Staff Reporters
Jul 16, 2018

Philippines' top local brands

Jollibee appeals to Filipinos hearts and taste buds, while brands like Bench, Cherry Mobile and MyPhone mobile put aspirations within reach.

Philippines' top local brands

As part of our look at The Philippines' top brands of 2018 under the Asia's Top 1000 Brands report, we asked Filipino consumers to identify their top home-grown brands, and Jollibee, Magnolia San Miguel, Bench, Cherry Mobile, San Miguel and MyPhone Mobile emerged on top. Here, three in-market observers discuss what's behind the success of these brands, and what it will take to uphold that status.

Jollibee was chosen by consumers as the strongest local brand in the Philippines. What’s behind its appeal to Filipinos?

Juan Manuel De Borja, strategic planning director,Campaigns & Grey Philippines: Jollibee is a fusion of a Filipino front-end with a western back-end. In terms of touchpoints it is literally attuned to Filipino tastes. Product-wise it tends to be sweeter and richer when it comes to fast food standards like burgers, and on top of those offers Filipino dishes. Tonality is celebratory, casual, fun. Advertising weaves its brand into emotional stories about personal relationships like parenthood, heartbreak, and unrequited love. All that is what Filipinos see, taste, and love. 

What is less obvious is the efficiency with which all these are delivered, which is very much borrowed from McDonald’s processes. In a way, this combination reflects the cultural history of the Philippines – an Asian country with centuries of colonization under Spain and the U.S. And with that comes an unusual mix of cultural qualities that Jollibee has so successfully tapped into: some Latin warmth and festiveness, an American taste for fast food and convenience, and the value Asians place on personal relationships.

Arthur Policarpio, CEO, Mobext Philippines: Jollibee is at the top of the list because of the sheer scale in the market. But there’s a lot of factors behind it. They have the scale, distribution and have done a fantastic job of capturing the local tastes of Filipinos who like their product a little more sweet than competitors – their spaghetti tastes different, for example.

From a brand building and marketing point of view they’ve also been investing a lot in emotive videos that capture the heart.  Culturally, we’re very emotional people so a lot of family-based and heart-warming campaigns really come through a lot.  This is one of the few markets in the world where a local fast-food chain is so strong. When Jollibee opens up in other countries Filipinos line up overnight and wait for it to open in a new location in another market – it is that strong of a brand.

Pauline Fermin, managing director, Acumen Strategic Consulting: Jollibee is one of the very few local brands who take brand-building very seriously, thus they apply rigor and discipline in each and every step of the process.They know their target market very well – both at the (a) big picture level:  who they are as filipinos – their values, culture, pain points, joys – as well as the different segments – kids, teens, young adults, parents, families and (b) how they relate to food, and to Jollibee food in particular.  They do this through not just through qualitative, regular insighting but also through hard-core quantitative analytics. 

Their thorough understanding of the consumers is the starting point of them being able to make their products relevant to each of the target segments based on a disciplined portfolio approach. Each of their products (chicken, spaghetti, hamburger, breakfast, etc) and services (delivery, take home, etc) are treated as sub-brands with their own positioning statements. It is in how they connect the functional and emotional benefits of each of their sub-brands to what is truly important to the respective target markets that is at the core of the success of Jollibee as a brand. 

They have created such strong relevance to all the segments they are targeting.  Filipinos in general associate many emotions to food and to eating, and Jollibee was able to tap into those emotions for each segment: the happiness of celebrating children’s birthdays, the joy of eating yummy chicken together as a family, the thrill and disappointment of young love, the simple child’s excitement of eating spaghetti with parents, the fulfillment of seeing a now-adult child to being financially independent, and so on and so forth.  And importantly, Jollibee connects all these to their product – the food is always central to the positioning.

Which brings me to the next point:  All of the positioning and communications will not be effective in building the brand unless they are able to deliver on the most basic promise – affordable, and delicious food that is by now very familiar to the taste preferences of the filipinos.  The taste profile of their products (notably Chickenjoy, Yumburger and Jolly Spaghetti) have all been optimized to be the best-tasting one for the Filipino market in general.  Product development is the start, but quality control is also part of the rigor. Importantly too, Jollibee finds the right inflection point between quality and price, in order to hit the sweet spot of value-for-money imagery that is so important for the Filipino mass market.  

Others that did well are: Magnolia San Miguel, Bench,  Cherry Mobile & My Phone Mobile.  Why might they resonate well?

De Borja: Bench, Cherry Mobile and MyPhone are about putting an aspiration within reach. Each of these are strong value-brands that made something accessible to the broad market: fashion in the case of Bench, and mobile handsets (including incredibly cheap smartphones) in the case of Cherry Mobile and Myphone.

