Advertising in the Philippines

Everyone throughout their school years has a few teachers who they remember fondly. Those individuals who shape the way you think; whose lessons truly seem to stick. Those rare teachers one encounters who truly seem to have been born to teach. In my case, one such teacher was when I was in grad school at Marquette: Dr. Bausch, who taught the all of the business ethics classes and most of the management classes. I remember vividly one class where the focus was about the ethics of advertising medications. At the time, prescription medicines were just beginning to advertise on television in the United States, and the topic was quite appropriate: Previously, prescription medicine was never advertised, and there are very real ethical issues.

The class was in Milwaukee in winter, and Dr. Bausch had just returned from teaching in Russia, wearing one of those Russian fur hats. The heat in the building was just turned on, and everyone was wearing their hats until the class warmed up. Here’s the exchange as I remember it:

Me: “Dr. Bausch, did you ever notice that the medicines advertised on TV are for “funny” diseases or conditions?”

Dr. Bausch: “What do you mean by “funny”?”

Me: “Well, it seems that there are an awful lot of ads for guys who don’t have enough lead in their pencil, have excessive flatulence, yellow toenails, or are suffering from the pain and tragedy of hair loss.”

Dr. Bausch, while removing his hat, in a serious, deadpan voice: “John, there is absolutely NOTHING funny about hair loss! ”

No claims here
No claims here

This exchange, though amusing, led into a further discussion about WHY consumers respond to medical advertising. There have been numerous market research studies undertaken by pharmaceutical manufacturers that show conclusively that people are more apt to ask their doctors about a new drug, rather than ask about a potentially embarrassing condition. In other words, it is easier to ask your MD for a “little blue pill” or a dash of Rogaine than admit that your little guy is distracted at the wrong moment or that you need Turtle Wax so that the rain beads off your head. This also applies to other forms of advertising: Ever notice how much of the SPAM you receive is related to Viagra, pecker enlargement, or going bald? Conditions over which people are often embarrassed about or ashamed.

Once, in the Middle East, I was on a trip dealing with a government official. At lunch, my agent said:

“John, I’ve got something rather unusual to ask you.”


“Well, you know **official’s name**?”


“He’s thinking of approving your contract.”

“OK…. Do the drawings need to be modified?”

“No, No, No… nothing like that. He has a favor he would like from you. Well, he has a problem with his new girlfriend that is rather embarrassing…”

“Go on…”

“He brought her home, and started to undress… And she laughed at the size of his…. You know….”

“Ah… So he’s a little lacking in the size department. His underpants navy has a dinghy instead of an aircraft carrier. ”


“Well, much as I sympathize, what does he want from me?” (Note, I am trying desperately to keep my composure by this point)

My agent pulls out a printout of a SPAM sales pitch for penis enlargement pills… “Grow two inches in two months!!!!”

“He has ordered these three times and customs keep confiscating the pills. Since you live in the US, can you pick these up and bring them? He’s desperate.”

“Will I get the contract?”

“Yes, Yes, Yes!!!”

“OK… No problem.”

So, I order the pills (Around $200), and they arrive. I bring them to the Middle East. No problem with customs. Give them to my agent. I get a sale the same day.

About six months later…

“John, **person’s name** needs more pills.”

“<<Incredulously>> You mean they really worked!?!?!”

“Oh yes… He’s much larger now!”

“OK… My price is another contract!”

Now, I’m 99.9999% certain that the pills did absolutely nothing. I think that his problem was psychological, and the pills had something of a placebo effect. Nevertheless, the shame over the reaction of some girl was stronger than his common sense and skepticism. Yes, I enabled in order to get a sale (Dr. Bausch would probably give me a very stern look… Sorry Dr. Bausch.) I did really feel sorry for him (I’d have probably helped without a contract). Unfortunately, much of what is advertised is simply bogus. Best case, you are buying nothing. Worst case, you may be poisoning yourself.

So, at over six hundred words, I have yet to mention the Philippines. How is this relevant? In the West, medical advertising is fairly strictly controlled. Yeah, you receive SPAM from dubious sources. Yeah, there are tons of disclaimers on advertisements, but, generally, what you buy is as advertised, in most cases.

No Therapeutic Claims
No Therapeutic Claims

In the Philippines, advertising is far less strictly regulated. In fact, the old saying, “Caveat Emptor” really becomes important. Many pills that supposedly cure a myriad of conditions are freely advertised, some with the disclaimer “No Therapeutic Claims are Made”, but many without.

