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Meet the guys who created RC Cola’s creepy, confusing, crazy—and very effective viral ad

By Tanya Lara Published Nov 27, 2020 11:21 pm Updated Dec 04, 2020 1:02 am

What were they smoking? In the long canon of things that made us utter this with disbelief and a litany of WTFs, we can now add the viral RC Cola ad released on Thursday, Nov. 26.

It’s creepy, confusing, bizarre and—the point of it all—it has people talking nonstop about a product and wanting to know who made it.

PhilSTAR L!fe talked to Gigil, the three-year-old, multi-awarded ad agency behind RC Cola’s “Family” ad campaign, whose creative team expected you to react exactly the way you did: confused, gobsmacked, laughing.

Gigil is owned by Herbert Hernandez, Jake Yrastorza and Badong Abesamis, all advertising vets. Abesamis named the agency Gigil—another Tagalog word that’s hard to translate to English but one that they liken to “passion.”

Gigil’s ad for RC Cola, “Family,” starts out looking like a drama... 
...and ends up as one of the most bizarre but effective ads in Philippine advertising.

What they didn’t expect—both Gigil and RC Cola— was that the reaction would be so huge. In just over 24 hours, it got 4.5 million views on RC’s Facebook page and almost 200,000 shares.

The 1:37-minute video starts with a boy coming home and tearfully asking his mother in Tagalog if he’s an adopted child. “Lagi akong inaasar sa school na ampon daw ako.”

The mother says, “Di ba sinabi ko wag ka magpapa-apekto sa sinasabi ng iba?” He sobs, unbuttoning his school uniform and diving on the table to show his back. “Ma, paliwanag mo, bakit may apat na baso ako sa likod?”

Ano daw ang hini-hithit namin sa Gigil? They call us crazy, baliw; they say our ideas are out of this world. We take these as compliments.

The next shot shows four drinking glasses embedded into his back. The glasses are not ON his back, they’re IN his back as part of his body. (At this point, you’re probably saying your first “WTF!!” Don’t worry, there’s more to come.)

Basta, they’re drinking RC Cola. 

The mom cries, “We kept this secret from you for so long, but it’s time for you to know the truth.” She unwraps the scarf around her neck and slowly takes off her head—yes, her head!— to reveal her true self.

Her head is a bottle of RC Cola. Then she puts ice cubes in the four glasses in the boy’s back (he sighs with pleasure), and bends her body down to pour RC Cola…from her bottle head. The last shot is of the boy and the entire family (dad and sister too) drinking from the glasses in his back with long straws.

What. The. Hell. Was. That? Seriously, what were you guys smoking?

Gigil associate creative director Dionie Tañada, the young writer (he’s 27) who wrote the ad, laughs and says, “That’s what people always ask me, ano daw ang hini-hithit namin sa Gigil? They call us crazy, baliw; they say our ideas are out of this world. We take these as compliments.”

Gigil co-founders and creative partners Badong Abesamis and Herbert Hernandez

Gigil co-owner and creative partner Herbert Hernandez says, “Sa Gigil, sobrang saya namin mag brainstorm ever since. Especially with this product, carbonated soft drink, walang-benefits-given category yon di ba? Walang dahilan why you drink soft drinks. Maraming bagay ang hindi mo kayang explain, isa sa mga yon yung gusto mong uminom ng soft drink, kaya ‘Basta.’ That’s how it started. We became fans of the product din kasi totoong masarap ang RC.”

But how do you even pitch this crazy idea to a client? Dionie says, “First presentation it was approved, the idea na ‘Basta.’  Second presentation with storyboards, go pa rin sila.”

No, really.

“Yes, really,” says Jake Yrastorza, Gigil co-owner and managing partner. “We took them through the whole thinking process and insights. They figured it was the right thing to do for a challenger brand; they needed to come up with something different. On one hand we seemed to make an ad that doesn’t make sense—‘whatever,’ ‘basta’—but on the other hand it made a lot of sense to the target audience.”

The team says that the huge success of Gigil’s hilarious ads for Orocan Koolit Cantina and Danes Cheese played a huge part on why RC Cola went along with the ad.

