Good news! Just a week after the Department of Tourism (DOT) launched its new country rebranding campaign, the Philippines has managed to catch the world’s attention. The bad news is it’s not for the reasons the DOT may have hoped for.
"Love the Philippines" is hogging headlines in major international news publications—and why not? The inclusion of non-original stock footage in the promotional video for the campaign is truly newsworthy, not to mention absolutely embarrassing.
But this is hardly the first time something of this sort has happened: The DOT has quite a list of infamous controversies over the last 13 years.
Here’s the timeline.
'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' (2010)
November 15, 2010 was not a beautiful day for the DOT. It was the day the new campaign replacing the then-8-year-old “WOW Philippines” was launched to the public as the Aquino administration’s tourism push. It was called "Pilipinas Kay Ganda."
Nobody agreed that the slogan and the logo were, um, "kay ganda."
Apparently inspired by the huge popularity of the top-rating morning TV magazine show Umagang Kay Ganda, the slogan, according to the Presidential Communications Operations Office, was designed to "hopefully generate renewed interest of foreign visitors to the country." As for the use of the vernacular, then-DOT Secretary Alberto Lim said it was meant "to express national pride and rise above the competition."
Go ahead, scratch your head. Most everyone did back then. Perhaps performance artist and activist Carlos Celdran captured the general public sentiment best in his social media post: "Does NOT like the new 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' DOT slogan for tourism. It would work for local Filipinos but um. foreign tourists will say "What the **** does that mean?" HELLO???!! Let's all #HelpDOT come up with a better slogan before it's too late. Seriously, Secretary Lim. WTH?"
The logo did not help. In fact, it’s what killed the campaign shortly after a blogger posted it side by side with Poland’s tourism logo. They were almost identical. Instantly, charges of plagiarism dominated the conversation.
In response, Lim said, "There are similarities, pero sa pagkakaalam ko... sa atin mas makulay.” Presidential Spokesperson Abi Valte also denied the plagiarism charge, noting that the 'Pilipinas Kay Ganda' logo had enough elements to be distinct from Poland's campaign logo.
The slogan and logo were developed by Campaigns & Grey. The advertising agency later claimed it only had “advisory capacity” over the campaign and designed the materials free of charge in support of the then-four-and-a-half-month-old Aquino administration. With shades of the current controversy which has DDB calling the "Love the Philippines" a "mood board" that was intended for internal stakeholders, Campaigns & Grey also claimed that the released logo was just a study and was released by the DOT prematurely.
The plagiarism issue naturally overshadowed everything else in the controversy and buried the fact that the accompanying website "Beautiful Pilipinas" had a namesake pornography website. This prompted the DOT to immediately take down its site the day after it was launched.
"Pilipinas Kay Ganda" was officially scrapped just a few days later with President Noynoy Aquino himself making the announcement in Malacanang.
Lim admitted, "Our biggest fault was trying to please the people. We wanted to give them results right away. We're back to the beginning. But now, there's no rush. That's the lesson we learned here.”
'It's More Fun in the Philippines' (2012)
DOT indeed did not rush, taking almost two years to come up with a new campaign. Within this time, Mon Jimenez, a veteran advertising executive, had taken over the department. However, it still faced charges of copying from people who pointed out that the new slogan, "It’s More Fun in the Philippines," ripped off a 1951 ad by the Swiss National Tourist Office titled "It's more fun in Switzerland!”
Jimenez rejected the allegations. "No one can own the expression 'It's more fun,' but it's very true for the #Philippines so it becomes ours,” he said. "The line isn't a manufactured slogan. It's simply the truth about our country. Don't be swayed by people who are trying to punch holes in it.”
Fortunately for the DOT, the rest of the country wasn’t swayed by those people. On the contrary, most of the public gave two enthusiastic thumbs up for the witty, funky, energetic launch promo video that ad agency BBDO Guerrero produced. The campaign was an instant hit and proved to have staying power.
'Experience the Philippines' (2017)
"It’s More Fun in the Philippines" was still enjoying massive mileage when the DOT under the Duterte administration attempted to replace it in 2017. It did not turn out to be a fun experience.
