Opinion

The thinking behind why ‘it’s more fun in the Philippines’

Picture 9The ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ campaign helped its creator, BBDO Guerrero, win agency of the year. It also won the agency gold at the APPIES recently.

But the national tourism account has not been without controversy. Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks spoke to BBDO Guerrero’s CEO Tony Harris about where the idea came from, what it’s achieved so far, and what comes next.

The Philippines has a characteristically colourful recent history of marketing itself as a tourist destination.

Philippines and Poland's logo

When it was launched in 2010, the “Kay Ganda!” campaign was lampooned for copying Poland’s tourism logo. It was also criticised for dodgy grammer, a website that used a name similar to a porn site’s, vague connotations of sex tourism and the use of Tagalog to target foreigners.

To the first point, the then tourism secretary Alberto Lim did not mount much of a defense when he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “What looks very much alike is the font. But if you look at the colours, they used one colour, we used several colours.”

“We have a coconut tree, they don’t. We have a tarsier, they don’t. We have ‘Kay Ganda,’ they don’t,” he said.

Since that campaign there was a hiatus in Philippines tourism advertising, until BBDO Guerrero took on the business.

But the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign, which launched last year, did not get the best of starts either, after critics dug out the “It’s more fun in Switzerland” campaign from the 1960s.

But the campaign, which began with the website itsmorefuninthephilippines.com, went viral within two hours of its official launch, with Filipinos using the ‘It’s more fun’ meme to express their feelings for their country.

So Tony, no pressure when you were given this brief, then? What sort of challenges did you face?

Tony Harris

Tony Harris

One issue with tourism campaigns in the Philippines is that they tend to get very political. Subsequently, there are enemies of the government who might want the campaign to fail.

But given what this campaign achieved so quickly, the negativity went away and the politics went with it. The approval rating for ‘It’s more fun’ is still around 90 per cent across the country.

What about the issue with the ‘It’s more fun in Switzerland’ line?

We didn’t know about it. I will take any lie detector test you like. We had about six weeks working on the campaign on the basis that no one had used this line before. We killed off two ideas before we got to the final iteration, because they had been done before.

What was the biggest challenge?

The level of expectation, which is huge in this country. In England, where I’m from, most people wouldn’t know what the country’s current tourism campaign is, nor would they care. Here, it is a big issue. There has been extensive press coverage, both before and after the campaign, and lots of chatter in social media. Everyone was interested in what we’d come up with, particularly since the tourism secretary [Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr.] is an ex adman. We had to get it right.

Were there other ideas?

If we’d have come up with Fantastic Philippines or Fabulous Philippines, we would have fallen short. We wouldn’t have had the backing or goodwill of the people. We needed to use Filipinos to spread the message, since they are at the heart of the campaign.

Where did the ‘It’s more fun’ idea come from?

The idea was based on three observations – the competition, the audience and the product.

Look at the competition. Campaigns like Amazing Thailand or Incredible India are observational. They are not participative. We wanted to involve Filipinos in the campaign.

Now, the audience. A foreigner’s perception of the Philippines is quite possibly negative. People tend to think of guns, pollution, corruption and Imelda Marcos’ shoes. But the perception of the Philippines is very different to the view of Filipinos.

Wherever you go in the world there are communities of Filipinos reviving the sense of fun they have back home, seeing the sunnier side of whatever situation they find themselves in. Their disposition is generally warm, human, hospitable, kind and funny – even our rival destinations in Southeast Asia would never argue with that, because it’s true.

And the product. The beaches, the natural wonders, the fascinating quirks of our cities – the Philippines is equal to anywhere.

The difficult bit was being competitive without being boastful, with is very much against the Filipino psyche. But we wanted to inject a sense of pride into the campaign, but that came down to the country’s sense of fun.

Who came up with the slogan?

David Guerrero

David Guerrero

David Guerrero [BBDO Guerrero’s creative chairman]. He was diving in Boracay when the line came to him. I was in Thailand at the time, looking at what their tourism department was doing. He called me and said he’d cracked it.

The concept didn’t do well in the very first external focus groups at pitch stage, but we held firm and it was a landslide success after that.

How did you get the message out?

To begin with this campaign is not BBDO’s nor is it the Department of Tourism’s. It’s the peoples’. That’s why it’s so exciting. Tourism campaigns are often dismissed for being bland or corny. Not here.

This is the social media capital of the world, and we used that to our advantage. Did we think that we’d get the response that we’ve had? Yes but not as quickly. It was a deliberate plan to use social media in this way.

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This campaign was not about country branding. It was about finding a voice and connecting with the whole population as well as with the vast diaspora of Filipinos overseas. They helped us define the idea and spread the message.

Filipinos were the key to unlocking the strategy. But it would have been a mistake to try to make a nation proud with this campaign. There was always the danger that sentimentalism got in the way. We were very clear in that regard. I’m proud to be English, just as Albanians are proud to be Albanians. But that doesn’t make you want to visit a country.

At every stage it was about tourism – getting people to come here. The powerful thing about the campaign is that everyone, from the president to a jeepney driver, can say that it’s more fun in the Philippines, and no one can argue with that. The people are what make this country so worth visiting.

How effective has it been?

We broken through the four million visitor mark last year. Even Vietnam gets more tourism visits than we do. But we’ve seen a 10 per cent uplift in visitors since the campaign launched, with a small budget and without any big events to bring people here. We’ve already hit the domestic tourism target for 2016.

How much was spent on the campaign?

Roughly 10 per cent of the tourism budgets of the most popular tourism destinations in Southeast Asia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Manila is not “more fun” than other capital cities in Asia for travelers, I would suggest. How did you get around the fact that travelers have to fly to Manila first before arriving at their dream holiday destination?

Manila is often compared to Mexico City, and I guess there are similarities because the Philippines was a spanish colony. It’s not what I’d call a traditionally beauitful city. Manila suffered a lot during WWII. It was the second most bombed capital in the war after Warsaw. And over the years its appearance hasn’t come first in the minds of town planners. But it’s a fascinating place. A lot of people live and work here. What Manila is not is a Singapore , Hong Kong or KL. It’s as close as you’ll get to those places, but a little bit more haphazard. Which, in a sense, makes it more fun.

What’s next for the campaign?

Over the next nine months, we’re rolling out the campaign across the world. We’re also looking to introduce more digital elements as we target the Asian Eastern Seaboard.

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