Advertising exists in order to convey a message. That message is that a product or service exists that satisfies a need or desire. It really doesn’t matter what that need is, just that something exists that can fulfill that need. How that message is communicated really depends on the medium used, along with the ethics of the advertiser. Those ethics can use spin (a grey area between outright lie and bending the truth), truthful claims, discounts (to give a sense of urgency or immediate gratification), justification, or a myriad of other tools. The sales pitch can be relatively simple (“House and Lot for sale”), or incredibly sophisticated (like subliminally using product placement in movies). Where that ethical line is drawn can vary, and the use of such methods can really push the boundaries (Does advertising the fact that sugary breakfast cereal has been fortified with vitamins make it healthy?) .

Baby Milk is big business in the Philippines
Baby Milk is big business in the Philippines

A common example here is with powdered milk or baby formula. I never knew it before, but apparently Juanito can grow up to be a rocket scientist, or even President of the Philippines, just by drinking certain brands of milk!  Imagine a world where study, perseverance, education, and skill are no longer required in order to be successful in life! Just by drinking milk! A true miracle, by any measure of the word. So you see Kris Aquino appear 7 or 8 times per hour while you are watching the program of your choice… Doing like Kathy Lee Gifford in the States… Parading her kid around for publicity. You cannot help but wonder, “Does HER kid drink that milk?” If so, why isn’t HE the one advertising the product? He should be a child prodigy by now. (I also wonder how many different products she shills… It seems she’s everywhere: milk; noodles; real estate; shampoo; makeup; cooking classes; laundry detergent (Can you imagine her washing clothes?).

With advertising, frequency of the message is important, too… A catchy tune that burrows its’ way into your thoughts, impossible to get out of your head. In the Philippines, there are two current commercials that seem to be frequently repeated. By “frequently”, I mean they will show the same commercial three times in a row, back to back. The first is the Palmolive shampoo commercial. “KC, how do you stay so YOUNG???” (It doesn’t hurt that she’s about 25 years old). “Oh, it’s because I FEEL young, hee hee hee ;-)”.  Then she starts singing her “La la la la” song. Funny… I used the same shampoo and MY hair didn’t grow a meter and allow me to swish it around.

So, then we come to PCSO (The Philippine lottery). Patriotic sounding music…. Basically, “Filipino hearts, Filipino winners”. Your lottery purchases fund all of this charity… You really MUST be unpatriotic if you don’t play. Repeated 12 times per hour for your viewing enjoyment.

Really, though, advertising in the Philippines has recently become much more sophisticated. There is a focus on branding more than ever before. Companies are more conscious of their brand and brand image. Filipinos are huge users of Facebook, and other social networks (along with the rest of the world). Indeed, it is difficult to find a product or business now that doesn’t have its’ own page (Though how often they are updated is an entirely different matter).

These are some examples just off the top of my head… Readers of this site will have many more examples. Expect advertising to continue to develop and look more like advertising in the West in the years to come.


Post Author: JohnM (207 Posts)

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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  1. John Leick says

    Enjoyed the article John, amusing!

    I tried the Red Juice you have there that some trusting soul gave to me as a gift. I was sent it all the way from the RP to the US and it probably cost more to ship the stuff than what it is worth. “No Therapeutic Claims are Made” is on the bottle. I never had the heart to tell them that stuff would not clear me out, no matter how much I drank. I guess the advertisers and the Red Juice must have worked on them, but I’m still full of s**t.

    Oh, you lived here in Wisconsin! God willing, I have one more of those cold winters to go.

    • John Miele says

      John: I’ve seen the red juice kiosks in the malls before… I never quite was brave enough to try it. The signs say it cures so many things. At first, I just thought it was iced tea.

      When I went to Marquette, I commuted up from Chicago… Enjoyable time in my life ( school… Not the commute)

    • Ricardo Sumilang says

      John Leick, someone in a different thread had mentioned coconut juice as good for intestinal cleansing. You might want to try that. :)

  2. Pedro Bulado says

    What I would like to see is government departments UPDATING their sites, talk about false advertising. Ever try contacting the Department of Customs? You can’t, their email just bounces, ‘no such email’ been like that for over 3 months!

    • John Miele says

      Pedro: I can sympathize … Many government sites are inactive or down frequently. Buyer beware is truly a must here, legal or not.

