IT’S MORE FUN – THE AD CAMPAIGN THAT EMBARRASSED AN ENTIRE COUNTRY

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When the Department of Tourism and the ad agency BBDO Guerrero launched this campaign in 2011, there was enormous hoopla about it, especially since it had been personally approved by not just Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr., but by no less than the President of the Philippines His Excellency Benigno Aquino III, and his entire Cabinet (relying, of course, on Jimenez’s opinion).

Since that time the campaign even won an international award calling it the 3rd most clever campaign in the world.

But the indisputable fact is that it was a dismal failure. From 2011 to 2014, our foreign arrivals grew from 3.9 to 4.8 million, more or less 7% annual growth. Though this sounds respectable, it really isn’t, considering that the campaign was supposed to rocket us past our regional competitors. Nor is it acceptable, given the huge sums spent on international print and broadcast media, by a Tourism Secretary with infinite belief in the power of advertising.

Vietnam, which hardly did anything, and never won any awards for cleverness, grew 10% p.a. during the same period (6.0 to 7.9 million arrivals).

Despite coups, airport closures, and other problems, and starting from a much higher base, Thailand grew 9% p.a. (19.2 to 24.8 million).

The Department of Tourism has already in effect admitted that the campaign was a failure. A year ago it switched to Visit the Philippines 2015. (Really catchy, this: “Visit the Philippines”. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?)

Of course, the question to ask is: WHY was the DOT campaign such a failure?

Really, the reasons are not that hard to figure out.

First, all the promos in the world will not succeed in selling an inferior product.

It is not our hotels or our natural attractions that are inferior, it is everything else – traffic, law and order, customs officials who shake down tourists at NAIA, passport control lines that take an hour, petty thievery at every corner, taxi drivers who victimize tourists, “tour guides” who take tourists to shoddy restaurants and massage parlors with prices jacked up 300%, mobile discos whose organizers delight in torturing hotel guests with their all-night music.

Before even thinking of a “promo”, the DOT should have worked on fixing these. But fixing these is not glamorous, so no one in the DOT wanted to be bothered.

Second, the It’s More Fun campaign was inept, even as advertising.

Whoever introduced Ramon Jimenez, Jr., to the President as a “marketing guru” was an imbecile. Jimenez’s promo strategy was obsessively focused on how clever the copy-writers were, and totally missed the point of an advertising campaign: to communicate a consistent, easy-to-understand message to a defined target audience that has some chance of being receptive to your pitch, using appropriate media, to promote a carefully-defined product, with a carefully-defined intended result or action by the audience. In contrast, the DOT campaign evidenced:

