Getting It Right, and Making It Work: Thoughts on the New Department of Tourism Campaign

(DISCLAIMER: This post does not represent the opinions of my employer, the Department of Tourism, or the agency behind the “It’s More Fun In The Philippines” campaign.)

I don’t want to chalk it up – yet – to an increasingly cynical Filipino, or for that matter a point of view that perpetuates and fosters cynicism. After all, one is free to criticize, and one is free to disagree. Yet it also pays, I believe, to criticize and disagree with the right things, and to lend perspective in the right way.

For a government agency whose troubles with everything from budget to copyright have been well within the field of vision of the public eye, it’s hard to pull off anything without some degree of criticism. And it goes without saying that it should be: as far as tourism goes, we should get it right. But part of getting it right means making it work. The exercise of making the national tourism slogan is not a matter of advertising alone, but a matter of pulling together to stand by one national idea. Getting it right, and making it work.

It’s easy to see why people don’t like the new tourism slogan. It’s wordy, it’s a bit too long, the word “fun” is a bit arbitrary. Our notion of the “national slogan” has been steeped in the idea of “Wow, Philippines” for too long that indeed, we do well to resist that change. “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is a leap from that: it’s different. What’s “hardworking” for some may be “overworked” for others. Some of us nitpick over details like colors or fonts or messaging, or that a 1951 ad from Switzerland looks all too familiar.

I say, though, let’s get it right. And as a people, let’s make it work.

We’re faced here with a slogan and a hashtag: not a strategy, not a plan, but a short boost in social media that for now, from what’s visible, represents a hypothesis for what can be campaigned and what possibilities can arise. We can – and we should – fault people for that. But to say that the plan does not exist, or that a greater strategy is absent in this matter, is a sweeping generalization that does nothing but doom this project from the start. Surely the end result is not just a slogan and a template for banners and posters, but an entire project for Philippine tourism.

And that, I think, is what we should be concerned of, and where we should be raging and defending from: the big picture, the complete proposal, the totality of every strategy and execution that makes this campaign what it is. True, we should be concerned about the slogan for the fact that it is what is available for the moment, but to treat that as the be-all end-all of the entire exercise is to be as short-sighted as the logo is claimed to be. Yes, let’s take the slogan, but we should clash it against the other cogs in the wheel. What’s the long-term project for purism in the country? How will it impact our economy? What are our key indicators, milestones, metrics, and other scores that would justify this campaign to be called a success? What is the slogan’s role in all of that, and what are the roles of those milestones in determining the truth for the slogan?

Those are questions that cannot be answered by the slogan alone. And perhaps the Department and its representing creative agency should answer to that, and present that complete work. Or show – not tell – that the work-in-progress reaches goals that are attainable.

I’m pretty sure that if, on the very first step, we’ll allow ourselves to be hindered by the notion that we don’t have it right, or that if we go out of our way to not make it work, it will never be right and it will never work. It doesn’t mean that we should only have good things to say about a slogan that we may not agree with, but it also doesn’t mean that the whole effort should just be what it is for the moment.

Do I like the DOT slogan? I wish there were fewer words. I find it hardworking, but I have yet to see the components of strategy and execution that would make it work. Do I support it? Let’s wait and see until we can assess the totality of the work in a more complete way with deference and respect for the work done and still to be done.

And after all that is said and done it is up to us to get it right and make it work, because we’re all in this together not just as taxpayers and as tourists, but the best tour guides and ambassadors for the project of Philippine tourism. And yes, while this is an idea, and while great minds do discuss ideas, there is a bigger idea in play: a strategy and plan for Philippine tourism that, for now, is seen through one slogan.

To elevate the discourse beyond that cog in the wheel is something that remains to be seen. Sooner, I hope, before all the fun is taken away from it.

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