Manila Vanilla

What it's like to be a U.S. Fulbright scholar, basketball player, journalist, and the whitest man in Metro Manila.

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Location: Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

New Yorker by birth, shipped across the globe to the world of malls, shanty-towns, patronage, corruption, basketball and a curious burnt-toast smell that wafts around at dusk

Thursday, July 13, 2006


When they write the book on over-the-top, gonzo marketing, the Philippines will have its own chapter. I've written about some of the more blatant examples in previous Manila Vanilla posts.

Cigarette companies, which aren't as strictly regulated here as in the United States, seem particularly shameless to the foreign eye. Hope, the "Luxury Cigarette" runs commercials that look like B-roll from late-'80s swimsuit videos with blonde couple sprawled on a beach, puffing blithely. Hope also wraps the basket stanchions at PBA games with their logo, so that the thousands of people watching athletes sprint up and down a court for 48 minutes can feel inspired to head outside and smoke a victory cigarette after the game. In Champion cigarettes' advertisements, a Lance Armstrong look-alike crosses the finish line in his yellow jersey and immediately whips out a stick and takes a long drag while a jingle reminds the television audience to "savor your winning moment with champion cigarettes."

Everything Manny knows about product endorsements he learned from this man.

And then there's the national hero du jour, Manny Pacquiao, whose achievements in advertising are almost as impressive as his boxing feats. The Pac-Man endorses everything under the sun, from apparel to karaoke machines, booze to painkillers, McDonald's to athletic socks. There's a joke going around town that says Pacquiao's foes can't handle the little feller because they're distracted by all the logos on his trunks. Pacquiao certainly isn't a trailblazing pitch-man, however.

Filipino athletes have been cashing in on their fame for decades, and it's hard to blame them, since they may the only people in this society who go from true poverty to the upper class. Most entertainers, it seems, come from elite dynasties of the acting, political or business varieties. There are definitely exceptions, but there's less room for nepotism in sports, because no matter who sired you, if you don't have the game you won't make it. And as is often the case when it comes to Philippine basketball, all roads lead to Jaworski. Sonny Jaworski perfected the ridiculous endorsement game -- as well as knocking out refs, playing until you're 50 and becoming a senator games -- before Manny Pacquiao was born. The best example I've found of the selling of Jaworski was mentioned in a 1978 issue of Atlas Sports Weekly. The Big J appeared in ads for San Miguel's Cerveza Negra. The TV spots showed him weight training, shooting endless jump shots, running wind sprints and then downing a frothy mug of dark ale. "After a workout, I drink Cerveza Negra," Jaworski says in the ad. "It's refreshing. It's invigorating. It's good." And he meant it. When a reporter asked him if he really topped off his workouts with a glass of beer, Jaworski responded, "Naturally," then showed his true gift for promotion by throwing in a plug for his PBA employer. "And of course it goes without saying that the car I drive is a Toyota." Oh, Big J, you sly fox.

Score another one for subtlety.

But when it comes to exploiting this country's roundball fixation, one product stands head and shoulders above the rest. Growee, a multi-vitamin syrup for children with magic growth ingredient Chlorella growth factor! The label shows a cute little boy in a blue basketball uniform lining up a shot in front of a background that resembles a ruler. Did I mention that it's called Growee! Of course, the back of the box comes with a handy disclaimer, "No approved therapeutic claims," just in case consumers might be tempted to assume the syrup that comes in the bottle marked "Growee," which comes in the box with a picture of a basketball player in front of a ruler might help their children grow into tall PBA players. To my knowledge, there are no multivitamins called Taho-ee! or PediCab Power, which offer thinly veiled promises to turn children into strong-shouldered bucket carriers or mighty-calved cyclists. The basketball fantasy, with its luxury and heroism, must sell better.

Growee's marketing team has paid attention to detail. The young player wears a blue uniform that resembles an Ateneo Blue Eagles uniform. This can't be a coincidence. Ateneo de Manila University is synonymous with wealth and power. The students arrive at the Katipunan campus with drivers, bodyguards and occasionally ya-yas (nannies) in tow. Their alumni, along with De La Salle, University of Santo Tomas and sometimes the University of the Philippines, run the country, from business to government to the military. Their basketball teams compete for the UAAP championship every year, with legendary coach Norman Black, a Baltimore-bred transplant who was known as Mr. 100 Percent during his PBA playing career and who went on to coach San Miguel Beer and Santa Lucia Realty to PBA championships before taking over the Ateneo job, at the helm. The makers of Growee would like you to believe that your boy can attend Ateneo, make the varsity and eventually become an embezzling Senator if he just drinks a teaspoon of Growee everyday. The player on the box is also holding a Spalding TF series ball, which many basketball players will recognize as one of the top rocks on the market, and not a common sight in the Philippines, where many kids' first ball is a rolled up pair of socks.

In defense of Growee, Chlorella growth factor has proven health benefits. Chlorella is a rapidly reproducing, photosynthetic algae. It has one of the highest levels of nucleic acids of any food supplement, and has been linked to increased growth in children, faster healing from illnesses and other good things. But I'd like to meet a professional basketball player anywhere who will say that Growee was the secret to his success. Actually, if the price is right, I'm sure Jaworski will say so. Beer and algae -- the keys to the Big J's basketball longevity. And well, according to this Web site, if the whole height thing doesn't work out for Filipino children who take Growee, at least the Chlorella will stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in their colons.


Anonymous Ray the Pizza Guy said...

Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi get this stuff shipped from Manila by the case. They grow very muscular and fart like a couple racehorses due to the bacteria/colon colony.
I asked Giambi about the GROWEEE stuff when he was in for a slice (my pizza joint is right off the West Side Highway, near The Hustler Club) late one night. He just smiled and told me to worry about the pizza business, not his.
I took that as an affirmative. The truth is now out! Let them test Bonds & Giambi for GROWEEE!!!
What's the testing procedure? Bacterial samples? You got it.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

excuse me, when i went to ateneo, i didnt have a driver, bodyguard or yaya. so there. but that only lasted a few months. till my mother realized how important it was to show off, and she wasnt gonna get left behind. hahaha.

missed reading your blog, blogs are banned in china.

12:00 AM  
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8:38 PM  
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5:56 PM  
Blogger skinnyblackcladdink said...

hope you don't mind a stranger commenting here, i ran across your blog while doing research for work.

actually, i have to disagree with your last statements: no, it has no "proven" health benefits. the reason why they say "no approved therapeutic claims" is because whatever studies are available to "support" said therapeutic claims aren't, for one reason or another, enough to provide scientifically acceptable evidence for those claims.

this is pseudoscience, and until stringent, controlled clinical trials are completed that support their claims, the whole thing remains just another marketing scam.

5:09 PM  

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