Launched in time for the country’s 119th Independence Day celebration, the campaign called "Experience the Philippines" drew plagiarism charges for its promotional video titled Sights. It features a Japanese retiree named M. Uchimura enjoying what initially looks like sightseeing experiences in different destinations in the Philippines, including the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, and the Paoay Sand Dunes.
"You don't have to see to feel at home," M. Uchimura said towards the end of the clip as he is revealed to be blind. According to McCann Erickson Philippines, the ad agency behind the video, Sights was really inspired by the testimonial of a visually-impaired foreigner who visited Manila and who has since made the Philippines his home.
The well-made video presented a fresh take on travel and tourism. The only problem was a South African travel ad from 2014 had already done the exact same thing, showing a visually-impaired man whose disability was revealed when he pulls out a walking cane at the end of the video. And it’s not just the concept that was similar—many scenes from the 2014 ad had a direct counterpart in the DOT video.
McCann both acknowledged and lamented the criticisms while standing firm on the originality of its video. "It is unfortunate that the DOT has been called out and accused of plagiarism, for work we have done to highlight the testimonial of a real retiree. We take full responsibility as ALL ideas and storyboards presented were conceptualized by McCann Worldgroup Philippines. However, we underscore that there has never been any intention to copy others’ creative work.”
The DOT likewise denied the allegations. "While it has similarity with the ads of South Africa, the biggest difference really is that it is a true story,” Frederick Alegre, the Assistant Secretary at the time, said. She emphasized that the Japanese retiree featured in the video is an "actual retiree residing in the Philippines."
Interestingly, if memory holds, the South African ad was also made by a local office of McCann.
Despite the denials, DOT decided to pull out Sights from all platforms just a few days after its release.
'We Give the World Our Best' (2023)
The current Love the Philippines brouhaha came just a little over a month after the DOT hogged the limelight and sparked public debate with an outdoor ad in London. It’s the one that shows a photo of Filipino-British nurse May Parsons, the first person in the world to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to a patient, together with the text, "We give the world our best. The Philippines."
Senator Nancy Binay, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Tourism, immediately raised concerns over the ad’s messaging. She called it "vague," adding it may imply that the Philippines is a labor-exporting country that treats its people as a commodity. Many shared the same sentiment.
In response, current DOT Secretary Christina Frasco said the concept and line, which was developed by Presidential Adviser for Creative Communications Paul Soriano, tells the world that "the Philippines has no intention of putting out [anything] less than the best. That translates to everything that permeates our sense of hospitality and service as a tourism industry. That idea is translated further into what we have to offer in the Philippines. We have the best beaches, the best sites, the best nature destinations, and we have the best tour guides.”
Apparently, much of this has been lost in translation.
Frasco was quick to clarify that "We Give the World Our Best" was not the new country tourism brand. It is not currently not known if the ad campaign is still being carried out and if it’s part of a series.
'Love the Philippines' (2023)
Following the trajectory of some of its equally controversial predecessors, the new tourism rebranding campaign called "Love the Philippines" has seen its promo video pulled from the airwaves because of the use of stock footage not taken in the Philippines, the ad agency behind it fired from the project, and the DOT reeling from public outrage within days from its launch.
Although the DOT and DDB Philippines have issued statements that contained the same “narrative,” many questions remain unanswered. On the contrary, the statements have only given rise to more questions.
DDB said the video was just a “mood board” that was meant “to excite internal stakeholders.” Why then did the DOT release it publicly, for the launch of the new rebranding campaign at that?
How could a veteran award-winning agency like DDB have been so careless as to make a very basic and amateurish mistake of including unoriginal stock footage shot in other countries for a tourism video about the Philippines?
Why did the DOT not clearly label the video as merely an audio-visual presentation and not yet the actual launch promotional video for the campaign when it was presented at the launch event and uploaded on its social media pages? Why did it call it an "AVP" only after the controversy erupted?
Why did DDB shoulder the full production cost of the video when it already has an official business relationship with DOT for the campaign?
Looks like the controversy is far from over.