Marketing and Public Relations

The Myopia of Manila in Marketing

By December 26, 2019 February 3rd, 2020 No Comments

This article was originally posted on The Manila Times on December 26, 2019.

YOU sit in a darkened room. It’s your annual sales conference. The sales charts representing territories outside Manila look dismal. There is a dearth of data. The district sales directors aren’t talking.

What is happening? What is the competition doing? Why aren’t efforts working? Are your ads effective? Are your sales people doing their jobs?

The epithet ‘Imperial Manila’ is imperfect because, to begin with, there is no one country for Manila to be imperious over. The idea of nationhood, of a Philippines, has always come from headquarters — from Manila, or from Spain and the US speaking from Manila — while the people have always referred to themselves by other names — of islands and regions, languages and indigenous communities. I am “Cebuano,” and proudly so.

Anybody seeking to successfully market a product, service, cause or candidate across waters must first realize that the country has never been whole. And what marketers are doing in Manila don’t always work in the provinces.

Global ad agency folks ensconced in ivory towers write copy for people they do not know and hardly understand. The system produces Madison Avenue advertising that may win awards, but hardly tickle cash registers. Their forays into the rest of the country — “balance country” — are limited to visits and touristy treks, making them have a faulty notion of what the market needs and cares for. I exaggerate, of course.

The marketing term “balance country” lumps the rest of the country as one amorphous territory. It is a perspective that is unhealthy to business.

The provinces are not poorer or less developed counterparts of Manila. The development is not linear — provincial folks do not see Manila as an ideal other cities would imitate.

The Cebuanos’ pride in being Cebuano and their rejection of Imperial Manila as a model is still strong. Talk to a prosperous market vendor in Cebu in the “national language” and expect to see irritation cross her face.

You laugh at our ‘dection;’we laugh at yours
You laugh at our English; we laugh at your Visayan. When advertisers record in Manila, they ask for translations from people who have lived there all their working lives. The talents who voice them think they still speak the language well.

This makes for commercials we laugh at in the provinces. One badly pronounced word is an attention vampire, distracting from the message of an expensive commercial.

When I was handling Procter & Gamble accounts, I asked that producers be funded to tour the provinces we wanted to air ads in. They had translations done locally, they cast for talents there, they recorded there and then they hopped on a plane bound for the next province. They recorded raw, leaving the decision-making in editing and scoring to Manila.

National? What national?
Imperial Manila marketers rely on systems of delivery of product and message that diminish in quality and control as these move farther from the city.

The parallel is that of a newspaper. The Manila-based marketer rolls out campaigns from headquarters but there are no truly national distributors in the country as there are no real national newspapers.

We understand that it is so much easier to do things on a national scale because there’s so much more work in thinking and going local. But nobody beats the local in knowing the locality, and so you must forge linkages throughout the archipelago. We have held hundreds of events in the provinces and linkages offer us depth of knowledge. I like to say that we can tell clients the market day of every public market in the country and which public market to skip.

Think, listen local
You will find the footprint of global marketing companies everywhere in the provinces, in the remotest barrio, adapting national campaigns to local terrain. But mounting drop-down banners on coconut trees and telephone poles is just being ubiquitous. Not local.

Efficient marketing to ports across waters will require more than doubling efforts and more creativity since you’re selling to various markets and not to one “balance country.”

Some decentralization of marketing decisions and efforts must be allowed. You search for balance between what is best kept national and what you push on the local level.

What’s the latest craze in Davao? Why are Bacolod consumers not as responsive to discount offers?

There are local occasions, needs and opportunities that the national cannot appreciate or discover from headquarters.

In one event in the province, the client asked us to use plastic water bottles with the sponsor’s name as the premium item event participants could win.

That beautiful water bottle was a dismal failure. One contestant, angry that she did not win the umbrella, remarked, “Walang gumagamit niyan dito” (No one uses that here).

When ‘Imperial Manila’ as a mindset and a way of doing things declines, business prospers. When differences are given attention and exerted effort for, the provinces become lucrative markets that can reduce client’s dependence on Metro Manila sales.

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

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