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

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Alaska Commercials

I've got plans to start posting much more regularly. Those sound like famous last words, but I've read a handful of alarmist stories -- here in the New York Observer, and again, in the New Yorker -- about the demise of print media, and since audiences are migrating online, I'm going to try to blog more often.

I'll start off simple with You Tube links to a couple Alaska Milk commercials. I had the pleasure of spending a conference with Alaska's PBA team, the Aces, last year, and whenever I manage to write something decent about Philippine basketball, much of it will be thanks to the access and information they provided me. Alaska recently came out with a fabulous new commercial starring their extremely telegenic -- when he's not flashing you -- star player, Willie Miller. Miller explains that Alaska has been involved with sports for a long time, since even before he was born, then they just let a 1974 TV ad do the rest of the talking. Let's watch it first, then review some of the highlights.




Some thoughts: 1. I'm not sure if this is as hilarious to people who don't know much Tagalog and don't hear the language spoken around them on a daily basis, but Cisco Oliver's Tagalog phrases are classic. "Galing mo!" -- you're good! "Masarap?" -- "Delicious?" He spits the words out like he accidentally got a mouthful of ants in his cassava cake.

2.
Cisco Oliver, from what I've read, seems to be the prototype for the modern import in the PBA. Although commercial league teams had hired Americans to reinforce local squads since at least the 1950s, Oliver was one of the first high-scoring, loose-living, flamboyant black imports. I mention race here because there really is racial bent to local thinking towards imports. Teams that hire white players become the punchlines for jokes between players, coaches, sportscasters and other league insiders. From what I could tell, Oliver played on a lot of terrible teams and scored a ton of points, and for some reason was allowed to play even during All-Filipino conferencces. The same for an old-school bruiser named Billy Robinson who looked like the ex-wrestler the Junkyard Dog. I'll try to get to the bottom of this.

3.
The Alaska boy! Even in his native language he sounds ridiculous. I've been trying to perfect his "Yeah" for the past three days. Promoting your product with a blond American boy seems antiquated, even in the light skin-coveting world of Philippine pop culture. Nowadays, advertisers tend to go for mestiza children who look only partly American or Chinese. Alaska, however, still has this Children of the Damned blond boy on their milk boxes, and it makes the company's name even more confusing, since Alaska has nothing to do with the 49th state. It's really "alas ka" -- "you're an ace" in Tagalog." But why name your product in the local language, then slap a foreign face on the box? It's a moot point, now. That boy is iconic, now, and the company has to keep him for brand awareness reasons.

All in all, kudos to Alaska for putting together a funny commercial. It sure beats the commercials from a year ago that featured animated maxi pads doing calisthenics.

Commercial number two is the Alaska girl basketball spot. I worked as a sports consultant on this shoot, trying to make the girls look like they knew how to play. The lead, Sara, was pretty good and easy to teach. In some cases, the directors actually had an easier time getting her to execute the basketball moves than to emote properly on camera. My favorite part of the shoot was when the director explained to Sara that he wanted her to "Jumujordan." He turned Jordan into a Tagalog um-verb. I think everyone wishes they could Jumordan.

10 Comments:

Blogger nwt said...

Shit, I know I wish I could Jumordan. Right after I finish magjogging and mag-Armstrong.

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That iconic white kid looks like the kid in Mad Max w/ the slicing boomerang. Milk good for the kids in any case, plus the link between good nutrition & playing ball is always on the plus side. The linguistic ticklers aren't obvious to non-Tagalog speakers, except via tone nuance. To wit, 98% of Americans ain't gonna get the language thing. Nonetheless, it's good to read your analysis & history of the ads. Cool.

1:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that the blond boy is Fred Uytengsu, the owner of Alaska, back when he was just a little boy.

5:18 PM  
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4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Alaska kid is actually Michael Uytengsu, the son of Alaska CEO Wilfed Uytengsu, Sr. His brother, Wilfred Jr, is the current President and COO of Alaska Milk. Michael didn't go into the family business, but settled in the US where he worked as an investment banker. Presently he's the CEO of the California Pretzel Company, Inc.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the Uytengsu brothers had an American mother. Though Fred seems to look more Chinese then his brother.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

More info on the Alaska website. Link

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