On the heels of the flooding and general misery caused by the passage of Tropical Storm Mario last Friday, a new affront to Filipino self-assurance appeared over the weekend in the form of a video, a short infomercial produced by Aegis Malaysia and originally posted on the company’s website and YouTube account.
In the video, which is just 2 minutes and 41 seconds in length, the company knocks the Philippines being a country where there is “inadequate infrastructure,” “an unfriendly climate for smooth operations,” “less security,” and “lack of government support,” while also pointing out the risk of natural disasters that can have adverse impacts on business operations, “bloat” the cost of living, and create unstable businesses that have difficulty finding qualified workers.
As a result, the narrator says, “Malaysia is becoming the preferred alternate to the Philippines and is fast emerging as the ultimate destination for multinationals.”
This opinion, in a local blog, was typical of the incensed response from most Filipinos online: “It’s sad a global BPO company like Aegis feels that the only way to win its businesses from the Philippines is by talking s**t about us.
Wait, it’s not just sad—it’s despicable, underhanded and nakakainit ng ulo [makes you lose your cool].” Another commenter, apparently the first one to find the video and post it to Facebook late Friday evening, characterized it as “the most Unethical Ad ever made,” and he must have meant it, too, even taking the time to capitalize the words for added emphasis.
On the other hand, some milder commentators have questioned whether the video was actually released by Aegis Malaysia or not (it was), while others have pointed out that it represents the views of one company, and not the government or the people of Malaysia as a whole.
No reaction so far, however, whether aggressively tagging the video as “despicable” and “underhanded” or passively dismissing it as a case of “they don’t know what they’re saying,” has actually refuted or even seriously attempted to refute any of its points raised against the Philippines or in favor of Malaysia.
At least one reader, a BPO industry “insider,” as it were, also pointed out that Aegis, while it still operated in the Philippines, ran into a minor snag with the Bureau of Internal Revenue, when it was served a notice to correct its tax payment for 2007. The company apparently did that, but filed an appeal at the Court of Tax Appeals for a refund of some P66 million in 2012, which was promptly denied by the CTA; as far as the reader who shared that information is concerned, then, the uncomplimentary video is just a case of “sour-graping” on Aegis’ part.
A little background: Mumbai-based Aegis Global was founded in the US in 1992 and acquired by the Essar Group conglomerate (whose main business is steelmaking) in 2004. In 2008, Aegis acquired PeopleSupport, a Los Angeles-based BPO company with operations in the US, Costa Rica, and the Philippines; at one time, PeopleSupport was one of the biggest BPO companies in the country, employing about 8,600 people in its main location in Makati and three small satellite offices in Baguio, Cebu, and Davao. After the acquisition the company became Aegis USA and maintained a presence here until July of this year, when Aegis Global sold the subsidiary to Teleperformance in a deal worth $610 million but which, if the recent video is any indication, apparently didn’t include a non-competition clause.
The thesis of the video seems a bit odd, at first viewing; rather than highlight the services of Aegis Malaysia, it instead promotes Malaysia as an investment location for multinationals.
This makes sense, however, if one considers one of the recent trends in the BPO sector. BPO companies are seeing their domestic business—i.e., demand for their services from same-country companies—currently growing at a faster rate than their foreign business, at least as far as BPO businesses in rapidly-growing South and Southeast Asian economies are concerned; helping to attract new businesses to Malaysia makes perfect sense.
There is a lesson for Filipino businesses—and Filipinos in general—in all of this. Pay attention.
So long as the points being made are essentially based on verifiable facts, comparing the features and benefits of one brand with another is not only not unethical, it is basic marketing practice. Without the comparison, there is no context to make the features and benefits of the brand being promoted meaningful; an investor looking at several options will want to know how those options stack up against one another.
The information presented in the video is no different in tone and content than what would be said in a meeting between a multinational considering investing in Malaysia (or any other country, even the Philippines) and government trade officials. The fact that it was pointedly uncomplimentary to the Philippines is completely irrelevant; your competitors are not necessarily your friends, are under no obligation to support you, or even to be polite.
The complaint offered in many reactions to Aegis’ video that, “They should just highlight their good points, and leave us alone,” is weakly irrational, and probably deserves the response benign0 of Get Real Philippines is fond of using in these kinds of situations, a line from the otherwise terrible movie “The Rock”: “Losers whine about doing their best. Winners go home and bang the Prom Queen.”
Losers whine about what a company that no longer has a presence in the Philippines has to say about the country. Winners work harder to give companies like that no reason to say those things. Get over yourselves and your wounded feelings, and get to work.