Gigil associate creative director Dionie Tañada wrote RC Cola’s ad and the hilarious Orocan Koolit Cantina ad.

Gigil first pitched “Family” to RC in the last quarter of 2019 and shot it a week before the lockdown in March 2020 using a young theater actor to play the son.

Herbert says RC belongs to a “new batch” of clients that know what their market wants, in this case Gen Z. He adds that before, RC Cola’s only edge was its low price, but because of the sugar tax all soft drinks prices became even. “So they needed to stand for something. Other brands were into music marketing, artista endorsers. RC stands for humor, something baliw, walang dahilan. That’s what happened online, it trended on Twitter and Facebook; people made memes as inside jokes that only the users understood.”

One of the favorite messages I received was, ‘I want to share your ad on social media but I can’t because I’m from Coke.’

There have been many analysis of the ad including one that says no matter how different you are, your family loves you. That may very well be a good sentiment but in the ad they were drinking the mother’s head in the end!

So let’s ask the ad’s writer, Dionie. After all, he would know for a fact what in the world the ad means, right?

“Basta!” Dionie says, laughing. “The whole idea is wala lang. We were working with the insight that our target market was Gen Z, sila yung go lang nang go. Unlike millennials or boomers, they don’t need 10 reasons to do something. If they feel like taking a thousand selfies, they do it; if they feel like going out, they do it kahit walang plano. We didn’t want to take them too seriously.”

Gigil managing partner Jake Yrastorza

The reason the ad became viral is literally and figuratively liquid, according to Herbert. “Basta masarap ang RC Cola, basta masaya,” he says. “The film is actually about belonging and acceptance—but we just showed it in a different way.”

Yes, they were drinking the mother’s head.

Before the ad, no one was talking about RC Cola, majority of people haven’t even tasted it. After the ad came out, Dionie, Jake, Herbert—and the whole Gigil team—received messages from fellow advertising people saying they’ve opened doors for bolder, more risqué storylines; from actors and musicians congratulating them.

One of Herbert’s fave messages is, “I want to share your ad on social media but I can’t because I’m from Coke.”

Also, “messages na minumura kami. Yun ang masarap kasi alam mong napaisip sila.”

An RC Cola executive sent a message congratulations to the whole team, saying the ad “exceeded all expectations. We are assessing consumption as we speak.”

At Gigil, hindi bawal magkamali. Bawal sa amin ang tama—when people throw around ideas, we ask, masyadong bang tama yan? Kapag oo, ibig sabihin boring.

“From the public, it was mixed reviews but the good to great outweighs the small negative,” Herbert says. “I’m very proud to say that Gigil has some of the most viral ads around.”

Dionie also wrote the hilarious Orocan Koolit Cantina ad, which seemingly shows why you shouldn’t buy the cooler. In reality, that product sold out after the ad was released. The ad’s a sendup of TV shopping. At one point, the “host” in the studio says the Orocan cooler can keep water cold for four days. To test this, they asked someone to not drink from the cooler until the fourth day.

Then a quick cut to the tester—now lying dead on the kitchen floor from dehydration, having confused the instruction to not drink at all for four days. “And is the water still cold?” the host asks a crew as the copse is carried out on a stretcher. Uhm, sure.

PhilSTAR L!fe interviews Gigil’s fun and creative team.

It’s not all comedy though. Gigil’s ad for Levi’s 2018 Christmas campaign will make you tear up. It’s shows a father in a Levi’s store as he asks them to customize a denim jacket with seemingly random studs. It turns out they spell out a Braille message for his blind son. It’s absolutely brilliant and moving. (Watch Gigil’s ads here.)

Herbert says that at Gigil, “hindi bawal magkamali. Bawal sa amin ang tama—when people throw around ideas, we ask, masyadong bang tama yan? Kapag oo, ibig sabihin boring. What do people talk about? Yung hindi tama—not necessarily morally wrong but something not typical. Gigil wants to make everything interesting. Our keywords are: is that going to make headlines?”

Their ads always do. And brace yourselves, RC Cola’s ad has a second part. When are they releasing it—and why?