These brands had a great sense of market timing and provided what consumers were hungry for then went in aggressively. Bench started in the late 80s when Filipinos were becoming more fashion conscious but had limited brands available locally. MyPhone and Cherry entered between 2008 and 2010 – just shortly after the iPhone was released: a phone every Filipino knew about but few could afford. 

MyPhone in particular is interesting as it is proudly brands itself as the first “Filipino phone” (including a Philippine map boldly etched on the back of handsets) - risky considering the country isn’t known for electronics and our traditional appreciation for things imported, but also shrewd considering the difficulty of standing out in the category a rising sense of nationhood.

MyPhone mobile

Fermin: Magnolia’s presence in many different everyday consumption categories (ice cream, dairy, poultry) plus historical communications on “quality” has made them a staple household name.  Magnolia is a heritage brand that has been in the market for many many years and thus every Filipino consume a Magnolia product regularly. The brand recently underwent a branding refresh that kept its visual identity more contemporary, coupled with product line extensions in the various categories. In ice cream, it maintains a value-for-money proposition and their recent product line extensions solidified their ownership of being a Filipino brand.  Magnolia chicken is the undisputed market leader behind very strong quality imagery.

Similarly, San Miguel is a heritage brand that is an icon in the alcoholic beverage category.  It has been in the market for many years and thus for a large proportion of the Filipino market, was their first ever alcoholic experience.  Thus, there is top-of-mind recall for this brand across different demographics.

Bench is the first local fashion brand that truly invested in marketing and brand-building.  It effectively used celebrities to endorse the brand, which is the right approach given the psyche of Filipinos about fashion – they want to look and feel like their celebrity idols.  Importantly too, Bench delivers on value for money – balancing quality and price better than local fashion brands.

Cherry Mobile and My Phone are strong local brands because they meet the mass market’s need for affordable smart phones.  The adoption of smartphones have been rapid among the middle to lower income classes whose purchasing power restrict their access to global mobile phone brands. 

Policarpio: Magnolia has been in the market quite a while.  Generations have been enjoying these snacks since they were a kid so they’re literal part of the Philippine culture. San Miguel is also a heritage brand, it’s been in the local market for like 100 years. The sheer length of time these have been in the market plays into it.  From a distribution and availability point of view they’re very ubiquitous in every supermarket, every corner and convenience store.

From a category point of view these are in line with top consumption categories. Filipinos have very much a fun-loving culture.  If you look at these brands we see food & beverage and mobile phones with the exception of Bench. If you look at the needs of a Filipino I think food and mobile phone use would be among the top priorities from a personal point of view.

Cherry Mobile and MyPhone Mobile are very interesting in the sense that these are local mobile phone brands that have dominated the market.  These are the leading players from a volume standpoint and the main consideration really here is the price. These two players really represent the tipping point in the Philippines smartphone market. So when Cherry Mobile and MyPhone Mobile started introducing their low-cost handsets into the market, that is really what made the smartphone market explode locally in terms of penetration and volume. Very good functioning smartphones at an incredibly low price.

Bench succeeds because it is a celebrity-driven brand.  They invest a lot in fashion shows and influencer-driven marketing. Filipinos love celebrities so they have a really strong following.

Bench/ Fashion Week Instagram post

Do you think local Filipino brands generally are under threat from encroaching global or non-local players or not?  Why?

Fermin: I don’t think we can generalize it one way or another for all categories.  In some categories, local brands have the edge and have built enough strength to withstand any attempt by global brands.  In some categories, foreign brands continue to be the strongest (e.g. Coca-Cola) because they have effectively built a relationship with Filipino consumers 

Policarpio: It depends on the category. For certain categories which have very strong heritage local brands it might be difficult to break in. So in food and beverage San Miguel and Magnolia might control most of the market – they’re not under threat by sheer market dominance. But there are categories where local brands are threatened like in the retail space. There have been a lot of entrants that do well locally. Japanese brands like Uniqlo are doing very well locally from a fashion point of view.

De Borja: Traditionally the Philippines has been outward looking, getting our aspirations from the West (in particular the U.S.). It used to be difficult to get imported brands in terms of both price and selection. In the past international brands had an advantage simply by virtue of being ‘imported’. With increasing purchasing power and liberalisation in the past years, this has been shifting. In almost all areas – from restaurant franchises to appliances, cars, packaged food, clothing, houseware, global brands are readily available. The end result is that ‘imported’ has lost some of its luster. Directionally, it feels that the global brands are the ones with something to lose versus local ones in the hearts and minds of Filipinos.

It’s what the brand stands for and what it brings to the table in terms of catering to Filipino tastes that matters. And in that sense, local brands may have an advantage. Increasingly fickle consumers also reward agility which smaller organizations tend to be better at. This isn’t to say that global brands are going to struggle simply because they are non-Filipino.  When they get it right, the market provides a lot of room for growth and international brands tend to be able to scale quickly and lock in their success. So in short, a brand’s origin in itself no longer implies success or failure.

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