In brief: The short-lived Philippines tourism rebrand sorely lacked social touchpoints. Such a high-engagement brand should’ve leveraged public participation by strategically integrating the role of online influencers and social media in the whole project cycle. The Department of Tourism and its ad agency seemed to have forgotten that we’re “…living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organisations.” The public is now not only their stakeholders, but also co-creators.
Beauty turned ugly in just a few hours after the Philippines’ Department of Tourism (DOT) launched its rebranded tourism campaign. The new (and now recently scrapped) DOT slogan, ‘Pilipinas Kay Ganda’ (Philippines, so beautiful!) started a firestorm of criticism shortly after the launch. It’s a case that once again reveals the clout of social networks in the Philippines (and overall) and argues for the urgent need of a new way of working. It also shines a light on the significance of online influencers.
Performance artist and activist Carlos Celdran and other online influencers gave the new slogan a failing mark on their Twitter and Facebook pages. Netizens were also quick to point out the striking similarity of the logo to that of Poland’s tourism logo. And then there was the URL blooper: instead of landing in ‘beautifulpilipinas.com’, visitors might end up going to a porn site ‘beautifulfilipinas.com’.
I won’t dive into the advertising issues (merits and demerits of the rebrand itself, the much-maligned logo and slogan, bad copy); a lot have blogged about this already. Nor will I delve into the greater problems ailing DOT and the Philippines tourism industry in general.
What I want to spotlight is the social perspective. Government and advertising agencies alike need to acknowledge the fact that social technologies are fundamentally changing the way we work, and should begin working with a public that has been transformed from mere consumers into stakeholders and co-creators.
What has changed exactly? Social media birthed new values and capabilities, took away organizational obstacles to collaboration, and fostered the growth of online influencers. As Clay Shirky, a prominent thinker and writer of the social and economic impact of internet technologies, succinctly described in his book ‘Here Comes Everybody’, “(w)e are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organisations.”
New social tools enable alternate strategies for advertising and (country) branding. Branding is one more area in advertising and communications where social technologies are changing the rules of the game. In traditional advertising, brand creation is a process of diligent craftsmanship where the brand has been cut and polished several times to bring forth the gem within. However, a brand’s look, feel, tone and traits are determined ultimately by the stakeholders of the product or company it represents. And by stakeholders, I mean internal ones. So if you’re outside that circle of influence, it’s an exercise in futility to try to change the brand.
But with the emergence of social technologies, brands have realised that their voice is no longer just their own. Diligence and craftsmanship are still required to give birth to a brand and nurture it, but corporate no longer has total control of it. Corporate can continue to protect the brand persona within their corporate sites and branding stylebook, but in the larger social ecosystem, conversations about their brands – whether negative or positive – will continue with or without the company’s mediation. A lot of successful brands today attribute their success to their ability to adapt social media and embrace the changes it requires. One of their most important lessons: let go of controlling the brand and letting the audience mediate the message.
DOT and its advertising agency, Campaigns and Grey, should’ve operated within a framework that integrated the social perspective. In this framework, acquiring actionable insights from social networks and communities is crucial. Unfortunately, most clients whether government or corporations tend to scrimp on this very important phase. DOT should’ve given priority to insight-generating activities that could run on social media. Campaigns and Grey warned them not to take short-cuts on market research, but it should’ve also taken the lead in leveraging tactical social media opportunities such as crowdsourcing and other means of involving the public, that could still keep costs low. (And perhaps it did, but there has been no mention about it on the news.) This is not a crazy idea; in fact, it’s a highly feasible one since new social tools are able to lower the cost of coordinating group action. Again, Shirky raised the point that group activities that were too difficult and costly to be pursued with traditional management, such as sharing, cooperation and collective action, have now become possible with new forms of coordination. This means, as well, that investing in co-creation and collaboration is an investment in relation-building and cultivating future brand advocates.
Both government and advertising agencies should be more strategic in their approach of trying to involve the public in its campaigns. It shouldn’t be limited only to post-product / service phase where the public may give feedback. Instead, different (social) touchpoints where social media and the public can play a relevant role should be identified during the whole project process . Some examples include online surveys, creating groups composed of most active participants or influencers for ongoing testing, a Facebook group for getting slogan suggestions, a Flickr account to house design studies, a campaign blog for chronicling the progress of the project, and a lot more. For other related campaigns or for later stages of the project, you can even think beyond websites and explore the development of various interactive, digital and social experiences that will help promote tourism. Think interactive location-based games for exploring the different cities, or a mobile phone application such as a social vacation planner/calendar/recommendation where active members of the tourism community can help create and manage content. Working with online influencers and their networks is an investment in brand advocacy that if done right, will not end with the current campaign, but can again be leveraged by the DOT for its other projects.
Of course, not every project fits the co-creation framework (and it doesn’t have to), but with high-engaging brands, such as a country brand, it will certainly be more successful if audience participation is integrated strategically from beginning to end.
The DOT rebranding failure wasn’t just a result of the “…lack of consultation with seasoned private tourism stakeholders…”: it missed out on the wisdom of the crowd which could’ve been harnessed by consulting the public stakeholders. Campaigns and Grey expected the DOT to reveal only a “…mere glimpse to draw out a constructive exchange among industry partners.” But I don’t think showing a half-baked campaign was the main problem. It was showing a half-baked campaign to an audience that was never involved in the project that caused such a wildfire of online criticism. Transparency should actually be promoted in campaigns like this, but this requires public participation from the start. It will help in selling in the concept to internal stakeholders and the public itself, and may, in fact, make them more forgiving of failures.
DOT seemed to have learned fast from its mistakes, though. DOT Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Vicente “Enteng” Romano III responded to the online criticisms through his Twitter account, and invited critics to help them improve the campaign. This week, DOT started calling for suggestions for a new slogan. Top design house, Team Manila, is also showing how to tap the wisdom of crowds by utilizing Flicker and Facebook to motivate positive public participation.
Hopefully we’ll see more social and collaborative efforts in future government campaigns. Social media, after all, are platforms for good governance. I hope P-Noy’s administration will genuinely work towards this end.