Monday, January 09, 2012

It's funnier in the Philippines



This is my column today.

The Department of Tourism unveiled the
country’s new tourism slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines” last week.

It’s a powerful commentary of the state of things in this country that the slogan turned controversial within a matter of hours. Someone was immediately able to unearth a photo of a 1951 ad from Switzerland, which used the same “it’s more fun in” tagline. A number of people found creative ways to derogate or reduce the slogan to a joke. Everyone weighed in with his or her own take on the slogan, whether for or against.

And just like that, we turned what could have been an occasion for drumbeating into a free-for-all melee.

What can I say; it’s truly more fun in this country.

We are able to complicate the simplest of issues. Thanks to the management skills of our leaders, we are able to turn what should have been a well thought out and straightforward proposition into a national debate.

Let me state for the record that I actually like the slogan. I like the way it comes across as a mere statement of fact. It’s not a slogan that is meant to conjure images of breathtaking vistas and jaw dropping extravaganzas. It’s not a slogan that ends in exclamation marks; in fact, it is a slogan that seems to end with an ellipsis. I like the fact that the slogan describes the experience rather than the product; and consequently, the challenge it poses to every Filipino to contribute to making that experience happen for every tourist that comes to this country. It’s a slogan we can all relate to because it is the truth.

So yes, I can see how such a slogan can boost tourism in this country. It can work.

Having said that, I would like to express my dismay at the poorly conceptualized and badly mismanaged launch of the slogan.

Given the flak Pilipinas kay Ganda (the tourism slogan proposed last year) received because of accusations of plagiarism, I think it is reasonable to expect that the Tourism Department and the advertising agency would move heaven and earth to check if the phrase “It’s more fun in the…” had already been used as a tourism slogan by another country.

Secretary Jimenez is correct, just because it had been used previously by another country doesn’t mean we cannot use it anymore. But for crying out loud, being caught flatfooted and having a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in the eyes when confronted with the information that Switzerland beat us to the slogan by sixty years is definitely not encouraging. What, no one has heard of Google?

The way I see it, they could have been ready with a more cogent explanation or justification the moment someone confronted them with allegations of being copycats or plagiarists. They could have acknowledged that Switzerland produced a poster with the slogan in 1951, but that the Philippine slogan was not really a copycat since it is packaged differently and the slogan actually arose out of a series of discussions rather than just being lifted from some vintage poster. A little honesty and a carefully and proactively crafted disclosure would have averted the whole fracas and saved everybody from hyperventilating unnecessarily.

My second issue with the slogan is that the timing of the launch sucks!

A slogan that says “It’s more fun in the Philippines” sounds callous at a time when many of our fellow Filipinos are still reeling from the series of tragedies that struck barely a few weeks ago. Thousands of people in Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Dumaguete, Leyte, and Compostela Valley are still picking up the fragments of their lives from the flooding and landslides that cost them lives, homes, and their livelihoods. International donors are still trying to marshal resources to send to the Philippines and we choose the time to proclaim to all and sundry that it’s more fun in the Philippines? Oh yes, I also heard the famous lecture of the Presidential sister about how we should all move on with our lives after tragedies. But surely we are allowed time to grieve first and not expected to party immediately?

We could have delayed the launch of the slogan for a few more weeks. We could have used the time to pilot the slogan and gather better empirical data to buttress the proposition that such a slogan can work. Secretary Jimenez insisted that the slogan is meant for foreigners. Where is the data that says the slogan strikes a chord with foreigners?

A number of people continue to insist that Wow Philippines was a much better slogan. The reality is that a lot of work was poured into the conceptualization, design, and launch of Wow Philippines. The current administration justified the change by presenting statistics saying that the number of visitors to the country has not picked up – as if a slogan alone would do that. In case this administration has forgotten, a busload of tourists experienced an unfortunate incident at the Quirino Grandstand during its watch.

So once again, we have to make do with something because, well, it is already there. We are being asked to dig deep into our reservoir of patience and citizenship and support something because what can we do, it’s our country and this is our government.

The really good thing is that yes, we are a people very capable of seeing the fun side of any situation.

I’ve seen many variations of the slogan, some bordering on sarcasm and the not-so-funny. There’s that picture of a man singing his lungs out with the slogan “Death by ‘My Way.’ It’s more fun in the Philippines.” There’s that picture of a boy peeing against a wall on a sidewalk: “Watering the plants. It’s more fun in the Philippines.” There’s a picture of a dish of vegetables with a dead caterpillar on it “Fresh vegetables. It’s more fun in the Philippines.” It’s just a matter of time before someone comes up with pictures of tragedies. I hope no one comes up with pictures of the people who posed for photos at the Quirino Grandstand after that tragedy. I hope no one comes up with pictures of hungry children, overflowing canals, people picking through garbage for food, etc.

But yes, it’s more fun in the Philippines. When given a situation that we can’t make sense of, we just turn into a joke. We make do with what we are given to work with, even when it lacks substance. We poke fun at anything and anyone.

At the rate people are turning the slogan into a joke, we might as well qualify it some more: It’s funnier in the Philippines.

N.B.

I chanced upon the photos used in this post in Facebook - my apologies to the owner of these photos.

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