Why ad agencies are paid the big bucks: Coca Cola and The OFW Project

Persuasion 101. Lay out a strong emotional context, extend sharp emotional hooks, feel the bite from the audience, reel in the catch, then flash the brand. This is the science that earns the ad agencies the big bucks. Using flashy moving visuals — and lots of money to cobble these into an “inspiring” video — the persuasion agents of mega-conglomerate Coca Cola have turned their chick-flick video Coca-Cola Where Will Happiness Strike Next: The OFW Project into the latest viral hit.

Who were the subjects of this video? The usual. Filipino overseas foreign workers (OFWs) who are in an all-too-familiar situation: they have kids to feed back home and sick relatives to fund, no money to spare for trips back to visit them, and lots of sob-stories to tell drawing upon a chronic homesickness they suffer from.

For the ad man, these ingredients thrown together into a potent brew, makes the turning of Coca Cola into the new OFW “hero” a walk in the park. I can hear the clinking of toasts being made by a bunch of suits laughing all the way to the bank echoing from the distance…

That said, it is a bit unfortunate for Coca Cola and its awesome marketing machine that this quaint ad was released at a time when Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III issued his latest brainwave on the OFW situation of the country he presumes to lead…

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine economy is now focused on “investment-led growth” and is no longer heavily dependent on the remittances of overseas Filipino workers,” President Aquino said yesterday.

“The fact that we are a little bit more insulated now points to the fact that we have more investment-led growth rather than purely consumption resulting from OFW remittances,” Aquino said in an interview on the sidelines of the awarding ceremonies of the 2011 Bagong Bayani at Malacañang.

I can give credit to Noynoy for at least aspiring for a Philippines that is “no longer heavily dependent on the remittances of overseas Filipino workers”. At least at the conceptual level, the Second Aquino Administration is celebrating the right thing, even if the cause for celebration is based on some flawed thinking. As consultant Ben Kritz points out, economic growth is not enough — it has to grow significantly on a per capita basis for it to make significant contribution to reducing poverty (and reducing the need for OFWs to suffer the condition that Coca Cola seemingly takes advantage of in its ad) over the next several years. However, the numbers tell a different story…

[The Philippines’ Household Final Consumption Expenditure] contributes to both GDP and GNI, yet as it has significantly increased (and the increase is indeed significant, because the population is increasing at the same time) the country’s productivity is slowing, and the country is earning progressively less per unit of production.

The real deal is a lot less romantic and chick-flickish (and is quite politically incorrect), unfortunately. Like I wrote a while back in my piece Overseas foreign employment – Filipinos’ pwede-na-yan solution to poverty

Where and when exactly does “responsible parenting” start? Does it start when one already has four kids to feed, clothe, and educate? Or does it start when one first considers having them? It seems Filipinos have forgotten or choose to ignore the latter aspect of being a “responsible parent”.

Having children, then suddenly finding ourselves unable to provide for them is irresponsible. Seeking foreign employment at the expense of sound parenting and labeling it as heroism white-washes this collective irresponsibility and further adds to the counts of this irresponsibility.

It is irresponsible for one to produce offspring without considering one’s long-term ability to provide for them materially as well as emotionally and spiritually. Foreign employment and abortion are sometimes the results of this lack of planning. Leaving one’s young children to seek employment overseas is different from abortion in only one aspect: with abortion, the social problem ends right there and then; with foreign employment involving young children, the problems just begin. OFWs who “sacrifice” family life and the people who lionise them as “heroes” forget that these absentee-parents are turning loose unto an already dysfunctional society a whole generation of absentee-parented youth. Their “sacrifice” is our society’s sacrifice as well in terms of the burden of absorbing this absentee-parented generation. The absentee-parented generation will be no improvement over a generation that already failed dismally at collectively building a strong state.

OFWs are just out to make a better buck for the amount of trouble they have to go through to do it. And there is nothing wrong with that. But let us not pretend that they are more special than you or me who do the same thing and aspire for the same results, albeit under better circumstances.

