Posts by Pam Garcia - Manila

7-Eleven, Fruitas try to douse Filipinos’ election anxiety with a sip

fruitas-cupIt’s just a month to the Philippine elections, which will determine the next president and vice president and fill senatorial slots. Since the vote will have a major impact on the fate of people’s lives and that of the country, Filipinos cited the elections as a source of considerable anxiety in JWT’s 10 Trends local research, conducted in December 2009. For example, an engineer we interviewed said the elections will determine whether he needs to worry about his personal stability, as well as the country’s.

Convenience-store chain 7-Eleven and juice chain Fruitas are seeking to defuse anxiety during the lead-up to the elections with a bit of fun. The “7-Elections” promotion carries the fun line “Every Gulp counts” and offers 10 colorful cups decorated with each candidate’s face for customers buying a Gulp drink. Each choice mimics one vote (there’s even one for those abstaining or undecided). A Web site tracks the votes and shows a daily tally. For my friend who likes Fruitas’ fruit shakes, sipping from the colorful cups that feature each candidate’s slogan gives her a moment to think about how to exercise her civic duty.

Does your brand have an opportunity to ease your consumers’ anxiety when it’s at its height?


Photo Credits: Pam G.,

In the Philippines, banks target shoppers still searching for stability

In a recession year, what a surprise it was last month to see a modest Filipino family hauling a big box containing their new widescreen TV. Before they rushed off to do more shopping, in answer to my query they said the purchase was “thanks to the credit cards—their offers are better this month!” bdo-credit-card

Off I went to the appliance store to investigate. What I found is that banks were offering extended payment like never before. Credit cards from Citibank and BDO (Banco de Oro) touted “Buy now, pay in 2010” and “Pay much later” schemes. Surely a big help to the Filipino family with a primary breadwinner still working abroad and perhaps a little late coming home for Christmas. Or families still feeling unstable because a member lost a well-paying job in 2009.
And banks know that in December, along with splurging on food for their family, the typical Filipino family loves TV Christmas specials and soap operas, now amplified for some in wide-screen splendor.

Photo Credit:

A Filipino ice cream chain coolly captures the pleasure-price ratio

icecreamstoresaDuring a recent in-home consumer visit, a local orthodontist confessed to us that her secret simple pleasure is discovering new ice cream experiences. To her, this is the best reward after a hard week of fitting dentures for her clients. Her lament is that beyond the usual brands, her discoveries tend to be on the premium side. Häagen-Dazs Cafe, for example, has not added branches in Manila.

Enter the seemingly generic Ice Cream Store sa ___ (roughly translated, Ice Cream store at ___).The branch owner fills in the blank with the relevant street name for that homey neighborhood feel. According to blog reviews, the taste, presentation and variety of the ice cream concoctions, as well as the impulse products, are comparable to those of big-name brands Selecta (Unilever-Walls), the local Magnolia brand from San Miguel, and Nestlé Ice Cream, which has a single store, Nestlé Ice Cream House.

Now with more than 20 branches around the Philippines, restaurant meals in Ice Cream Store sa ___ start at only 39 pesos, or about 81 cents; for 89 pesos, or roughly $1.80, you can get a full rice meal. (After all, what is a Filipino restaurant without rice?) The dine-in customer experiences a bright, diner-like, neighborly atmosphere without the snooty feel.

In times of difficulty, consumers will always seek small indulgences. And that may be as easy as going down the street.

How vitamin C got hot among Filipino street kids

nutri-c-as-vitamin-energy-drinkTalking to consumers one hot day in a lower-income neighborhood of Manila, we stopped by one of the street stores called “sari-sari” (roughly translated, “we sell all kinds”) for refreshment. Excitedly, the storekeeper offered us the hottest drink among the street toughs—Nutri-C, a do-it-yourself, two-in-one energy drink/vitamin C concoction.

