Thursday, March 9, 2017


 by Roger Pe
Business Mirror
March 9, 2017 issue

Picture-pretty. Picture-laden. That’s all. Back in the 90s, our tourism commercials had that kind of formula. The usual mandatory slogan was also all over, as if mentioning it at the end shot was not enough. It was always a menu of the usual, like going to a bookstore’s postcard section and you see the same pictures over and over again. You leaf through the pages of a tourism book or a magazine for expats, and you see the same batch.

You pick up a two-fold leaflet in the airport and you immediately recognize them. You look around you and you see big bold lighted billboards of the same. Oh, they are also on the inflight magazine’s cover.

What happened to the rest? We’re supposed to have seven thousand six hundred forty-one islands, to be exact, some of them more spectacular and jawdropping. Why are they not being promoted?

On January 25, 2017, the much-awaited Department of Tourism tv commercial had its soft launch, aired without much fanfare. It was coming from the heels of an era where tourism advertising in the region was being eagerly watched and global advertising award shows have elevated it as a mainstream category.

Tourism advertising in the Philippines has leapfrogged, from a probono exercise to a legit business in the last seven years, the acquisition of which, gives the winning ad agency some kind of a prestige and a halo of being important, far from the age of yore when it could be had without having to pitch.

People were also itching to see what a less award-conscious agency would come up with. Would it fall short of the standard that has been set like those on the Cannes reel? Would it raise the ante and escort its predecessor to the archives of the 90s?

When “Anak” broke on traditional and social media, Filipino viewers, as well as global audiences of the 2016 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant saw something different. Not the usual fare but something that touches on one of the most important components of Filipino society. Family.

The ad was simple, not presumptuous and told a heartwarming story why “it’s more fun in the Philippines”. Finally, the campaign was strategically tighter and did not just resort to word pun to escape scrutiny. It presented a universal truth about Filipinos and that made it doubly endearing.

The commercial shows foreign traveler Jack Ellis being offered a local food by a Filipina mother who addresses him as her own "Anak” (child). Curious, he nonchalantly asks his tourist guide the meaning of the word. He looks back with a sense of wonder. The ad got good reviews on social media and even top advertising creative directors publicly announced their positive sentiments for the spot.

"Anak" is said to be part of a series of video campaigns that will be shown locally and internationally. At a press briefing before production of the material began, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said that while they stuck with the current "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan, they deemed it more appropriate to focus on the traits of the Filipino people, as suggested by United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.

Rifai said, the slogan should answer and define “why it's more fun in the country” and stressed that most countries have already beaches, malls and restaurants. But being Filipinos make you different, you are Filipinos”. There lies the unique selling proposition.

Previously, DOT Undersecretary Kat de Castro also said the new campaign would be more specific in terms of the destinations and activities tourists can do in the country.

The Advertising Agency

Having said that, McCann WorldGroup Philippines, once famous for its “Truth Well Told” dictum, rolled up its sleeves and buckled down to work.

The agency recently rebranded to be more relevant to the industry’s climate change. On the wall of its posh Bonifacio Global City office, boldly stands its raison d’etre: “Transforming Brands and Growing Businesses”, as if trying to say that it is putting sense back to the ad industry.

The brief given to the agency was clear. Teo had given McCann a single-minded task: Focus on people to give answer and meaning to the slogan and make the beauty of the place as just a backdrop.

“The agency embraced it, it also confirmed our research that it is the people that tourists remember when they travel abroad, including their warmth, hospitality and generosity,” Sydney Samodio, McCann Executive Creative Director opens during the interview.

How well did the agency put its creativity principle into use? “We utilized our global strategic and communication plan. We asked: “What’s the best way to tell the story?” We worked as a lens to come up with something like this, a perfect case study zeroing on a general truth,” McCann Managing Partner Gerald Gonzalez says matter-of-factly.
To squeeze more truth and leave no stone unturned, the agency treated the Filipino as “a client from Day One,” a brilliant probing statement from Samodio. The agency gathered as much culturally rich insights as it could, profusely inspired and very vocal about working with a government account that it described as refreshing, and its people, pleasant, supportive, and appreciative.

How does it feel to have done an ad for the country, personally, and on a larger perspective? Gonzalez says is proud to have worked on the new DOT campaign. “When I was tapped to do this, I thought to myself that this maybe the only time in my career that I would be able to directly contribute to the country. Personally, it is rewarding to see that people are reacting positively, to what we’ve created and have featured unique places that only Philippines can offer. I hope that tourism becomes a strong pillar of our economy moving forward,” he says.

He mentions, however, that the logistics of tourism are some of the major challenges our tourism industry is facing. “Transportation and accommodations for travellers, especially in remote areas, the infrastructure that would allow easier access and stay would be our biggest opportunities to further boost tourism in the country,” he says.

The agency worked on an extremely tight timetable. It was in the middle of 2016 Christmas break, made tougher by a strong typhoon that visited the production locale in far Mindanao.