As the star of the movie The Sound of Music Julie Andrews once sang…

So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Nothing comes from nothing
Nothing ever could
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good

Some of us did something good or bad or something right or wrong in our childhood or past. Perhaps our parents did too. Or their parents. And whatever that was (or the collective outcome of many smaller such things) accounts for the individual circumstance each one of us finds ourselves in today. And that’s all there is to it.

So let’s afford ourselves some teary time and have a Coke as we view and pass along The OFW Project. We’re entitled to have a laugh or shed a tear every now and then when we consume entertainment — as long as we remain conscious that entertainment is not reality.

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26 Comments on “Why ad agencies are paid the big bucks: Coca Cola and The OFW Project”

  1. Celebrating an economic tragedy with a product that sabotages the local sugar industry. Too bad one would die of thirst to swear off all Coke products, they really don’t deserve anyone’s money.

  2. What investment-Led growth, Noynoy Aquino is talking about? What kind of investments? Real Estate? Extended Feudalism (Corporate Farming)? Labor intensive industries? Investment by his Oligarch Buddies, on Energy Sectors? So that they will grow richer and richer?
    He’s just confusing us…or…he does not know what he is talking about…
    We have no Basic Industries, that can produce jobs for people…

  3. i was an OFW for 23 years and i left the philippines in 1980 because during my time the salary for a nurse in the private sector was 720 pesos gross…i do not know how much that translates in today’s pesos but i can definitely tell nothing has changed since a lot of filipinos are leaving for the same reason i did over 30 years ago…i understand the sacrifice of being far from your family, but i do have this question to those featured in the ad and to all other OFW’s who have not returned home because they would rather save the money that they are going to spend when they come home for holidays…you are making the sacrifice to be far from your loved ones to provide for them for their future, what kind of future will they have when you are not around even at least 1 month of the year to personally oversee what is going on with their lives….mas mahalaga na ba talaga ang pera kaysa makapiling mo pamilya mo kahit sandali lang?

  4. i’m not impressed. all advertising and branding is contrived and people who lap it up are plain stupid. period. advertising aside, coke is a lousy product, there are better drinks you can spend your money on. maybe it’s just me, i’m not moved by any of these emo stuff, the images are just that, acting. this theme of the crying ofw families has been exploited ad infinitum. none of it is real. it’s corny.

  5. addendum:

    i admit i was choked up a bit watching this video because i can relate…but in the end this is still an ad for coke,,,exploitative and made for one reason only…brand recognition nothing more nothing less

    1. Coke does not need recognition anymore. Those long running brands need more “connections” with their target markets. With competition from other drinks, it has to hold on to its strength.

      I don’t know if it’s a purely Filipino thing, there’s always Coke or a Coke substitute on the dining table. The relationship between Coke and family will always be taken advantage of. I think the current campaign is “bring home the happiness. ” I think that’s the angle that your OFW ad is looking for.

  6. We all know the hate ad campaign of Der Fuhrer in his continuing, fixated, obsessive hatred against the tagged yellow star of David Arroyo Family. The demonization of her human rights is continuing. GMA is denied cellphone/gadget and even laptop communications. Being held incommunicado is also a human rights violation. This can happen to anyone now because of the dictatorial tendencies of Der Fuhrer.

    If you care for your human rights… Contact Amnesty International (bottom of their webpage) as I did and do the truth ads in telling them what is happening in the Philippines. Expose Der Fuhrer to the international community.

  7. Big corporations don’t do anything or spend money unless there is a “business case” for said expenditure or activity that one way or another translates to increased profits, more revenue, or uplift in share price. These guys aren’t in business to be nice guys. They’re in business for business.

  8. Just need to qualify things.

    Ads are directed to a certain market segment. The coke video wants to nail down the psyche of the OFWs. From an MBAs perspective, the form and substance is OK because there is a certain touch of “corporate social responsibility” (ahhhhhrg what a term). From a deeper sociological and economic viewpoint… it’s simply a selective and curative move to increase “buyability” of kokakola. Natural behaviour of the firm. (micro perspective) On the macro-perspective you can have lotsa lotsa isyus…

    Namber wan – The ad specifically targeted LAND BASED TEMPORARY MIGRANTS. These migrants have their families in the countri op origin. 80 percent have shorter contracts (6 months to 2 years). And since their pamilyas are in da piripins, they REMIT… they fuel the economy and increase the purchasing power of their household. Unfortunately the national income accounting do not have the nearest actual figure of their remittance because they are channeled through non-traditional sources.

