Gut Feel

Credibility will get you everywhere

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In 1968, Mr. John Gokongwei, 45 years younger and not yet a top Asian taipan but already a bullish food and beverage entrepreneur, made me feel 10-feet tall, without him even knowing it.

It happened this way. I was due to present to Mr. John advertising for his chocolate powder brand, but had difficulty coming up with a good idea so I came to him empty handed and fearful.

“Mr. John Sir,” I began nervously, “the product is difficult to advertise. I can’t find anything meaningful to say in the ad.” Mr. John, smoking his pipe, listened to me with rapt attention. I felt shame with my brashness. “Perhaps sir,” I continued, “if you can improve the formula by adding vitamins I can sell kids’ nutrition by selling it to mothers.”

Without uttering a word, Mr. John picked up the phone and talked authoritatively, in Chinese, to someone at the end of the line. As soon as he hung up he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’ve got your vitamins!”

I was flabbergasted. I was expecting questions and discussions on the improved product formula, but there was none. Mr. John took my word for it. I was credible. I quickly made my exit from Mr. John’s office.

In a month’s time, I came out with a Walt Disney-type animation of a Presto Tarzan commercial that emphasized health and energy from a chocolate drink. We also launched the intro advertising of Jack and Jill Cheese Curls, with “malutong ini, patyon ka sa sarap!” as a catchphrase.

Biggest asset

Since that memorable morning with Mr. John Gokongwei, I realized that professional credibility was the biggest asset of my career.

Advertising, despite voluminous consumer and media research, is still a business of opinion, or better still, ideas—one man’s or a group’s. The selling of an idea depends a lot on the credibility of the idea man.

In fact, whatever the profession, whether one is a lawyer, a surgeon, an architect, an engineer or a journalist, professional credibility differentiates the expert from the amateur.

In all careers you’ll find out that the more excellence-driven one is the more sure-footed is his judgment, and consequently, the more successful in his work. It helps that one’s instinct is correct and his insights deep. These qualities in one’s profession must be cultivated with a passionate drive for work excellence. Word of mouth will take care of the rest.

In 1981, we got the advertising assignment for Jollibee without a bid. According to Bobby Sumulong, marketing director at that time, he gave the account to us because our group was credible, having created successful advertising campaigns for P&G brands such as Tide, Camay and Safeguard in the late ’60s.

In 1980, Jollibee owner Tony Tan Caktiong, not yet a taipan and an Asian fast-food king, was a young, fresh-out-of-college burger flipper hiding a fierce competitive spirit behind his boyish face.

Tony was a keen observer of advertising and listened well to our opinion. He trusted our instinct early in the game. We told Tony that Jollibee should meet McDonald’s frontally by making taste superiority the bone of contention. We proposed to claim “Langhap-Sarap” as the superiority claim, the Filipino cuisine culture being olfactory-oriented in judging the deliciousness of food. Tony bought the idea right away.

 

Phenomenal success

“Langhap-Sarap” was a phenomenal success that built a Filipino mega-brand. Sales after the advertising launch went through the roofs. Tony Tan tasted blood. The following year he poured the biggest chunk of his revenue in advertising to speed up growth nationwide.

Since then Jollibee has been unstoppable in its drive for dominant market leadership and as a formidable global brand. Jollibee’s phenomenal success rubbed off on our agency, too. We became number one in the late ’80s.

In 1988, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) had an image problem of being a “crony bank” because of questionable behest loans during the martial law years. After Edsa I, DBP chair Jess Estanislao acted quickly to overhaul and turn around the negative image of the bank. He instituted reforms by changing structures, implementing stricter controls, pruning excess baggage, and reorienting the employees to a work ethic of professionalism.

Chairperson Estanislao also asked our group to create an advertising program that would help him clean up the tainted image of DBP. Knowing the urgency of solving DBP’s image problems, we decided to create a campaign with a “judo effect,” by exhorting the general public to bring back into the mainstream of Filipino life the old fashion values of palabra de honor and katapatan in public service.

This was followed by the “Pamilyang Uliran” campaign, which promoted family-type entrepreneurship to boost countryside development. Our left-field strategy (hampas sa kabayo ang latay sa kalabaw) of creating developmental advertising directed to the mass audience hit the right cord for a public still convalescing from the ill effects of a Draconian one-man rule. The employees of DBP felt a strong urge to answer the national clarion call for public service that adheres to professionalism.

Great advertising is often inspired by great clients.

I’m fortunate to have worked in partnership with owners, CEOs and chairpersons of top corporations who were personally involved in the formulation and executions of brand or service communication for the companies they manage.

Top management is the guardian of the corporate soul of their company. They are the keeper of the flame of original entrepreneurship and the architect of the vision for the future.

E-mail the author at hgordonez@ gmail.com.

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