HOW BRANDS CAN EMBODY THE FILIPINO SPIRIT OF 'BAYANIHAN'

Published on WARC.

The pandemic may have drastically changed the lives of countless Filipinos, but it was the ensuing lockdown that dictated how we now live and behave as consumers. While virtually all other countries faced similar quarantine restrictions, it is Metro Manila, the main metropolitan area in the Philippines, that holds the unique and unfortunate distinction of having the world’s longest lockdown, clocking in at over seven months as of writing.

Because of this lockdown, everyone’s world began to shrink but in response, our sense of community began to grow as Filipinos became more dependent on the support of one another. This communal spirit is not something new to Filipinos. It is in fact a custom that is deeply ingrained in our culture and commonly referred to as the “Bayanihan Spirit” in grade-school textbooks. In those textbooks, the definition of “Bayanihan” is often accompanied with the visual of community members from a rural area coming together to literally lift a family’s home to help them relocate to a new area.

So, while the pandemic and lockdown may not have given birth to this communal spirit, it has certainly stimulated it with communities further evolving and now manifesting in new and non-traditional ways.

For brands, the challenge is how they can become a part of these different communities, not as an outsider offering help and guidance but as an integral member with an important role that is recognised and appreciated by the other community members.

1. LGU Communities

Politics has become primetime, late-night presidential addresses have become TV’s must see, and innovative ministers and mayors are gaining cult status, with one even reaching heart-throb levels.

As the world of Filipinos became smaller, so did their overall reliance on the National Government with Local Government Units (LGUs) playing a more crucial role in people’s lives. These LGUs have been put in place to exercise local autonomy for more responsive teams and leaders who best understand the needs of their people. There are 120 primary-level LGUs for the 81 provinces, 33 highly urbanised cities, five independent component cities, and one independent municipality in the country.

While Filipinos remained attentive to what the President would declare, the longer communities remained in lockdown, the more they tuned in and prioritised what their respective LGU was doing as policies and protocols began to differ from place-to-place depending not only on the situation but also on the leadership in each area.

At times, LGUs would go against the direction of the national government. This was the case with Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco who was unwilling to shorten curfew hours as he deemed it a health risk despite the national government’s plea to do so in order to stimulate the economy and allow businesses to thrive. While Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto found himself in a similar situation when he allowed tricycles to transport passengers despite the national government’s disapproval.

 

With more and more Filipinos seeing how crucial LGUs have become in their lives, brands have the opportunity to align themselves with what these LGUs are doing. McDonald’s is one brand that maximized this opportunity. In addition to swab-testing their own employees, the brand worked with Mayor Sotto to also test 1,000 tricycle drivers from Pasig City.

Another example is of Acer Philippines partnering with Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno to provide better public library facilities and more accessible digital education.

In both cases, McDonald’s and Acer Philippines were not only able to efficiently engage with communities through the LGUs, but they were also able to leverage the growing popularity of these public officials with Mayor Sotto and Mayor Moreno boasting more than 900,000 and 150,000 followers respectively on their Instagram pages alone.

With these partnerships, it is more important and more appropriate for brands to showcase how they can add value to the community instead of simply pushing their products. And there should also be an added consideration that partnering with leaders in these LGUs may reap similar benefits as to working with a celebrity influencer.

2. Neighbourhood communities

The lockdown did not only result in communities relying on their local leaders for guidance but also each other. The neighbourly spirit was very evident. Those living in the same vicinity, perhaps a village or condominium, would gather in a Viber Chat to see how they can help each other. What started out as a convenient channel for announcements turned into a digital marketplace for goods and services.

 

The most common type of goods was homemade food – which is no surprise given Filipinos’ love for eating and cooking. While a common service that was provided was “pasabuy”, wherein one community member – usually someone with a large vehicle – would run errands for other community members for free.

These communities became somewhat of a self-sufficient economy where they patronise homemade goods and prioritise supporting one another. Leaving little room for larger brands to thrive.

One way that brands addressed this challenge is through The Community Market on Wheels (TCMOW). Brands like KFC, Tokyo Tokyo, and Mister Donut began offering Ready-to-Cook versions of their popular menu items and tapped TCMOW to become an authorized reseller. TCMOW would then schedule visits to certain villages, similar to a food truck. Through TCMOW, a community member could even become a Community Reseller, leveraging the digital marketplace of their area.

One thing brands can learn is that to reach an entire community, they should first tighten their approach and reach out to a key member of the community as their way-in. TCMOW achieved this through their Community Reseller programme, while Coca-Cola did something similar when they partnered with the Department of Trade and Industry to provide financing to thousands of sari-sari stores and carinderias. These neighbourhood convenience stores and cafeterias, normally run by families right out of their homes, had been the main distribution channels for Coca-Cola’s products. But during COVID-19, they lacked the capital to purchase goods to sell, leading to many of them downsizing or shutting down entirely.

3. Interest-based communities

While communities were initially brought together by virtue of proximity, others were connected through their common interests and the internet. A surprising outcome of the pandemic was that although communities were physically separated and the world felt very small, there was an overwhelming feeling of closeness and new friends were made as people came together through shared passions.

Those interested in fitness could join the Gym & Fitness Marketplace MM on Viber, where Filipinos could buy and sell gym equipment for home-use as well as share exercises or sources of motivation. While those interested in up-skilling could join the Bartergulan on Facebook, a skills-exchange community where, for example, one could teach other people SEO Marketing and in return they would learn how to set up a hydroponic system at home.

Some groups even leveraged the communal good will of Filipinos. Order Hero, a Facebook group allowed riders from Grab, Food Panda, and the like to post photos of cancelled orders that they had already paid for in advance, allowing anyone in the group to come in and take over the purchase.

One brand that has leveraged this online community behaviour is Alaska Milk. At the start of the lockdown, they created a Facebook community for MOMAs or Mothers of Manila & Alaska. Here, mothers were able to come together to ask for help and share guidance on taking care of their family’s health during the pandemic.

What brands can learn from this is that while their products and services may not be able to answer every single problem their consumer faces, they can prove their worth by fostering online communities where people can share their problems and potentially find a solution on their own.

 
4. Business communities

During this time, this sense of community was not restricted to the individuals. Corporations also began to see the need to come together as they recognised how important it was to support one another for a much bigger goal than improving market share.

Through the Ingat Angat campaign, numerous corporations banded together to encourage Filipinos to safely start moving on with their lives and help the country get back on its feet. While the message was strong, it was the execution that resonated strongly amongst Filipinos with competing brands such as McDonald’s and Jollibee (QSR brands), Coke and Pepsi, and Shell and Petron (Fuel brands) visually coming together, putting cooperation ahead of competition.

Given this, brands must be more proactive in seeking out partnerships. Because what the Ingat Angat campaign has shown is that no partnership should be off the table and that perhaps working with competitors might be exactly what the business and the country needs at the moment.

What should brands be thinking about?

Communities are here to stay with consumers and brands alike seeing the value of cooperation and solidarity during these times. And with so many different types of communities, brands will need to first recognize what has brought the people in the community together, then figure out what role they can play in their lives.

Moving forward, we will see more brands exploring more purposeful advertising. Whether that means working closely with LGUs or with other brands to see what value they can add to a community or possibly even the country.

And we can also expect brands to start thinking small as they find ways to prove their worth and remain present in the small physical and online communities that Filipinos have segmented themselves into.