Allow me to discuss Ako Mismo in a wider context. For despite my alleged cynicism (which you can read here and here), my first reaction was a positive one. I was impressed. Their launch had impeccable timing. You can’t get more visibility than from a Pacquiao fight; the stray hits alone increased my blog’s traffic by 1000%!
I think Ako Mismo is on to something here. They’re tapping into a reservoir of patriotic fervor that has been building up recently. It is the same reservoir that tips over during every Pacquiao fight, and one that overflowed when Francis Magalona passed away. So looking at the campaign as the work of an advertising agency, I recall the work of another one — McCann Erickson‘s iamninoy campaign.
iamninoy was launched on the 21st of August 2008, on the 25th anniversary of Ninoy’s assassination. Quoting from the website’s description of the campaign,
The core message of the Campaign is the selfless giving of the best of ourselves for our countrymen and women and the advancement of the country as a whole. Hence, the campaign is designed to create innovative mechanisms and systems for the participation of corporate brands and their customers in schemes that contribute to causes and projects that enhance the welfare of the poor and marginalized Filipinos.
The primary target audience of this Campaign is the youth who were either too young to remember Ninoy Aquino and what he stood for or were not yet born during that period. The Campaign hopes to engage the youth to learn about the values Ninoy stood for and to continue his legacy for generations to come.
It was an interesting campaign. I have to commend their simplicity and consistency in design and message. The yellow background opposite a monochrome foreground is clearly used to maximum effect. Not much words were needed; my favorite would still be the simple black glasses on yellow background (see above) for as a sticker or a poster it would fit and look cool anywhere.
My only criticism is that at times it came across more as a Bench campaign than something that transcended brands, and that may have turned some people off. It’s too easy to cross the line from social advocacy to commercial opportunism, and the bright, flustering ads did not help. I suppose ads such as this were the culprit:
But kudos to the campaign. Purchasing the participating products benefited various foundations and charities (see left) very much like the PRODUCT (RED) campaign operating globally to address the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
Whether Ako Mismo will develop a similar roster of partners and beneficiaries remains to be seen. It definitely has the potential to do so, and I hope that it does.
More importantly, the campaign remains current. Though it has receded from the spotlight, it goes where it can. For instance, it is sponsoring a fun run on May 31 at the UP Diliman and has sponsored benefit concerts in the past. The campaign also works hand in hand with Ninoy and Cory Aquino Center for Leadership (NCACL), offering commemorative plates to fund their leadership programs.
It is definitely a much fuller and complete campaign than Ako Mismo currently is, so I hope DDB starts taking notes from McCann.
However, Ako Mismo has an edge that iamninoy doesn’t. DDB’s campaign taps into the Internet culture in a very unique way. By soliciting pledges, it engages the audience right away, making them feel that they are participants and not mere consumers. Given their fortuitous timing and an interactive format, developing their partners and committing to beneficiaries can only be good for this campaign in the long run.
For if there is one thing we must always remember about the Filipino, it is that we want to be part of something. Having that sense of belonging runs deep into our culture, though this belonging is manifested in different ways. One primary way is through iconography and symbolism. This explains why the Ako Mismo dog tags are so sought after. This explains the popularity of the Francis M shirts and, in general, all other shirts with the three stars and a sun in its various permutations.
But what has led to all these? What has led nationalism to become so cool again? Students traditionally associate nationalism with the textbook example of the “Filipino First” policy under the 8th President, Carlos P. Garcia. Yet what we’re seeing here isn’t textbook. That nationalism is very much in the mainstream says a lot about the country and the world we find ourselves in.
Traditional, mainstream discourses on Philippine nationalism will tell you that it has been under attack since the 70’s when emigration to Saudi Arabia became government policy. Our national self-esteem then followed a downward trend; where else would it go when you compare life here with that in more affluent societies? The entrance of the Internet seemed to accelerate the slide for now we are even more saturated with the media we download off other countries, still mostly the United States.
Yet, we can also observe a curious, more subtle reversal. The arrival of the Internet has allowed those who have left the country to reconnect and reaffirm their identity in more amorphous ways. Their nationalism is then no longer bound by physical geography but dictated by the depth of their aspirations. For instance, one man’s want for a better life for his family is shared by others like him working in other countries thus creating a new essence of what it means to be Filipino. The shifting discourse from OCW to OFW (‘contractual’ to ‘Filipino’) is evidence of this.
Yet as much as how global shifts and turns affected, so too did our political history. Today’s emergent nationalism follows a trend set by the first People Power Revolution — that in order to save democracy, one must destroy it. This uniqe quirk in our socio-political life explains our inherent restlessness towards government in general. That as one massive population we usurp the rule of one man to place another always struck me as ironic, and hence what we consider the Republic of the Philippines has always been a marriage of convenience.
Thus, this is to say that unlike Europe where nationalism has always been a device of the state, nationalism in the Philippines exists in spite of the state. It rests firmly on the backs of the people; that said, it is just as amorphous as that we can observe abroad. In the manner that we are unique individuals, there are are as many ways to express our nationalism.
This explains why it is so malleable then. Ad campaigns such as iamninoy and Ako Mismo easily capture the imagination for we have yet to truly give our nationalism shape and form. Our subversion by the Americans after Spanish rule virtually guaranteed that it will be quite a while before we find our own feet; icons such as the Katipunan and Rizal easily supplanted by McDonald’s and Uncle Sam. Therefore, there exists a robust market for nationalistic ideas and images, and ad agencies would be wise to capitalize while being wary of abuse.
Am I discounting the emergence of a unifying notion of nationalism that can bring our country forward? Definitely not. We still seek our heroes. And though they have been taken away from us, we have never stopped looking. Though a great writer, Rizal has yet to really find his voice in the 21st century. Ninoy, though it wasn’t that long ago, has his memory sullied by the dueling discourses surrounding People Power.
So for now we are looking deep into the ranks of the everyman, people who have succeeded in life through combined talent, will, and good fortune. This largely explains the popularity of Manny Pacquiao, the boxing icon who transcends socio-economic class and political ideology every time he fights. Similarly, we have applauded the likes of Charice Pempengco and Arnel Pineda, gentle reminders that we Filipinos have something to be proud of even as we grapple to say exactly who we are.
I feel that we must transcend this nationalism focused solely on icons and symbols, and yet I realize that we are really just at this point in our history. There are no shortcuts. I prefer that our feelings for our country translate into concrete commitments, tangible action. However, for us to act we must be clear on what our nationalism means, and what are symbols if not expressions of this understanding?
May we all find what we are looking for very soon. Meanwhile, I still want that black shirt with three stars and a sun.