But at the end of trying circumstances, the result was a material truthfully and beautifully told, set in a place many people call an enchanted river in Hinatuan, Surigao province on the southeastern board of the Philippines.

The Director

There was a lot of pressure for Franco Marinelli, the Australian film director (of Italian descent), to deliver a wonderful ad. To do that, he stuck to the brief and executed the film intuitively.

Marinelli’s biggest challenge was the weather. “There was a big typhoon when we arrived in the location area. We barely checked the location but found ourselves retreating back to Manila to avoid it,” he recalls.

When Marinelli and everyone else returned, it again rained every day of the shoot except for the last day. In one of the finished scenes (traveler and mother) there were actual raindrops in the finished shots they had to remove them during post-editing.

Marinelli is all praises in working with the Filipino crew. He particularly mentions Aaron Farrugia, a half-Filipino, half-Australian cinematographer who gave life to his masterpiece. Although born in Australia, Aaron’s mother is a Filipina who was originally from Baguio.

“It was also nice working again with Ross Misa of Abracadabra after a long break, a guy who always supported my ideas 100%,” he says.

Marinelli worked with several foreign government tourism projects and local commercials prior to his DOT assignment. He gushes at the support given to him by DOT, McCann and the production staff, describing them as world-class.

“I created a very thorough shooting board that covered many facets of the story. I kind of saw it as a travel and adventure story, with an emotional twist,” he says. He is thankful for having a supportive McCann team for his creative development of the story.

“The emotion essence was already very clearly evident in the agency’s script and the storyboard was very clearly thought out,” he says. The film started with refreshing visuals of adventure and ended with an emotional connection between a young foreigner and the Filipino mom.

He relates his shooting experience as unforgettable, waxing nostalgia about the ‘enchanting’ river.“ “The river itself is really enchanted. It exudes its own natural positive energy that seems to come directly from the bowels of the earth. It’s hard to explain but it seems to be a very feminine type of energy. I always felt as though the river was allowing us to show its most beautiful faces. It’s amazing and a very special place,” he fondly explains.

Before he flew to Manila, Marinelli made “City of Inspiration”, a tourism spot for Shanghai city government. The Information Office of Shanghai was his client, the film is showcased on its website at He also recently made a new tourism film for Dalat City, Vietnam, which will be released shortly and a series of 6 commercials for Perth, Western Australia.

What are his thoughts on the country’s film production capabilities?

Marinelli says that after shooting for many years in the Philippines, he believes that it is extremely high because it has an established local film industry, with very experienced production staff and top of the line equipment and facilities.

“The fact that I have shot so many successful foreign productions in the Philippines is testament to this. I plan to shoot more in the future,” he says with deep conviction.

With a Masters Degree in fine arts, majoring in painting and photography, Franco Marinelli achieved considerable recognition as a painter who had mounted a number of stand-alone exhibitions. He then decided to further utilize his artistic talents by working as a film director.

In 1992, he began directing music videos before focusing on commercials. Since then, Marinelli has directed hundreds of commercials in almost every region of the world.

"My commercial directing style has evolved from my background as an artist. There is a strong link between my painting style and directing style. Hence, I approach a commercial production with the same discipline as I would on an oil painting," he says.

Despite his roots in traditional art forms, Marinelli is not averse to advances in digital post-production. In fact, he believes that technology has allowed his work to be more 'painterly'. He is highly experienced in digital visual effects and computer animation.

Marinelli started doing commercials by accident. After graduating from a Sydney University Art School, he opened a café in the city to make ends meet.

One of his customers was a cinematographer and knowing he could draw, asked his help to do a storyboard project. A few months later, he was chatting with a café supplier and mentioned about it. He told him he needed to shoot a commercial for one of his wine brands and asked if he could help.

With a small budget and working with the same cinematographer and a producer friend, they shot the film. When they presented it, the client was so amazed by the result he had tears in his eyes. They all made a 50% profit on the project and the rest is history.

A great commercial for Marinelli is one with a very simple idea, executed in an amazing way. A good example for him is the old British Airways commercial “Face” done by Saatchi & Saatchi in 1989.

What does he think about Filipino creativity in the ad industry? “There is a new generation with fresh approaches and philosophies. They seem to be more independent and locally focused in their thinking – which is good to see, both in Film and Advertising disciplines,” he says.

The Production House

Because of Marinelli's film style and the ad was to be shot in Mindanao, Abracadabra went into preparation way ahead to avoid logistical nightmares.

The production house also tapped “Actors Prime”, a unit within its vast technical capabilities with expertise on remote, far-flung communities. The outfit drew simultaneous, parallel approach to the normal preparation being done by the ad agency at the onset.

For one, James Gaines, the American guy who was part of Francis Ford Coppola’s shooting crew when “Apocalypse Now” was shot in the Philippines years ago, made it a lot easier.

“This is where you separate the men from the boys,” Gaines says. He picked three battle-tested Pinoys whom he had worked on foreign productions in the Philippines in the past.

