by Jose Feraren
This is How We Began
It was a regular February day in class when, during my break, I scrolled upon an update from Jollibee on my phone. It was a week before Valentine’s Day and they just released a commercial on Facebook to go with the times. Being an avid supporter of the brand bordering on becoming a blind follower – if Jollibee were a political entity, I would totally believe everything this bee would shove down my throat – I watched the video. It had subtitles embedded into it so I initially viewed it without audio since I didn’t have any headphones on and I didn’t want anyone to know what I was watching just in case. Knowing how Jollibee would regularly portray characters in their narrative type commercials, I had guesses as to how this story would end.
My viewing was cut short by my university’s shoddy bandwidth. After a few minutes, I decided to tried again, now with headphones and with the company of one of my seatmates, whom I excitedly called over to join me.
In retrospect, inviting her was probably one of the most insensitive decisions I could have made at that moment in time.
Jollibee released a series of commercials online dubbed “Kwentong Jollibee Valentine Series” in the week leading to Valentine’s Day. It features love stories inspired from actual events with Jollibee products well incorporated into the visuals.
The first video entitled “Vow” opens to a wedding scene with a man in a barong eagerly waiting along the aisle for the bride to arrive. As the bride walks closer and closer to him, he is struck the same way he first saw her in a Jollibee as she entered gracefully and approached the counter to order food.
Surprise, surprise, they ordered the same things! Mind you, it was a complicated order that only Princess Anna and Prince Hans of Frozen could only pull off, but without the musical number. We eventually are reeled into a montage of their memories together as friends, through thick and thin. Back at the wedding, she is finally face to face with him. She smiles, looks back down then walks past him where it is revealed to the viewer what truly happened after all those years.
Caught in the moment of overwhelming emotion, I finally woke up from my daze, raised my head to look at my seatmate, failing to realize she’d been sniffling.
She was holding back tears.
Around that time, it also hit me that she just went through a bad breakup.
For quite some time now, many advertisers have been cashing in and raking in Filipino audiences by exploiting its frailties and natural affinity to melodrama (as I just did with my friend mentioned in this post). It would be highly unusual for a Filipino not to have been exposed to telenovelas at any point in their lives if not being hardcore fans of it. And commenting shortly on its community-centric strucutre, the diffusion of this culture product easily crosses socio-economic classes in the form of the maids taking care of their middle-class or rich amo, for example. In homes where children had to be tended to but a load of housework had to also be done simultaneously, the TV was the best companion to keep kids glued to their seats, presumably out of trouble.
It also important to note that the recent emergence of hugot line culture had become also a sort of go to form of joke for a lot of Filipinos. It transcends time, geography and again, socio-economic class. No one is safe from the dangers of being hurt and the cycle remains as if the population loves feeling these painful emotions. I remember that before hugot lines became a thing, pick-up lines ruled popular culture. I often tell myself that hugot lines may have been a direct reaction to all the people who haphazardly flirted and rained down those witty lines like it was monsoon season.
In the video above, Ogie Alcasid parodies a rapper who uses nonsensical pick-up lines.
These two popular culture events converge and combine at a delicately balanced point of humor and drama, where it becomes a landmine for relatability, retention, and remixability.
This is not the first time Jollibee shattered the hearts of the Filipino populace. This had worked for their other commercials in the past. As the three part series gained traction through various media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, an older Jollibee commercial with a similar effect regained popularity shown here below.
Bida ang Sawi
The power of the internet and the netizen had become apparent and noticeably, Jollibee had been fully aware of the pulse of the masses when it came to how they felt about the brand. Also, fully realizing the power of virality, sharability, and remixability, they had half of their job done before they even posted any of their material online.
If we critically examine the three videos posted recently, one would notice recurring themes that, depending on your point of view reflected and pushed for a certain type of Filipino culture. At some point this may be true for the populace but certain niche and marginalized sectors may tend to disagree.
The patriarchy is still grounded in our subconscious and as the author of these status updates has pointed out, despite growing awareness of these sexist tropes, we still tend to default on it. Additionally, the three Valentine’s Day videos feature the men as the bida or main characters of the narrative. They are portrayed as charismatic characters but mainly because they hold the power in the dynamic of their respective relationships. If we take the first video released entitled “Vow”, we see that the story is solely told from the perspective of the man in which his gaze objectifies his female counterpart. It is not clear whether she is aware of his feelings (I must admit there are limitations to the amount of time to tell this story) but it is certain that they have still been the same without having to communicate it with consent to her. The rest of the videos, show the men applying their gaze on the women and appearing to be the ones to do certain actions to the other. The characters of the women portrayed here are not fleshed out but only seen through the lens of the men. This critical analysis initially flew over my head before I read this status message.
As a frequent consumer of media, the more I use it, the more I tend to forget its inner workings. It has become like second nature to me, the way I navigate through the internet. I aimlessly scroll down through the news feeds of my various social media accounts and passively consume the material that is posted. The danger of this passivity has become the lack or loss of critical interpretation of these posts and for many Filipinos, I think this has been the case.
It also doesn’t help the case when an internet user would filter out the messages they receive online due to the sheer amount of information they get. By becoming selective of what appears on their news feed, they may be unconsciously weeding out information they find upsetting and only leaving what they like. As a result, they are sheltered from news that would run contrary to their beliefs and when it does happen, it’s a devastating shock.
This echo chamber, if grown into a significant size, creates the illusion that there is a singular way that culture exists. Even if media like the internet is democratized, its purpose is defeated when the users themselves create barriers for contrary information to come in. In the case of the Philippines on the other hand, it seems that Jollibee was able to find that unifying bias, the way most Filipinos within a certain echo chamber see their lives as was reflected by the advertisements.
Gravitating toward more traditional values of love for family and traditional forms of love, the videos may have implicitly shown us the cultural biases that they think will appeal to the mass audience aside from the already trendy hugot.
Others have also joined in on the wave, applying their real-life pain and going a step further. Depicted here is what would have most likely happened following the order of the two main characters in “Vow”.
Becoming Edcell Ched: The Power of Image
My final story involves a 20 year-old working student named Edcell Ched who works at a Jollibee branch somewhere in Navotas in the Philippines.
Pictures of her circulated online when someone noted her likeness to the actress Chloe Grace Moretz who has also Tweeted about this. Shortly after, Jollibee released a short video online dedicated to a makeover and photoshoot of this now semi-famous crew of theirs.
The resulting association of images which include the Hollywood actress Moretz, places Jollibee’s brand close to the star. On the other hand it also appeals to the (what began in the) studio-era celebrity culture of the Philippines of stars having Western counterparts. The image of Edcell here becomes richer because she is not what you would call someone out of the industry but a regular person going about her business. When her photo was posted online, it organically spread like wildfire, awakening the netizen’s subconscious collection of images within their minds.
We are the culture and at the same the culture makes us. The flows within which we live are simultaneous and ubiquitous. Growing up surrounded by ads, has complicated the way we view images and associate ideas with them. I think that the challenge in critically studying new media and communications is that even those who are not well versed with the terms may have already a strong understanding of the power of advertisements and other media mediated images. This complicates the discussion when trying to identify who exactly dictates and creates culture today.
If we were to follow Jeffrey Lyons in exploring a new communication theory where flow are multi-directional and simultaneous, this is where it comes in. As long as the content which are the advertisements are there and readily available and as long as people will relate to the images they see at any given point in time, these videos will continue to resurface.
We are the brand and the brand is us. We are Edcell Ched.