  1. Immediate loss of control of the campaign itself. The DOT bureaucrats were impressed by their own genius, especially when the campaign went viral and many Filipinos played with the slogan. But they forgot that in the process, THEY WERE GOING TO LOSE CONTROL OF THE MESSAGE, THE IMAGES, AND THE TARGET MARKETS. They gave up this control to every fool with a camera and a computer who thought he was clever, too. The internet was flooded with thousands of It’s More Fun images, almost all of them with unintended and highly prejudicial messages.
  2. No target audience. It is not clear whom the DOT was talking to in all these ads. Hippies? Honeymooners? Anarchists? European dropouts? Children? Businessmen? Hikers? In advertising, when you talk to everyone, you talk to no one.
  3. No defined product. The ads were selling everything from naked Igorots, to bloody flagellants, to rice terraces. In many cases, no reasonable person could figure out what was being sold. See, for example, the moving house (direct from DOT) and the mountain bike (also DOT) ads.
  4. No clear message. “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is not a coherent message, as the following review of specific images will show. In fact, there were so many images, including those that private Filipinos circulated, that in the end it was all just bedlam and static. Therefore, this slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is just the equivalent of “Coca-Cola is more refreshing than the other soft drinks”. Not a particularly clever message.
  5. Putting it as mildly as possible, the idea that people will choose a travel destination because it claims it’s more fun – does not reveal much insight into human nature. People travel for all sorts of reasons, and a sophisticated understanding of motivational psychology would see that most people do not travel for “fun” (or if they do, will not admit it). Mothers travel to please children and to feel they are good parents. Many husbands travel to get the wife off their back, or possibly out of guilt for ignoring the wife or the children most of the time. Couples travel to have sex in comfortable but different surroundings. Older couples travel to get away from their children, or to make their peers envious. Some people travel for adventure or social interaction. Some families travel to bond and make up for big-city stress. Some people travel to impress themselves, or to reward themselves. FEW PEOPLE (who are older than 8) TRAVEL, at least in their minds, for the express objective of fun. Think about it.
  6. And now we get to the campaign’s images. Are they really “fun”? Look at them. No wonder the campaign was a huge mess. Many of the following are official DOT-authorized photos, but even those that aren’t are still the DOT’s fault (see first point above).
View Images slideshow
Picture unintelligible to most foreigners. For those who do understand it, repugnant to the majority.
Devoid of people, a mediocre photo that doesn’t depict any fun going on.
“Chasing tail” is an American vulgarism referring to seeking women for sex. Most Asians, the logical target market for Philippine tourism, won’t get it. At this point, let’s also note that the ads were all in English, and by this choice alone were doomed to fail to reach a suitable target audience.
No one will understand this picture. A print image has a few nano-seconds to catch your attention. If your mind cannot make any immediate sense of what it’s seeing, it will just move on.
The hidden message of this photo, which is an actual DOT release, is that Filipinos are still in the Stone Age, live in one-room huts, and are unaware of the existence of flatbed trucks. It is mystifying how someone at BBDO Guerrero could postulate that a Singaporean or a Korean would see this and be entranced. Too much cleverness; not enough common sense.
Another picture that only a Filipino would recognize, evidencing that the creator of the message had no idea whom he was trying to talk to with the ad.
A nice image, but aren’t Philippine hotels already quite busy at Christmas? A case of selling something that’s already sold.
This is about as generic a beach picture as one could possibly imagine. It is the equivalent of saying “It’s more fun in the Philippines because our beaches look exactly like everyone else’s”.
Jagged glass = resourcefulness (recycling bottles) = a reason to come to the Philippines? Fun?
This picture is technically poor and cluttered; the important foreground is hard to pick out from the unimportant but equally sharp background. Hidden message: Don’t take pictures of Filipinos, they don’t like it, and they go around with scythes in holsters.
Message: the Philippines is backward and poor.
That’s all we needed. The Secretary of Tourism himself saying that Filipinos don’t like strangers. The detailed further explanation is utterly unbelievable, pitiful. Who wrote this tripe? One hopes it was not Jimenez.
Lovely. Calling all mountain-climbers! This is a huge market, right? Let’s hope this picture convinces them to come here rather than Colorado, Nepal, British Columbia, Switzerland. . .
Explicit message: the Philippines is so poor that six people have to share a motorcycle. Hidden message: our public transportation system is horrific.
Did someone seriously believe that a lovesick Australian (Norwegian, whatever) would see this, and then prevail upon his girlfriend to go to the Philippines, where he could pop the question? That’s asking a lot of a print ad.
Most people will find this photo attractive and arresting; a few will ultimately ask how to get to this marvelous sight. They will then be told it takes 6 hours out of Baguio, itself 5 hours out of Manila, and by the way, the hotels near the terraces barely have flush toilets. A case of selling a product that you’re not capable of delivering.
Appealing picture, but how smart is it to associate our country with rush hour, any rush hour? When a tourist has his first taste of Manila or Cebu traffic, is he going to remember this picture, and this text? You bet. And not in a nice way. Another case of clever wording for its own sake.
“Come to the country where some Catholic fanatics beat their backs bloody” – really persuasive as a tourism pitch.
We built a caricature of Cinderella’s carriage, and hope you think it is so cute you will spend good money and most of your two weeks a year vacation to come all the way from New York or LA (which account for most of the people in the world who can relate to “stretch limo”) so you can ride it.
We have surf in the Philippines, and we’re asking you surfers to come here instead of Hawaii, Australia, California, the South Pacific, South Africa, Peru, the Canaries, El Salvador, Costa Rica, the Maldives, Ecuador, New Zealand, Oman, Puerto Rico, and Vancouver Island. . .
What they thought was the Message: We have pretty, sunshine-kissed beaches where you can be alone. Actual Message: Come to the Philippines, where apparently no other tourist comes, so you can sit under a tree and have pretty much nothing to do; it is noon, there is no evidence of lunch, and it’s going to be a long day.
We’re not sure if this was authorized by the DOT or not, but the message of this picture is unarguable: the Philippines is an open-air toilet. Maybe Thailand or Vietnam created this ad. If so, our DOT gave them an engraved invitation to do so.
And don’t forget that this is a dangerous place, with active volcanoes and lahar.
Explicit message: the Philippines is backward and poor, and Filipinos are naked tribesmen. Hidden message: Filipinos are idiots, because these contraptions are more trouble than walking.
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