    And the point of targeting that segment? Bekos of their purchasing power and their “consuming behaviour”. Their families are the biggest spender… their satisficing moment in buying a TV, ref and stereo cannot be denied from them. Bili dito bili dun. Baket kamo? yun nga SATISFICING… if you have none of what you are aspiring for you buy more until you reach the level of satisfcation. That is the bottom line in the micro perspective between the FIRM and the HOUSEHOLD. IT IS A NORMAL BEHAVIOUR.

    On a MACRO ECONOMIC perspective… it would be a beri beri simple argument of what is ECONOMIC GROWTH and ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Kaya umalis ang mga yan kasi wala silang perception of income or income opportunities dito. Bottom line… WALANG ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

    Kritz is right… Economic Growth indicators are not enough. From a macro perspective citizens will always look at how society and government structure provides them with or rather efficiently facilitate the process the acquisition of the basic needs… FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER and underwear. Kung wlang economic development… LALAYAS ANG MGA TAO SA PINANGALINGAN. end dats da butom layn.

    1. those ofws they brought home for this contrived ad (though the ofws’ and their families’ emotions seemed real), they figured that being exploited by coke to pull filipino heartstrings is a small price to pay for actually getting home and not have to pay for it. any other group of ofws would have taken the same opportunity (thinking “what harm could it do?”). come to think of it, every other endorser for lousy consumer products, or extra who danced on tv to campaign for politicians, never really bothers answering himself/herself the question “what harm could it do?” because they end up taking part in those ads anyway. the harm that it can do is it’s perpetuating the way people irresponsibly allow themselves to be used in this manner as if it’s perfectly acceptable, as if it’s the norm. if people routinely allow themselves to be exploited, what harm COULDN’T it do? lack of foresight has always been a factor in why filipinos live the way they do today.

      just a tangent here…

      i’ve always thought coca cola philippines was terrible at its advertising (in recent years, anyway), though everything else in its marketing such as distribution, promotions and quality of the product are a-ok.

      they had a campaign that tried justifying having coke for hydration and a balanced lifestyle (even using paolo abrera to try to get that message across), practically BEGGING for relevance at a time when carbohydrate consciousness was on a rise not just among diabetics but among dieters.

      they had this ad using grand theft auto as visual, and everything turned out nicey-nicey that it was somewhat entertaining but quite a headscratcher what it was supposed to convince people of. hey, if you have to explain what your ad is supposed to mean, you know your ad failed big time, right?

      they did this “brrrr” thing with moymoy palaboy with the hope that people would associate the idea of cold refreshing beverage exclusively with coke (and maybe get people to link “brrrr” with coke the way “bebelgam” was for pepsodent decades ago). didn’t work.

      now they’re doing a bit of a tug-of-war with hershey’s kisses, trying to own the word “happiness” as if either one could. coke equals happiness? no way. hershey’s kisses equals happiness? nope, doesn’t work either. happiness is a million bucks. or a billion bucks. but it ain’t a stupid softdrink, and neither is it a brand of chocolate. sure, we can see the ofws’ families truly happy when their loved ones came home, but other than the coca cola company funding their return, there was nothing about this show of happiness that the cola product itself was responsible for.

      anyhow, there’s no way this ofw coke campaign resembles corporate social responsibility. if they want to position it that way, they’ll have to do this for all 11 million ofws they say are out there (or at least a truly large number of them and on a regular basis). picking a handful doesn’t count, and this most certainly was a trade between coke and these chosen ofws in the video. we’ll fund your return, you let us exploit the drama and imagery so we can make people believe/hope they’ll somehow be next.

      1. I agree with you Parallax. Firms will always exploit anything for profit. Even the “corporate responsibility” thingy is over rated. Two thirds of the pinoy TV commercials are directed to WOMEN. Why? Because they are the biggest consumers of detergents, beauty products and gatas. Ads from a marketing perspective are created to seduce consumers.

