pop goes the world: a slogan by any other name

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  12 January 2012, Thursday

A Slogan By Any Other Name

People are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”!

But not necessarily the good clean kind, okay. Have you seen the user-generated photo on the Internet of a blonde-bewigged Madame Auring (who must be in her mid-60s at least), stuffed in a leopard-print swimsuit overflowing with her ample breasts, with the text, “Growing old – more fun in the Philippines?”

Fortune teller to the stars and now B-list celeb Madam Auring. Image here.

It’s only one of the many fan-made photos created in the week following the Department of Tourism’s launch of its new campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.

Print and online columnists and commenters immediately weighed in with their thoughts. Most of the arguments go like this: let’s be positive rather than negative, let’s be united and show support, the slogans are easy to remember and pronounce, and flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways (for); and it’s boring, vague, unnecessary, and plagiarized (against).

I was monitoring the Internet the day of the launch and saw the onslaught of comments; the initial pattern of public attitudes toward the slogans; and the actual shift to a “majority” stand, all within half a day online. The public perception was later reflected in the evening news and the next day in the newspapers.

Twitter, because of its immediacy, was the first to “cover” the event, and comments both for and against emerged here first. Most people were underwhelmed by the phrases, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” (international campaign) and “#1For Fun” (domestic).

A lot of what first went around was sarcastic. But then, that’s what happens when the slogans are phrased in such a way as to lend themselves to all kinds of interpretation.

Image here.

As for the accusation that the current DOT slogan was lifted from a 1951 Swiss campaign for suntanning – “It’s more fun in Switzerland!” – I think we can safely say that it was a coincidence. But then, that’s the problem when the phrase is so common and banal! It was a certainty that it had already been used somewhere, sometime, in that context.

DOT Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. has defended the campaign created for them by award-winning advertising agency BBDO by saying that they weren’t looking to be creative, but to tell the truth about the country and simply describe it because it really is “more fun” here.   But given the wealth of creative genius that this country boasts, couldn’t we have come up with something more original and interesting, or at least something less lame?

I liked the old DOT campaign better – “Wow Philippines”. (By the way, it was also created by BBDO, as was the older “More than the usual” campaign). It conveyed interest and excitement in one short word -”wow” – without making unsupportable or subjective claims such as “more”, that open the claim to unmerciless mockery, which the phrase has been subjected to.

Image here.

Perhaps if it were worded “It’s fun in the Philippines”, it would have been less likely to be made fun of.

However, compared to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco of November 2010, this new one is an improvement. The fact that #itsmorefuninthephilippines is trending worldwide shows we are working with this and, yes, having more fun with it.

But is it going to do its job, meaning, is the slogan going to attract more tourists? The DOT should have a survey form for foreigners that they can fill out on the inbound planes – “What influenced you to visit the Philippines?” No fair claiming any increase in tourist arrivals to the slogan without accurate monitoring with a survey instrument constructed with the proper methodology!

What struck me most about the entire phenomenon was that anyone can always come up with pros and cons for any topic. It’s social construction, meaning that many aspects of our daily experience are accepted as a result of agreement among members of society. In this manner social reality is created.

I saw this occur in real time – a people constructing their social reality through computer-media communication via social media. For a communication scholar such as myself, it was intellectually orgasmic. Phd dissertation topic, anyone?

At first, perception toward the new DOT slogan was skewed toward the negative – people were making fun of the slogan. Then, influential Tweeters, bloggers, and celebs chimed in urging support for the campaign.

Later, some of the “pros” went further and berated the “cons” for being too negative and, worse, unpatriotic! Suddenly the tide turned – negative comments are now interpreted as “bashing”, masyadong nega, hindi maka-Pilipino. Even the mockery is more gentle than it was at the start; it’s somehow toned down. It’s as if a sort of bullying took place.

Image here.

Why do some ideas spread so fast and embed so strongly, like a virus? Why are some ideas accepted and others not? Writer and researcher Malcolm Gladwell might have an explanation for this in his book “The Tipping Point” (2000).

There are three types of influential persons who have rare and particular social gifts, he says, upon whose involvement “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent”: the “connectors” are people who “link us up with the world”, who have social networks of over a hundred people; the “mavens” are “information specialists, people we rely on to connect us with new information;” and “salesmen”, the persuaders who have charisma plus powerful negotiation skills, and who tend to have “an indefinable trait that goes beyong what they say, which makes others want to agree with them.”

Once these people jump on one side of an idea or the other, they bring about the “tipping point”, the “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Then, others who are less influential or undecided tip that way. Then an idea becomes the dominant ideology.

For now, people are having fun with “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”. Let’s hope it brings in the visitors and their much-needed moolah.

But we have to remember that it’s not all about slogans, which are just a bunch of words strung together. The slogans need to be backed up by a genuine product – a safe and tourist-friendly Philippines, where people can truly have more fun. ***

Malcolm Gladwell portrait here.

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