup, hot water, and then cover to steep for a few minutes. Soon the leaves will release their aromas and sink to the bottom when it is ready to drink. Just add more hot water to your cup to the same leaves when you want more to drink. This method allows more efficient use of each dose of leaves. 
How to get to Anxi  
Arriving to Anxi County is quite convenient. Fujian Province is in southern China and quite close to Hong Kong. The main cities you will arrive to before going to Anxi are most likely Xiamen and Quanzhou.
If coming from Xiamen, you can take a bus from Songbai Long Distance Bus Station where you can get a 1–2 hour ride north to Anxi. There is no direct train between the two destinations.  
If coming from Quanzhou, you can take a train from Quanzhou East Railway station to Anxi. You can also take a bus from Central Bus Station, taking 1 hour. From Quanzhou and Xiamen, there are also trains to Anxi.