  3. ian says

    There is currently an ad running on tipidsale here in Davao. It is aimed at women, and is for panty liners with ” negative ions” . I notice that amongst the claims that it makes is that it will cure you of prostate problems.

  4. alf says

    Hi John! Your article reminds me of Colgate commercial when I was a kid. It was about Dr. Eric Banes. He used a chalk and a dark solution to compare a tooth (the chalk) and cavity (solution). After soaking the chalk, he cut it in half to show the effect of the dark solution. It was very popular, and every kid in my village knew about it. Well, advertising means in some cases, lies packaged as truths. But in general I enjoyed watching advertisement commercials more than the actual program. :-) :-)

    • John Miele says

      Alf: we’re using the Colgate commercial, “brush brush brush, 3 times a day”, in order to get Juanito to brush his teeth. It is musical, albeit rather annoying, and seems to work

  5. a.mapangarap says

    here’s a trivia..did you know that most filipinos refers to a toothpaste as colgate? theres actually a time youll here filipinos saying, pabili po ng colgate, yung close-up(i’d like to buy a colgate, close-up brand). most filipinos still say pa-xerox, which means to photocopy!

    • John Miele says

      Very common everywhere… Jello and aspirin are two more brands that have passed into common usage.

      • John Miele says

        Actually, I once used to work with a rather annoying woman who used to correct everyone in the office who used these terms. I would tell her to xerox some documents and she would say “photocopy”, or to “FedEx” something and she would say “overnight”. I eventually fired her…. Too many complaints and too much drama over simple tasks…

    • says

      This can be a huge issue when marketing in developing countries. I once did a campaign when I ran an advertising agency in PNG. A long (and funny) story but by the time the campaign finished our competitors sales went up a huge 40% because the generic issue. All vacuume cleaners were Hoover, all snack chips were Cheestoes, etc etc…..

      • RandyL says

        David, Coca Cola has enjoyed the profits from that brand misnomer for years. I remember in Texas once the little Mexican kid that asked my mother (on her canteen) for a Coke. When she handed him the Coke, he says “No, not that one…that one” as he pointed to a can of Orange Crush. All soda waters were Cokes, and still are I think.

      • John Miele says

        David: Adding to the fact that how many homes and businesses have carpets to be vacuumed in PNG? Vacuums are hardly big sellers here, I would think.

  6. Ricardo Sumilang says

    I personally feel that product placement in movies or television is one of the most powerful forms of advertising. No shrill sales pitches to direct your attention to the product that can be very annoying, but a quiet and unobtrusive placement of the product where the audience cannot miss seeing it. The more successful the movie, or the more memorable the scene where and when the product is placed, the more effective the ad, in my opinion. Running a close second in my list of powerful ads is where the product is not seen at all until at the conclusion of the ad, as if the product is the exclamation point.

      • Ricardo Sumilang says

        If you still remember the brand enough to be still looking for it long after the show has ended, product placement must have a real profound effect on you, eh, Randy? I haven’t watched that show in years, mind telling me what the brand was?

    • John Miele says

      Ricardo: It is effective for branding, rather than direct sales. One of the things that advertising agencies struggle with, regarding product placement, is that it is extremely difficult to develop enough metrics to gauge how successful a campaign was in building a brand. This type of advertising is very expensive, which is why you generally only see large, well established brands using it.

      • Ricardo Sumilang says

        John, how hard is it for advertising agencies to develop metrics for product placement? Surely, they can develop ways to gauge consumer interest in a placed product just by monitoring the spike in sales, or lack thereof, immediately after a movie or a TV program is shown, both locally or nationally, couldn’t they?

        • John Miele says

          Ricardo: It isn’t easy… Due to the rather subliminal nature of the advertising… They can somewhat tie it to broad increases in sales over time. The difficulty ensues in separating the effect from other advertising campaigns / media.

        • says

          Hi Ricardo. I have owned and run several advertising agencies and been marketing manager of multinationals. Unfortunately it isn’t an exact science by any stretch of the imagination. My only really measurable campaign was when I was marketing manager of Goodyear tyres (oz spelling) I came up with a methodology that allowed the tv networks to run commercials (pre set budgets) only after a certain amount of rain. We had in place very good reporting mechanisms with the dealers and retail outlets and I could accurately model the outcomes. Overall most campaigns were not that accurate. It would be interesting to see data on online activities now days. While I build web sites sometimes they are not ‘main stream’ enough to do any real analysis.

