Five days ago, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Ramon “Mon” Jimenez announced in a private sit-down conversation with â€œsocial news networkâ€ site Rappler.com his decision to “crowd-source” a new Philippine tourism campaign using “social media” as its primary propagation medium. In the interview, Jimenez who boasts “35 years of experience in advertising” which supposedly “taught him to think openly and creatively” admitted that “he [was] taking a risk” in this “most major social media project he has ever undertaken”.
The centrepiece of this project was Jimenez’s “new” tourism slogan â€œIt’s more fun in the Philippinesâ€. Influential “social media” mavens were enlisted (not necessarily paid) to help create a buzz across the Web and various “social media” artifacts were prescribed as organising points for this buzz, the main one being the Twitter “hashtag” #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines.
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Today it seems evident that the campaign raised much public awareness of things about the Philippines one would not normally highlight in a tourism promotion campaign — decrepit infrastructure, a tired and denuded natural landscape, endemic crime, an unstable government, and a public made cynical by the palpable decades-long slow decline of a Republic once made out to be the poster-child of American-style “democracy” in Southeast Asia. While the #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines Twitter hashtag was intended to attract a flurry of “supportive” tweets from Filipinos, it also became the butt of punchy jokes that were just as (and most possibly vastly more) creative than the campaign itself.
The Inquirer.net, in a report on rising criminality cited the year-end report of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) in which VACC president and founding chairman Dante Jimenez said, â€œThe Department of Tourismâ€™s latest travel slogan â€˜Itâ€™s more fun in the Philippinesâ€™ should read â€˜Itâ€™s more dangerous to be in the Philippines’.â€
â€œThe government is perceived by criminals as weak, thereby emboldening them,â€ Jimenez said, citing the rising cases of Chinese criminal syndicates who have chosen the Philippines as the â€œbest placeâ€ to manufacture illegal drugs and engage in the trafficking of women and children.
Pachico A. Seares writing for the Sun Star Cebu for his part identified what is likely to be the most realistic positive spin on this most recent fiasco…
The slogan may be useful for another purpose: to jolt our people and leaders into doing something about conditions and traits that are anything but funny.
Jimenez was right about a campaign relying on “social media” to spread memes being a “risk”. He was also right about this 21st Century marketing approach being powerful and “a medium that traditionalists are frightened to even explore”. Same as with most powerful forces that are ill-understood; the consequences of mishandling “social media” can be disastrous. Said power can turn against its wielder.
The fundamental problem of the ill-fated “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign was that the DOT creative team designed the slogan to be the meme by and of itself. Technically, it was a successful meme. The hashtag “#ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines” became a “trending” topic worldwide shortly after its launch. In that sense — based on the numbers alone — the campaign to spread the slogan was successful.
Unfortunately users of social networking sites were at liberty to apply their own contexts to the slogan. Not only was the slogan not underpinned by any precise message or substance, the DOT campaign team encouraged Filipinos to “own” the slogan. Which is precisely what they did — fill the void where substance should have been. And what rich substance the “crowd” did provide over the last five days.
Though there are no reliable statistics to tell us whether the weight of public contribution to the meaning of the slogan tilts the campaign positively to or negatively from its intended outcome, the way MalacaÃ±ang reportedly insists that “Filipinos are ‘getting on board’ with the new tourism slogan” is telling. Why would one need to “insist” that something is so if the readily-apparent evidence supports the claim that said something is likely to be so? But then, as the GMA Network observes, the statement was issued “even as [the palace] continued to fend off criticisms [sic] against the new catchphrase”.
What the DOT team, perhaps, failed to get about Net campaigns is that the Net favours bottom-up emergence of outcomes. Jimenez did not see the irony in what he said in his Rappler interview; that,
â€œSocial networking was born in EDSA […] You don’t have to convince a Filipino… we have an almost instinctive trust in that system. Crowd-sourcing is, historically in fact, something we bumped into long before the rest of the world did.â€
Yet he proceeded to engineer the DOT campaign by applying a top-down approach — prescribing the slogan, then expecting the “crowd” to backward-engineer a message from it. The EDSA “revolution” Jimenez touted as analogous to the outcome he envisioned was, in fact, the complete anti-thesis of his campaign. When the first street parliamentarians first trooped into EDSA, nobody could have possibly guessed the scale of the movement that these first trickling of humanity into the now fabled highway would grow to.
The presumption of some “consultants” to apply their quack “expertise” to engineer a “social media” campaign finds another victim in the Department of Tourism. It’s no different from the way the new new “online journalist” clique Rappler.com foisted upon a bemused Net community the notion that they are a “social news network” without clarifying precisely what the phrase actually means.
Perhaps the architects of the next brainwave of a campaign that hopes to involve “social media” should instead hire a barkada of 17-year-olds looking to make some summer holiday money. Their fees are likely to be more reasonable than that of old farts that write “35 years of experience in advertising” on their resume.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.