        The government with its structure and the policies that goes along with it are supposed to provide “intervention”… direct or indirect. It is not the function of the firm to think for the common good. Walang sira ulong may ari ng kumpanya ang gagawa ng isang bagay na walang persepsyon ng pagkita… just reiterating what Benign0 said. Direct interventions from the government comes in forms of regulation, regulatory discretion and taxation. Indirect interventions are more on developmental and focused on societal change to produce quality labor force… quality public education is supposed to be one of these indirect interventionist policy. An educated or literate citizen would have the freedom to choose through unlimited options.

        What we don’t have to offset this issue is now obvious.

      2. true dat, jet. what good is freedom of choice if the chooser

        (a) is ill-equipped with the needed brains to choose wisely;

        (b) is given choices that range from excellent products to downright scams; and

        (c) is partly responsible for a gov’t that doesn’t give a sh*t about (a) and (b).

        businesses will always be rational, and they will only pursue an initiative that positively impacts their existence one way or another. otherwise the do-nothing option will be taken. it’s not that companies are automatically vile and greedy that they will go for profit any way they’d be allowed; they just exist to do exactly that – make money.

        it’s da pinoy mind that’s the problem, because illogical and emotional crap (like cory magic getting the idiot son elected as a huge example) easily puts millions of pinoys into gullible mode all the time.

      3. @Parallax and Jet

        I love your marketing/ economics discussion.

        “Two thirds of the pinoy TV commercials are directed to WOMEN. Why? Because they are the biggest consumers of detergents, beauty products and gatas.”

        — plus, they control the family budget. detergents are products you can decide on a whim. With budget control, females can rationalize their spending to squeeze in beauty products. Food spending sometimes take a back seat during periods of tight squeezes. That’s how the instant noodle market grew. The instant noodle ads (aimed at Moms) were designed to lessen the guilt.

        “It is not the function of the firm to think for the common good. ”

        — but it’s the firm’s function to make sure that it doesn’t kill the cow. The firm should invest a bit to fatten it or invest to develop a new one.

        Emotional hooks in developing brands is a common approach. Ads are designed, as Jet said it, “to seduce” consumers to buy the product or use the product more often. It’s hard to do that using a traditional Features and Benefits presentation. There has to be a story.

        Frankly, if one believes all advertising, then coffee drinkers will not be the ideal targets for anti-aging creams. Supposedly, coffee has a lot of antioxidants, something that can reverse aging. If one believes advertising, then we should have Filipinas running around with horse tails on their heads and combs won’t be in the market anymore. If one believes advertising, then this country should be the happiest in the world with all the Coke it consumes.

      4. now that you’ve mentioned it, brianitus, that’s where this line of thought leads:

        “if one believes all advertising…”

        we saw 2010 go down in one big splash of stupid. politicians used marketers and public relations experts to dupe millions of pinoys who couldn’t tell fact from fiction.

        look where we are now.

        that’s why ad men get the big bucks.

      5. Can’t blame Coca-cola for exploiting the exploitable. It’s just weird how such antics work on political elections also. I remember a friend who voted for a particular candidate merely on the merit of seeing him advertised on TV (if anyone would call that merit). It’s a sad picture.

        People usually get stupid from generations of chronic poverty:

        1. A poor woman marries a poor man.
        2. They begat a lot of children.
        3. They get poorer.
        4. Children dishonors parents by not finishing education and marrying early in life. Gets stupider in the process.
        5. Next generation get even more impoverished and begets even more children.
        6. Cycle continues. Nothing’s left to feed the brain other than the neighbor’s TV shows.
        7. An idiotic generation arose.

        Idiot generation accepts TV ads as true and gets even more idiotic.

        Endless, clueless nightmare.

  9. Parehas din yan ng ginawa ni Abnoynoy ngyun, ginawa n nilang holiday ang chinese new year, (teka parang ganito rin nung nakaraan ah, may bibitayin n nmn ba?)

  10. One word after watching the ad: PATHOS. It practically screamed at me throughout the whole ad. Mass Communication and/or Communication Arts students or graduates should know this. So how come all comments I read about that ad on Facebook are how they were moved by it? Tsk. It’s sad.

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