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1,764 islands, 5 senses, and 2 cents about branding the Philippines

By LEIGH REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 20, 2022 5:00 am

Oh, you’re Filipino! I love lumpia.”

“All the Filipino nurses I know are so hardworking!”

“My Filipino officemate says you have the best beaches.”

The diaspora has to be our most persistent, prevalent exercise in branding. Somewhere out there, we have millions of potential brand ambassadors of, among others, inaul, Flores de Mayo, bakunawa, hip-hop tinikling and yes, lumpia. Not only that, we also spend the most time online, on social media, in the world. Any non-Filipino who uploads a Chickenjoy mukbang only needs to sit back and watch us get into the comments.

Pandinig Ko, Lahi Ko

Now if we could just combine our powers and continue to brand the Philippines from the same playbook: with creativity, consistency, commitment, and intention.

Dama Ko Lahi Ko (My Culture, My Senses) launched in 2021. It made June 12 a celebration of Filipino heritage and culture through the five senses: paningin, pang-amoy, pandinig, panlasa, and pansalat. DKLK rallied celebrities, organizations, and brands to reignite appreciation for, and love of, the uniquely Filipino. It trended on social media nationwide; TV, radio, and press features abounded.

Entering its third year, Dama Ko Lahi Ko will continue to encourage Filipinos everywhere to share Filipino culture and identity online and offline.

Why the five senses? We routinely share our experiences through what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. We can’t help but want to invite others to share what we experience.

Pang-amoy Ko, Lahi Ko

Every time we ask those at the table to set down their spoons so we can snap the steam rising from sinigang, we’re pulling out the Filipino card. Panlasa ko, lahi ko. That giant bilao being sold as an artisanal woven wall accent by that American chain? Pansalat ko, lahi ko. The humble ube spreading a purple haze across food creators’ feeds? Paningin ko, lahi ko.

The senses can simplify and organize, making the undeniable richness and diversity of our experience easier to express. Not in the language of marketing—which needs to face outward—but in our language, because we stare back at ourselves in mirrors, in selfies, and know we want to belong to something larger, to find joy and meaning as we discover and claim who we are.

Paningin Ko, Lahi Ko

At its heart, a brand is shared meaning. The true test of an iconic brand is how widely that shared meaning travels in daily culture and language, not in how correctly consumers can recall its attributes. Chances are, if a meme can’t use a brand as a punchline, it’s not actually a brand. “So a Singaporean, a Malaysian, and a Filipino walk into a bar...”

There’s also brand as a verb. Beyond taglines and key visuals, experiences define and endear a brand to us. The experience of our senses can enrich the larger story. For example, Served Manila, a pandemic-born startup, curated Filipino delicacies, culture representation, and activities in a box for the Department of Foreign Affairs, showcasing Filipino fiestas in interactive workshops. Wouldn’t it be amazing if every Filipino could curate a cultural capsule at the drop of a salakot?

Panlasa Ko, Lahi Ko

Brands don’t become icons overnight, and neither do cultural movements. Consistency is crucial, especially as the world scrolls past us in an infinite stream of cat videos, price hikes, TikTok dance trends, get ready with me, existential dread, food hacks, and playthroughs. And perhaps consistency is where we need the most work, and where a grassroots movement like Dama Ko Lahi Ko can play a part, in helping to shape the Philippines as a brand from the inside out.

Entering its third year, Dama Ko Lahi Ko will continue to encourage Filipinos everywhere to share Filipino culture and identity online and offline. Simply add #DamaKoLahiKo to any public post. Instead of gatekeepers, we could all be gate openers, welcoming guests to our journey of sense- and self-discovery.