They were award-winning cinematographer Jun Periera, seasoned Art Director Andy Andico (he last worked on Hollywood’s “Borne Legacy”) and Production Manager Manix Leonardo, three musketeers whom he had a reunion of sort in doing this commercial.

A couple of years ago, Gaines worked with Andico for a Japanese film in Subic. Midway into the production, a typhoon struck and the whole production staff, including the Japanese director, was marooned in the jungle. But he said to himself: “We can do this realizing that making a film is like doing a long form versus short one or like night and day.”

So when typhoon lashed through Surigao during the DOT shoot, the case was nothing new for Gaines.

“Inspite of bad weather, the fear of a rebel ambush along the highway that we traversed everyday, the Director’s boat that also served as our camera boat, (that almost sank, and God forbid, if it did, I am sure all the women would grieve, not for Marinelli, but for Faruggia, our good-looking cinematographer who could give any actor a run for his money). I could just imagine the agency and our female staff if the banca did sink, their reaction would be worse than seeing Titanic sink with Leonardo de Carpio”, Gaines laughingly reminisces.

Abracadabra is a 10-year old Filipino production house, which debuted with an Anchor Beer tv commercial shot in China, in collaboration with ad agency Leo Burnett Guangzhou. It won gold awards from the local industry’s Oscars: Ad Congress, Kidlat Awards and in regional and international award shows like Spike Asia, Cannes, and One Show. It even made a full-length movie entry for Sundance Film Festival.

"We evolve with the times and equip Abracadabra with up-to-the-minute equipment to be competitive in the digital landscape. From content concepts to storyboard production to pre-production to the finished material, we put our years of experience and expertise on each of them,” Ross Misa, founding chairman and CEO proudly says.

Tourism slogans through the years

The Philippine Department of Tourism was created by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1973, splitting the Department of Trade and Tourism into separate departments. Along side the new department were the Philippine Tourism Authority and Philippine Convention Bureau.

There are no recorded official advertising campaign slogans from that period but unofficially, the country referred to it as “Pearl of the Orient.” Under Secretary Gordon in 2003, DOT initiated one of its most successful tourism promotion projects, Visit Philippines 2003.

It then made a nationwide effort to launch “Fiesta Islands Philippines” and “Wow, Philippines”. As its neighboring Asean countries were experiencing unprecedented tourism boom, the Philippines launched “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” in 2010, a short-lived catchphrase that received huge criticisms from the public for its uncanny similarities to Poland’s tourism logo and slogan. So controversial it was, it led to the resignation of then DOT Secretary Alberto Lim,

The “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” plagiarism brouhaha bordered on the following issues: The fonts of Polska and “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” were similar. Both slogans have their letter “L” stylized into trees. The only difference was the latter’s letter "L" was stylized into a coconut tree as against the former’s "L" which was stylized into generic tree.
Lim acknowledged that the Philippine slogan had some similarities with the Polska logo but commented that it was more colorful.

After a much-publicized pitch among high-profile Philippine ad agencies, a new slogan was launched: “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”, a tagline that also was not spared of copycatting issues. Netizens flooded social media arguing that it was a rip off of “It’s More Fun In Switzerland”.

DOT was preparing to say goodbye to “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” slogan until it had a change of heart towards the last quarter of 2016.

Meanwhile, DOT Secretary Teo recently reactivated the tourism council this week to spur team effort among sectoral stakeholders in the tourism industry.

“It is imperative that we collaborate as a team of stakeholders in the implementation of the NTDP and realize the government’s vision of Ambisyon Natin 2040 for the benefit of all sectors, at the same time, deliver the best tourism packages to the world market,” Teo said.

The tourism chief said the TCC, which had not convened in the last two years, is mandated by the Tourism Act of 2009 to help set the direction for the country’s tourism program and address urgent issues confronting the country’s tourism industry.

Government agencies lauded the DOT for succinctly capturing the social development agenda of the President in the NTDP. However, issues and concerns such as high hotel rates, insufficient infrastructure, poor access roads, lack of direct flights to tourist destinations, and adverse travel advisories over security threats were also raised during the TCC forum.

Traffic congestion, destruction of historical sites, massive number of street dwellers and “colorum” tour guides and taxi services were also mentioned in the open forum.

“We cannot sweep these issues under the rug. It is the mandate of the Tourism Coordinating Council to address such concerns,” Teo stressed.

A long-time travel professional herself, Secretary Teo also brought up the issue on pricing of travel packages, which has been a stumbling block in the Philippines’ global tourism competitiveness.

She went on to say, “Our neighboring countries in Southeast Asia and even Japan, sell reasonably priced packages, especially after a natural calamity or political upheaval so foreign travelers would still be enticed to visit after a crisis.”

Leni Fabul of the Philippine Hotel Owners Association (PHOA) added, “Due to the supply-demand factor we have to keep our room rates high and allow us to keep up with high cost of energy here.”  Fabul also said there is also the need to encourage more hotel investors to correct the room gap of about 75,000 more rooms for the next five years.