          • Ricardo Sumilang says

            Acknowledged that, David A. and John M. Thanks. I learn something new from you guys through LiP everyday! Thanks also go to Bob for maintaining this website so full of factual information, along with some not-so-factual b.s. once in a while. Hahahaha

  7. says

    Hi John – What I noticed nowadays is companies rely heavily on endorser’s popularity to sell their products, rather than inform the consumer of the quality and contents of the products itself. Some of the most sought after product endorsers are: As you mentioned Cris Aquino, Aga Mulach, Robin Padilla, Vic Sotto, and of course Manny Pacquiao, among others. You couldn’t help wonder if they actually use the product they endorse. Companies would pay out seven figure talent fees for these superstars, but money wisely spent because the company would get it back many times more.
    It’s tiring to see those “no approved therapeutic claims” we see on tv and print ads. They’d tell this can cure this and that then say at the end “ no approved…”, what is that! What happens if there’s adverse effect of this said product, they can’t be liable because there’s precautionary advice on the label? I agree with you there should be stricter guidelines in advertizing specially products that could be hazardous to one’s health.

    • John Miele says

      Louie: We largely agree. Note that celebrities can expose themselves to bad publicity should a product cause harm. An interesting side note is the number of US celebrities who endorse products in Japan under clauses that notify advertisers that the advertising appear ONLY in Japan and not elsewhere. The most famous example was Tom Cruise (or was it George Clooney???) advertising Japanese hemmorhoid cream.

  8. JustJoe says

    Okay I get the whole marketing, I want to sell you something that you don’t need so I can be rich, strategy. Happens in every country. However I am very disappointed at the Philippine governments lack of responsibility when it comes to advertising baby formula.

    The majority of Philippine people live in poverty and trying to get them to buy formula instead of breastfeeding is highly irresponsible to say the least. Not only is breast milk better for a child it is FREE??????????

    When my son was born, in a private hospital, I was given a list of things to buy him from the pharmacy. 2 hours into his life and junk food (formula) was on the menu. I refused to buy it and insisted that he be taken to his mother so that he can breast feed. That was after pointing out all the posters pasted around the maternity ward saying that “breastfeeding is best”. No one seemed to get it, even the wife. She told me to stop being difficult. Sorry me caring about my son does not make me difficult.

    By this time I’m not on my best behavior and my temper is starting to get the better of me. This was my first child and I couldn’t believe the hassle I was getting because I wanted him to breastfeed.

    They eventually took my son out of the nursery and brought him to my wife. However not before phoning the pediatrician, obgyn and making me sign waiver forms.

    Thanks for posting this article, great read.

    • Ricardo Sumilang says

      You did the right thing, and I am glad you stood your ground. I am of the same mind as you about the benefits of breastfeeding over baby formulas. All my kids were breast-fed. I am reminded of a story about an experiment conducted at a hospital nursery in England during WWII. Though the experiment had nothing to do with breast-feeding, newborn babies at the nursery who were constantly touched, talked to and cuddled by the nurses, smiled a lot and were more developed and more responsive than the babies who were not.

      • JohnM says

        Ricardo: That is actually one of the controversies regarding medical advertising. An example: “Four out of Five doctors recommend ____ for ____”. Well, that recommendation is often tied to relationships with drug companies to the hospital. Thus, “brand X is preferred over Brand Y”. My surgeon friend deals with this constantly, and you would be shocked by how much money is spent on gifts to doctors / perks by drug companies.

        • Ricardo Sumilang says

          I believe it. I know of one drug that is routinely prescribed for middle-aged patients that is supposed to strengthen the bones, then SOME patients start having complications. Instead of strengthening the bones, the drug actually contributes to the deterioration of the bones on SOME patients. As expected, an army of lawyers soon starts soliciting patients who’ve taken the drug on late night TV to sue the drug company on a contingency basis. You collect, attorney gets 1/3. You don’t collect, it’s OK, attorney’s fees waived. Meanwhile, you go back to the doctor to draw his/her attention to the bad rap. Doctor keeps on prescribing the same drug anyway. Who are you going to believe? The doctor who’s on the make, or the lawyer who is trying to make? LOL

          (The drug in question: Fosamax.)

  9. RandyL says

    Just Joe ~ Waiver forms? I’m sure glad I didn’t have to waive my rights to breastfeed when I was born. I still like having that opportunity from time to time! 😆

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