What winning our first grand prix at Cannes means for the Philippines

Eugene DemataMumbrella spoke to the man behind the Philippines’ first ever grand prix win at Cannes, Eugene Demata, the ECD of DDB DM9 JaymeSyfu.

In this Q&A, Demata tells Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks about exporting the Smart TXTBKS idea to other developing countries, the power of CSR in the Philippines and getting rather emotional when he heard they’d won.

Where did the idea for Smart TXTBKS come from?

It came from our concept team. We’d done a number of CSR [corporate social responsibility] campaigns for [mobile telco] Smart before, but this one the client was particularly excited by. Finally a CSR project won’t just help Filipino children, but is also relevant to the product and the brand.

We identified a problem – children were carrying too many text books, sometimes 20 books each. Some of these books seriously looked bigger than the students carrying them. We thought, what could we do to solve this problem using our client, Smart? The solution was so simple, really, so logical. Why not use old phones?

What happens when you run out of old phones to use?

In the Philippines, smart phones are everywhere. But they’re expensive. Regular analogue phones are still very much in abundance, because of cost. So we’re not worried that we’ll run out. Plus when people hear about our project, they will donate their old phones.

What sort of feedback have you had from kids about reading a text book on a small screen phone?

Well, when we pilot-tested the idea we were surprised that children as young as grade 2 and 3 – so nine and 10 year olds – had no problem using the phones. We didn’t have to explain how to use or navigate the devices. They didn’t have any problem with the size of the screen either.

There was a bit of apprehension among teachers to begin with, as cell phones are not allowed in the classroom anywhere in the Philippines. But when we explained that these devices can’t be used for texting, they warmed to the idea.

Have you had interest from other countries who want to import the Smart TXTBKS idea?

Yes. Many calls and emails from friends and acquaintances from other countries. Last Friday, we talked with one of judges of the mobile category in Cannes, who has put us in touch with interested parties in India and Africa. We then realized that the problem here in the Philippines is as prevalent in other third world countries.

We really think this idea can travel. The good thing is the technology is so simple and is easily replicated. However, an obstable in India is that there are so many different languages. This is the problem we will have to tackle when we get further down the road in discussions with our partners in India.

Some people are cynical of brands that use causes to ultimately sell stuff. What’s the feeling about this in the Philippines?

Filipinos are used to seeing big brands doing CSR projects. Coca-Cola is one brand with a big tradition in CSR, its Overseas Foreign Workers Christmas Surprise project being a good recent example.

I really think these projects are embraced with an open heart by Filipinos. People do not just see Smart as the number one cell phone firm, they see it as the number one firm in doing good. The Smart TXTBKS project was well received by parents because it provided their kids with something that they can actually use. Because parents don’t usually allow kids to own cell phones, and they can’t afford and tablet or an e-reader, which are used in richer countries.

What impact did winning the Philippines’ first grand prix at Cannes have on the agency?

To be honest, we’re still in shock. Most of the other entries in our category [mobile] were high tech. We didn’t expect this sort of recognition, and when the news came through the whole agency was in tears. It’s still hard to explain the feeling of winning. We just wanted to help these kids and do some good, and we are thankful to God that we had the opportunity to do so.

The Philippines hasn’t done particularly well at Cannes in the past. How can the country improve its showing at international awards show?

All the Philippine Cannes winners

All the Philippine Cannes winners (click to enlarge)

I think it’s all about client education. It used to be that clients were apprehensive about the ideas we presented them if they were too edgy. But if we can prove that award-winning ideas build businesses, it’s easier to sell creativity. And slowly but surely this is happening.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an article on the Philippines’ best-ever showing at Cannes, featuring not just us but all the Filipino winners. We are so proud that the country has made such a great impression at Cannes. And now clients are asking us for award-winning ideas.

Scam is rife in some countries in Southeast Asia. What’s your view of the problem in the Philippines, if there is one?

Five years ago, yes, it was a problem. But now, with the help of clients who believe in creative advertising, it’s becoming rarer and more great legit work is coming through.


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