Brand Purpose Philippines Brand Strategy

State of the Nation: The Philippines needs to find joy ... and onions

By Gino Borromeo, Chief Strategy Officer

January 26, 2023 | 7 min read

The Philippines endured one of the world's longest lockdowns during Covid and as it rebounds, marketers and agencies face myriad challenges. Most significantly, says Gino Borromeo, chief strategy officer at BBDO Guerrero, there is an absence of joy among marketers and agencies, which is creating bland, safe work. In the latest State of The Nation, Borromeo calls for brands to find their fun-side.

Philippines flag

/ Image by titus_jr0 from Pixabay

In two months' time, the Philippines will have completed season three of The Pandemic. And what a ride it has been. We’ve been through one of the world’s longest lockdowns. Wide-scale layoffs and pay cuts across many industries. The shutdown of a major television network. Forced rapid adoption of all things digital and eCommerce. Hybrid working arrangements everywhere. Supply hiccups of everything from laptops to luggage to french fries and, of late, onions.

Three years later, how are we doing? I think I have a unique perspective on this; I was on the client side throughout the peak pandemic period and have just recently re-entered the agency world, returning to a very different industry at a very different time.

Here’s what I see.

Gino Borromeo

Re-assessment everywhere

Pandemic life triggered among Filipinos what I would describe as a “Great Reassessment”.

Consumers reassessed their spending, working out what is essential vs what isn’t. They also reassessed the brands they choose. Studies estimate that nearly 50% of Filipinos tried new brands in multiple categories during the peak pandemic period. Whether it was because the usual brand wasn’t available or new brands emerged to offer new choices, Filipinos have become a lot more open to trying new brands. This means existing brand loyalties are constantly being reassessed. Marketers and agencies - we all need to be on our toes.

Marketers are reassessing too. Digital means more channels for a brand to show up in and more pieces of content to create. Yet budgets are tighter. So hard choices have to be made. Having lost a major television network as a marketing channel, budgets and plans are also now being reconfigured against a specific mix of digital platforms, outdoor, on-ground and in-store. And with the algorithms of the digital platforms always evolving, plans need to be regularly reassessed.

Like marketers, agencies also have to do far more with much less, which means reassessing their business model. Agency brand consolidation. Shared central resources. Totally giving up office space. Different tactics with the same objective: Efficiency.

Prove your value every day

Coming from the wave of revenge everything throughout the 2nd half of 2022, brands are now getting a reality check in 2023. A weak peso and high inflation means money doesn’t buy what it used to. So Filipino consumers are now resorting to a combination of coping behaviors. Whether it’s trading up to a more expensive but worth-it brand. Or trading down to a more affordable brand. Or simply trading out of the category. Filipinos are trying to get the most value for their money every day.

This means every day brands must prove to consumers that they’re worth it. Just as agencies, media owners and digital platforms must prove to their clients that they’re worth it.

On a side note, it’s interesting that this isn’t the first time value for money has been an overarching concern for brands. It’s happened in different crisis periods in the Philippines. And probably not coincidentally, in ten-year cycles. Post-EDSA revolution in 1987. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. The 2007 subprime crisis. Covid in 2020. There’s a lot marketers can learn from how brands weathered those past crises. Time to dig up the archives.

There’s a dearth of joy

Not among consumers but among marketers and agencies.

If 2022’s wave of revenge everything proves one thing, it’s that Filipino consumers are so ready to get out of the pandemic. Just look at what’s happening in our malls and airports.

For some reason, however, this enthusiasm isn’t as evident in the brand and agency worlds. There’s a surprising lack of joy, in fact. I see many of us still trudging along as if it were still peak pandemic. And it’s reflected in much of the brand marketing work that’s out there, which tends to be safe and rational. There are exceptions, of course. But that they are exceptions is exactly the problem.

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If there’s a dearth of joy in brand marketing, it’s also an opportunity for brands to win. Kudos to the brands and agencies that have put out work that’s made Filipinos laugh, smile or cry. You know who you are. We need more of this from everyone.

Yes, times are tough (again). But that doesn’t mean we have to sulk getting through it.

A few days ago, I was listening to an episode of The Imposterous podcast where they interviewed Sir John Hegarty. The one thing I remember most that Sir John said in the interview? “Cynicism is the destruction of creativity.” He might as well be describing the Philippines in 2023. Let’s bring back the joy.

Gino Borromeo, chief strategy officer at BBDO Guerrero, Philippines.

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