IF this were baseball, we would no longer have a Department of Tourism. (It would have struck out.)
As a Filipino, I am totally ashamed and shocked that three successive PH tourism secretaries have plagiarized the tourism campaigns of other countries to do their work as top tourism salesman of the country. This betrays a lack of integrity that cries out to be considered a heinous offense against the good name of our country.
This is incomprehensible, because the country for all its admitted shortcomings, and because of its considerable assets. should not be difficult to market internationally.
In the United States, there are three-strike laws in 28 states—so-called because of the famous rule in baseball—wherein a felon, who is found to have committed three serious crimes at different times is meted a mandatory life sentence.
When a government department commits plagiarism three times and is quickly discovered in the cheating, it should be called out. This signifies that it does not know its job and how to fix the problem.
The fact that advertising agencies abetted or advised the tourism department in the plagiarisms does not mitigate the problem. It only spreads the responsibility for cheating across the culture and society.
As a worker in the creative economy and having been at one time an advertising copywriter and a communications consultant to public and private organizations, I am appalled by this saga of failure at the Department of Tourism.
Three strikes of plagiarism
A blogger, Ms. Christa de la Cruz, has documented online the various DoT tourism campaigns and slogans in an article entitled “Do you remember these Department of Tourism slogans?”
I owe to her scholarship information for this quick review of how Philippine tourism marketing, lacking originality and imagination, cast caution to the winds and opted to copy the promotional campaigns of other countries.
The worm of plagiarism started upon the accession of Benigno S.Aquino III to the presidency on June 30, 2010. The three most atrocious plagiarisms are:
‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ (2010)
During the term of Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim, and with President Aquino’s full approval, the Department of Tourism launched its “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” advertising campaign.
The campaign was universally scorned for copying a Polish tourism campaign called “Polska”. People pointed out that its logo, which showed the text “Pilipinas” in various colors and a thin font, was too similar to that of the Polish campaign.
“Pilipinas” was scrapped immediately after launch. Secretary Lim tendered his resignation, along with a department undersecretary.
Advertising agency Campaigns and Grey confirmed that it had an advisory role in the campaign.
‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ (2012-2017)
Aquino’s second tourism secretary was Ramon Jimenez, a business executive with an advertising background.
In January 2012, the DoT launched the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” tourism advertising campaign.
Eagle-eyed media watchers smelled something fishy in the campaign. It was quickly learned that Switzerland had used the tagline “it’s more fun in Switzerland” in its own tourism campaign. Jimenez and his group had learned nothing from the Pilipinas debacle.
But Jimenez was determined. They would go-for- broke with “it’s more fun” whether the public liked it or not.
The advertising agency BBDO Guerrero created the dubious campaign.
‘Experience the Philippines’ (2017)
Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo unveiled the “Experience the Philippines” tourism campaign on June 7, with a 60-second video that featured the slogan “Experience the Philippines.”
The video told the story of a Japanese retiree named M. Uchimura who settled in the country and enjoyed the Philippines’ tourist destinations. It ended with a big reveal that the foreigner is actually blind.
Unmasking of the new campaign as plagiarism was swift. Filipinos pointed out its stark similarities to a South African tourism campaign that also featured a blind man.
Shocked and embarrassed, Secretary Teo and her department unilaterally terminated the P650-million contract with McCann Erickson, which produced the campaign.
Successive Philippine administrations have been trying vainly to match the success of the “Amazing Thailand” campaign of Thailand, and the “Malaysia Truly Asia” campaign of Malaysia
Under President Gloria Arroyo, when Richard Gordon was tourism secretary, the DoT launched its “Wow Philippines” tourism campaign. But the campaign was troubled by fears that the “aha” claim would not fly. BBDO, the designated ad agency, developed a companion advertising campaign called “more than the usual.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines continues to struggle with its modest 6 million tourist arrivals in 2016, compared with its neighbors in Southeast Asia. In contrast, Thailand got 30 million, Hong Kong (28.5 million) and Malaysia (27 million).
Tourism marketing as nation-branding
I think our tourism marketing flounders because the DoT does not fully comprehend what it is selling, and how to fix its plagiarism problem.
Outcomes will not change, I submit, until our officials recognize that marketing Philippine tourism is nation-branding. It is branding the country as attractive and appealing, and building a reputation that will make international travelers want to visit and do business in the country.
There is no quick fix for Philippine tourism marketing, outside of building and selling a fresh Philippine brand.
Start with the concept of nation-branding. Nation branding aims to measure, build and manage the reputation of countries. It is “the application of corporate marketing concepts and techniques to countries, in the interests of enhancing their reputation in international relations.”
Many governments have resources dedicated to nation branding. Their aim is to improve their country’s standing, as the image and reputation of a nation can dramatically influence its success in attracting tourism receipts and investment capital, in exports, in attracting a talented and creative workforce, and in its cultural and political influence in the world.
In Europe, nation branding is an area of study in marketing and business school. A book entitled National Image and Competitive Advantage by Eugene D. Jaffe and Israel D. Nebenzahl (Copenhagen Business School Press, Copenhagen, 2001), discusses the theory of country, brand and product images, and the management of country image by industry and government.
Nation branding is practiced today by many countries, including the United States, Canada, France, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Malaysia, Japan, China, South Korea, Singapore, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and most Western European countries.
An early example of nation branding was the Cool Britannia campaign of the New Labour government of Tony Blair, which was highly successful before it fell from power.
PH not included in Futurebrand
The practice of measuring global perceptions of countries across several dimensions (culture, governance, people, exports, tourism, investment and immigration) is now undertaken annually by Futurebrand, among others. Futurebrand publishes the Country Brand Index every year, which includes an overall ranking of 75 countries. In its 2014-2015 ranking, the top five nation brands were, from first to fifth: Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Canada.
Alarmingly, the Philippines is not even included among the 75 countries studied and ranked by Futurebrand.
This doubtless must be rectified by our government, because the Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world and now one of the big economies.
Turning the annual tourism advertising campaign into an instrument for national branding is a must. We must spend our money strategically.
If we fix the conceptual and technical problems in our tourism marketing, the goal of 10 million tourist arrivals by 2021 (the quincentennial of the circumnavigation of the world and Philippine discovery) will be a certainty.