Here’s how it works: For three pesos (roughly 75 American cents), you get a small 12 gram sachet of powder. Then comes the DIY part: Mix this with the small bottle of drinking water you brought from home, and voila! You get your daily portion of vitamin C (or so says the label). And because the DIY mixing requirement mimics how adults drink the energy beverage Extra Joss, my street kid informer noted, “It feels like it is not just my vitamin C, it is also my Extra Joss!”

Consumers will improvise and mix their own in a recession—how can brands take advantage of their desire for involvement?

In the Philippines, packaging is key for thrifty consumers

img_0704Filipino kids are taught not to be wasteful—our moms always reminded us to finish all the food on our plate, not keep the water running while bathing and turn on lights only when it got dark. And in these trying times, this Filipino value of thrift and resourcefulness is thriving, as we noted when we visited consumers’ homes recently. We met one woman who washed her hair using the small dipper pail (“tabo”) that Filipinos use in the bathroom and caught the rinse water in another pail for cleaning the bathroom floors. Some people invert their bottle of shampoo or lotion halfway through the bottle to ensure that every last drop is used and not left clinging to the side.

Another consumer practice is to go for the cheaper refill packs of fabric conditioner, pouring it into old bottles. Now Vaseline shampoo is responding with the first refill pack in the shampoo category, and adding 50 percent more to the product. Just one example of how, during difficult times, smart brands can use packaging to maximize their consumers’ experience of the product.

In the Philippines, repair brands are ‘recession-proof’

mr-quickieIn times of difficulty, consumers count their blessings—and count what’s in their closet. Somehow, that old thing can be made new again.

Mr. Quickie, the Philippines’ pioneer in shoe repair, is heavily advertising franchise ownership in commuter-friendly channels like the MRT train radio or PA system, touting the franchises as “recession proof.” And a growing number of small businesses in Manila are offering clothes repair and renewal. Carol, a consumer who is a heavy user of the Alterations Plus retailer, says that adding an updated collar or cool button to a beloved old jacket or dress “makes me feel I have bought a new wardrobe!”

It’s not only during a recession that repair brands here enjoy heavy business. Filipinos, being thrifty and resourceful, have natural times of the year when this mind-set peaks—graduation season in March and pre-holidays in November find long lines at these stores.

7-Eleven Philippines serves up a daily pleasure

brewed-pleasure_manilaThe recession opens up opportunities for brands to identify gaps in the market and create products that provide affordable indulgence. Here’s one good example:

In this country, a sachet (single-dose pack) of Nescafe Instant Coffee is the common waker-upper, while brewed coffee remains an indulgent luxury for many. 7-Eleven Philippines, which used to offer only vending-machine-type instant coffee, is attempting to fill this gap with brewed coffee priced at 35 pesos a cup (roughly 72 cents). By comparison, Starbucks sets you back at least 90 pesos ($1.85).

The catch: DIY. You pour your own brew from the coffee machine and put on the cover and sleeve. The silver lining: Unlike Starbucks, where you wait for your barista, here you pay, DIY-assemble and you’re off.

7-Eleven’s coffee has proved popular among the office crowd, even in Makati streets, where convenience stores are side by side with Starbucks. In offices we visited, 7-Eleven’s coffee cup was as prevalent as Starbucks’ green and white cup.

Playing the serving size game

edenThere’s a belief that the Philippines is perpetually in crisis mode, but the first quarter of the year has brought more intense worry as job loss becomes a harsh reality. More than 15,000 workers have been laid off in the past two months. Tina Aquino, a housewife we interviewed last week for an ethnographic study, has been preparing for the eventuality that her husband, an engineer based in Qatar, will be laid off. She’s been hoarding their savings and downsizing to the smallest packs possible of the family’s basic necessities. Take, for example, Kraft Eden Cheese, a favorite of her young son’s. Instead of taking it out of her grocery basket altogether and making do with plain “pandesal” (Filipino bread), she bought the smallest size, the 50 gram “Sulit Pack” (loosely translated as Best Value pack), which will fill two or three sandwich snacks this week.

In times of recession, brands would do well to avoid being taken out of the running altogether by studying the serving size vs. the price consumers are willing to pay that day.