Q&A: The factors that make Philippines a unique market

We asked three in-markets experts for their insights into Filipino consumers.

Q&A: The factors that make Philippines a unique market

We asked three in-markets experts for their insights into Filipino consumers. 


  • JP Salustiano, chief strategy officer, IPG Mediabrands Philippines
  • Divine Gil Reyes, chief creative officer, Perkcomm Inc.
  • Third Domingo, CEO, IdeaXMachina

What distinguishes the Philippine consumer market from others? What are the most interesting trends in Philippines that make its consumer market unique in Asia?

Salustiano: What makes Philippines distinct from other markets is a peculiar combination of different contradictions. We idolise trailblazers, but we are risk-averse. In most cases, great campaigns push the envelope and transcend barriers. People look up to people, brands, and campaigns that challenge the status quo. Yet when it is their turn to step up to the plate, most tend to over-analyse and churn out something safe. We usually wait for others’ success before we do something, which is why we are still a bit traditional in certain areas.

We are the social media capital of the world, but we still consume traditional media heavily. It is known that we spend the most time on social media compared to any country in the world, yet we remain to be one of the most prolific viewers of television.

We are “proudly Filipino,” but our outlook is global. Philippine pride comes from our inherent nationalism, coupled with victories of people like Manny Pacquiao or Pia Wurtzbach on a global stage. However, since we are an archipelago, the capitals are highly urbanised, but the majority of our land area remains to be rural. This means that people from Metro Manila or Metro Cebu live fast lifestyles and are aware of global trends, but in the provinces, the pace of life much slower with a significant lag when it comes to new technology. The good news is that smartphone penetration is starting to pick up in recent months, and we’re anticipating a rapid spike in digital acceptance in the provinces. Our economy is also growing, but this growth is being felt mostly by the upper and middle classes in the urban cities, and has yet to fully trickle down to the lower income groups.

Reyes: What makes the Philippine market different is that it is highly diverse: in terms of culture, language and socio-economic class. Imagine trying to reach millions who speak different languages (most speak/understand English but we have over a hundred languages/dialects), spread across so many islands.

Emotional stories are a trend not only in the Philippines but also in other markets, but we have a special name for it: “hugot". It literally means “to pull out” or “to draw out” emotions from a person, and it may be through a big life experience or something mundane. Hugot stories may be heartbreakingly sad, or deliberately spun into hysterically funny situations. These are the kinds of stories that get a lot of shares online.

Domingo: The Philippine consumer market is excited for the future. The robust young population is social media savvy and the next two decades will see a very strong upper middle class. Despite some arguable political turmoil, the momentum of the economy is too strong, and we have our world-renowned optimistic mindset.

Most interesting trends? That's the funny thing. What ever is the trend in the world is the trend in the Philippines. We are THAT "to the times". Just look at Spotify.

What are some of the cultural, political and regulatory issues that brands need to be aware of when marketing in Philippines?

Salustiano: Aside from the already strict government and industry regulations, advertisers need to mindful of politics and religion, as well as some societal issues. Coming from last year’s presidential election, the country is currently divided when it comes to political views. Associating a brand with a particular side would be too risky, and would likely have a polarising effect—even if there’s good fit.

Reyes: I believe the Philippines is still more conservative than other countries; it’s good to be cautious or respectful about what the people hold sacred.
Domingo: The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, certain moral issues on tolerance should always be considered. Our political landscape is also quite sensitive, so better to avoid any leanings.
Is there anything advertisers need to avoid?
Salustiano: Religion is a given. Being predominantly Catholic, brands should not challenge the Catholic church and Christian beliefs. One interesting finding though is that the minority groups like Muslims don’t really mind if there are Catholic-skewed shows and ads. We don’t hear any backlash whenever a “Catholic” ad airs, as long as it doesn’t go against others’ faith.
Relative to other markets, Filipinos are still more conservative and brands rarely take on controversial issues and challenge societal norms. One could say that the market as a whole is not mature enough to embrace some of the changes. In general, most brands avoid these topics altogether. Only a handful of advertisers can successfully embrace controversy.
Advertisers also need to anticipate a potential backlash. Filipinos tend to be hyper-sensitive especially on social media, which is why brands and agencies need to apply extra care when crafting messages. Another cultural quirk is our fanaticism. Filipinos adore showbiz personalities and there is always a flavour of the month (or in our case, flavour of the year). This year, the most popular endorser would be Liza Soberano. Last year it was JaDine. In 2015, Aldub broke the internet, while the year prior, it was Anne Curtis who seemed to be on every billboard and TVC.
Reyes:  Filipinos are fiercely loyal to their beliefs. If their views are being attacked, they can tear you down on social media! The market is very critical and very vocal—the smallest mistake can launch a nationwide controversy.
Domingo: Politics. Moral norms, as mentioned, and anything that has to do with illegal drugs.

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