Episode 18: Pilipinas, Say WHAT?!

There’s this raging debate over the Department of Tourism’s new slogan for the Philippines, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” (which means “Philippines, so beautiful” or something to that effect). This is the branding that replaced the “WOW Philippines” slogan, which we’ve been using for eight years now.

“Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” works wth the concept that the country is best loved for its beautiful scenery and the warmth of its people.

The slogan shows a smiling coconut tree, a tarsier, the sun, and waves. The word “Pilipinas” represents our pride for the country. The logo shows our joyful character and the country’s tropical beauty. The phrase ‘Kay Ganda!’ is our way of showing appreciation.

Despite the elaborate symbolism, “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” received a lot of flak when it was released to the public. The furor by critics is that it’s bland, dishonest, half-baked, and doesn’t attract attention. Many say it sounds like a title of a TV show. Others just aren’t happy we’re representing the Philippines with such a slogan. Some only have this to say:

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It doesn’t help that the website for this is one letter away from directing users to a porn site. (Just so you’d know, that site has nothing to do with our women, but given the way some a-holes market our women over the Internet, well, you get the drift.)

(EDIT: Just a few hours after this article was posted, I learned that the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” logo came under fire again, this time for bearing similarities with the “Polska” logo from Poland’s own tourism campaign.)

Even some of our country’s tourism pundits have a lot to say about the new slogan. Ivan Henares wrote on his tourism blog, Ivan About Town: “I can’t understand why (we) want to get rid of a brand our country has worked so hard to build and invested so much money on.” Tourist guide Carlos Celdran meanwhile said the government could have done better with “Mabuhay (Long Live the) Philippines.”

DOT Secretary Alberto Lim justified the slogan change, saying it’s no longer as catchy as before (partly because the Arroyo administration doesn’t use it much). He also says “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” can warrant a second look (for foreigners at least) since it’s in Filipino. It also reflects the Filipino’s hope and optimism to be known all over the world.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association, on the other hand, thinks “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” will still work; all we have to do is just give it some time to make it work (or sink in).

Understandably, “WOW Philippines” is old; sure it’s catchy, simple but effective, but it is admittedly old. To side a bit on this slogan, though, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. On the other hand, the new slogan DOES warrant a second look, given the symbolism that can pique the interest of anyone about the country.

The main reason for the change in branding is to give the Philippines a fresh image. And how, given the flak we got for the Quirino Grandstand Hostage Crisis, the Maguindanao Massacre, and all the problems in the country right now, which we are asking the Aquino administration to make an insta-cure for, but I digress.

I’m sure the DOT meant well when “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda” was launched. It is, after all, an attempt to show the world how beautiful the Philippines is, how wonderful our tourist destinations are, and how cheerful and warm and optimistic Filipinos can be despite all their troubles. How they presented this, unfortunately, didn’t turn out as planned.

Should we go back to “WOW Philippines”? Like I said, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I think it’s clear, though, that we will need to change our branding sooner or later to reflect the changing times. Should we keep “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda”? At this point, I think not.

“Think you can do better than that?” you may ask me. My answer: No. For now, at least. In any case, whatever ideas for a new slogan are being formed out there, I hope these can capture the true essesnce of the Philippines and being a Filipino.

Which leads to my own question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” To answer this, A LOT:

OUR HISTORICAL LANDMARKS!

Vigan, Ilocos Sur



 OUR EXOTIC WILDLIFE!
The Bohol Tarsier
OUR NATURAL TOURIST DESTINATIONS!
El Nido, Palawan
Tubbataha Reefs, Sulu
OUR RICH HISTORY!
OUR RELIGIOUS HERITAGE!
Paoay Church, Ilocos Norte
OUR CULTURE AND THE ARTS!
OUR SIGNATURE HOSPITALITY!
Oh, and have I mentioned “FOOD”?
A few years ago “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” did an episode on Philippine cuisine. Throughout the episode (and amidst bites of sisig, salad, and lechon), Anthony repeatedly raised the question, “Who are the Filipinos?” He admits Philippine cuisine is so diverse, intensely regional even; despite this he tries to establish the relationship between Filipino identity and food, and why the Philippines is so hard to define.
Take note, this is only Filipino cuisine we’re talking about, and Tony’s racking his brains over it. (Just a side note: I think Filipino cuisine is so underrated because we have it so often at home, it already feels ordinary. Also, balut.)

This leads me back to my question: “What exactly do we want the Philippines to be known for?” What’s there for the Philippines to offer beyond lechon Cebu, sisig, medical tourism, surfing and hiking destinations, night life spots, or even the prowess of the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Charice?

I had this crazy idea that’s been on my mind since last night. It all started when I mentioned to twitmate Iya Santos (who earlier remarked that museums bore her to tears) the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum in Japan, and that we don’t have such a thing here. All she said was that somebody should make one.

Which led me thinking: Tony (and Andrew Zimmern, who chowed down on balut and frogs while in the Philippines) raved about the country’s food, so why didn’t we capitalize on that hype? I think there was this plan to make the country a food safety hub, what happened to this? How about asking our experts in Filipino cuisine for help in promoting the country? The Singing Cooks and Waiters were popular back in the early ’90s, what happened to them?

We could develop certain aspects of the Philippines and use these as a hook to arouse interest in other things about the country. We’ve done this with our natural wonders (think Palawan, Davao, the Banaue Rice Terraces), so how about other things… like food?

My point: We have Benguet as the “Salad Bowl of the Philippines”, Central Luzon as the “Rice Granary of the Philippines”, Mindanao as a potential “Food Basket” (Iloilo owns up to the “Rice Granary” and “Food Basket” title), Pampanga as the “Culinary Capital,” General Santos City as the “Tuna Capital”… This country holds so many food treasures, which I believe can put us in the world map of culinary discoveries.

For starters, we can probably have a museum just like the Shin Yokohama Raumen Museum. Such a museum can promote the country’s food production sector, the various local cooking techniques staples and ingredients, the typical Filipino diet of “almusal, tanghalian, hapunan, merienda, pulutan etc.” Wishful thinking, but it could work, yes? There are definitely other, even better ways to promote Filipino cuisine, and by extension, the Philippines.

There is one setback to promoting the Philippines’ food culture: How can we promote the Philippines as a great place to dine, when three million Filipinos or 15.9% of the population experience involuntary hunger (as of September 2010)?

I guess for now we could just settle with thinking of a new slogan other than “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda.” Man, promoting the Philippines is tough!

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