Opinion

Publicis Manila CEO Matec Villanueva on why Filipinos embrace brands that care, the value of foreign influence, and why exporting young talent is a good thing

Matec VillanuevaMatec Villanueva is the CEO of Publicis Manila. She is also chair of the Ad Summit Pilipinas that took place in Subic this week.

In this interview with Mumbrella Asia editor Robin Hicks at the Ad Summit, Villanueva talks why Filipinos embrace brands that care, the perception of foreign talent among locals, and why it is a good thing that the Philippines exports its young ad folk overseas.

Alex Syfu, chairman of the Philippine 4As, said earlier this week that agencies should stop ‘the hard sell’ and try to help bring meaning to people’s lives. What do you think he meant, and do you think agree with him?

People now have so many choices, and really the role of communication is helping people make an informed choice – to provide relevant, truthful information. And people want to buy products that give them value. Once that value is gained, it can change people; they get a certain level of fulfillment from it. So it is not unreasonable to think that advertising can bring meaning to us all, and give us a different outlook on life.

Where I’m from, people are often cynical of brands who appear to be caring. Do you think that filipinos are more receptive to this sort of approach?

Many Filipinos don’t have as much in life as people other countries, so we’re always open to something that makes our lives better. If a brand offers itself in a true, open and honest way, it will be embraced. But if you try to fool Filipinos, then they will quickly become cynical. But we have incredibly short memories. We kicked Marcos out, but now his family is back in power. We believe in giving a second chance. Perhaps it’s a Catholic trait, but Filipinos tend to be very forgiving, and will allow brands to redeem themselves.

Do you have any examples of brands behaving to bring meaning to people’s lives?

One is Milo. We’re not an advanced country, and we love sports. But we don’t have the resources to provide for aspiring athletes. So brands like Milo go grass routes and fund sports camps for young people. If brands start with youth, they provide hope. As a country we’re a very hopeful people; hope and redemption are two very important traits of Filipinos.

The Philippines is famous for being an exporter of talent. Do you worry that the brightest talent will look overseas to further their careers?

No. I think our talent should be exported. The only way for us to progress is for our brightest young talent is to gain experience on the world stage. We should be open to that as an industry, because millennials don’t stay still, they want to see the world. If we keep our focus on training and giving support to young people, we will continue to progress. We have a population of 100 million and we’re a young country, it’s not as if we’ll run out of people coming through the ranks. We want to be known as a country that exports cerebral talent, not just manual labour.

You recently hired a senior creative from the UK. What do you think the response is to foreign talent in the Philippines?

Of course, there’s the sense that foreigners pose a threat to local talent. But foreign talent can teach the young guys the old, trusted way of doing things. Even so, foreigners in the Philippine ad industry are relatively rare. We tend to be quite an insular country, and take the view that outsiders don’t understand the Filipino. But as the world opens up, and Filipinos adopt a more global outlook, that view is beginning to change.

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