Marketing and Public Relations

Advertising Helps a Poor Country

By September 27, 2018 July 18th, 2019 No Comments

This article was originally published with The Manila Times on September 27, 2018.

The customer hands over the prescription to the pharmacist who, after reading it, tallies it up hurriedly in front of him as all efficient pharmacists do. He tells him what it costs within earshot of everyone at the counter.

You see the fumbling with the wallet and you half expect a miracle. You hope he finds a bill tucked away in some secret fold. You look away as he asks the pharmacist, “magkano kung pang-isang araw lang?” (how much if I just buy what I need for a day?)

I have been beside an old man asking for one capsule of an expensive vitamin brand. Another asking for a few capsules of an antibiotic. Every time I see a poor man or woman walk up to the drugstore counter and ask for branded medicine, I feel an ache in the chest, the prodding of the desire to intervene.

My wife has intervened many times. She has advised strangers at the counter to shift to something cheaper. The customer allows the intervention because, well, she is a woman and the intention is clearly to help.

The rich do not have problems asking for less expensive medicine — for generics. The poor and the middle classes though are embarrassed to ask. And we are a poor country.

We were running a campaign for RiteMED (“It’s wrong to buy expensive medicines if there’s RiteMED — Bawal ang Mahal”), and it was doing very well.

But there was this “barrier at the counter”. We sought approval for a tactical message to address this specific problem, to change a mindset, eradicate the embarrassment associated with wanting cheaper.


The campaign was phenomenal and that was just when we were saying it in a spiel. We thought we would strengthen the campaign by having people singing the jingle. That worked well.

And, later, we thought: What if we can get Miss Susan Roces, Queen of Philippine Movies, to sing a line or two?

The response from the market was extraordinary. What exactly have we accomplished? We gave the poor man the words to ask for better and cheaper. What RiteMED has done is a ‘destigmatization’.

We sought to embolden and empower the poor, to remove the stigma of asking for cheaper medicines at the counter, encourage him to question high prices.

Today, with a smile on his face, the poor man can go up to the counter and ask for medicine he can afford. He can even sing it.

In advertising, success is defined by the cash register, the number of products flying off the shelf.

Now the duration of success—how long products keep flying off the shelf—is helped by craft. When the advertising copy is well-writ, it worms its way into the lexicon of the customer. (For instance, our “Bawal Magkasakit” and “Batang May Laban” are copies that are still on-air, still ringing cash registers, despite being decades old).

When your product is part of the customer’s lexicon, you are part of the customer’s day like his door and dinner, you are part of his life.

“May RiteMED ba nito?” has reached the lexicon point in so short a time. Hopefully, it will be as automatic as “pabili nga po”.

Not too long ago, my wife would spend almost five figures for her maintenance medicines every month. That’s a salary for many Filipinos.

After RiteMED, her medicine costs dropped to less than half. Imagine what this means to the millions earning just enough to feed themselves and family, and to the millions who aren’t earning enough. Imagine what this means to a poor country, to a people who buy branded because they’re too embarrassed to ask, “may mas mura po ba?”

If the battle is in the mind, it is a war I can win. We cannot solve poverty. Corruption. But the fear at the counter?

The fear to ask for cheaper medicines is something we have helped solve.

While the objective is to sell products, this success is especially delicious: We receive a psychological salary knowing that we have emboldened the poor Filipino.

We are grateful to our friends at RiteMED for this opportunity to help the country.

The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through

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