MANILA, NOVEMBER 29, 2003  (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporal - The way to a Filipino consumer’s heart is through his funnybone. The latest batch of political jokes spreading like wildfire via text messages attests to this. The high ratings of sitcoms – some of them bordering on the silly and absurd – is a testament to this joie de vivre Pinoy-style. The humorous television ads poking fun at almost everything from curious personal habits to interpersonal relationships – particularly the on-again, off-again relationship between a son and his mother-in-law – that depict the typical Filipino way of life are one of the most awaited "events" on primetime TV.

Recently, one TV ad has captured the hearts – not to mention "nakuha ang kiliti" – of Pinoy consumers. Petron ‘s Ultron ad of a balikbayan mother-in-law created such an impact that had comedians mouthing its "Walang ganyan sa States" phrase. For this particular ad, however, the bickerings have been replaced by a more civil yet still lively exchange between the son-in-law, who patiently endures his mom-in-law’s putdowns, and his hard-to-please biyenan.

The brainchild of advertising agency Loewe-Lintas with inputs from the Petron advertising department team, the "Balikbayan"ad shows a balikbayan mother-in-law who starts criticizing and making "walang ganyan sa States" comments about the traffic, potholes and chaotic street scenes as soon as she arrives. When her grandchildren peppers her with hugs and kisses at the end, her son-in-law uses her favorite phrase on her that shuts her up and has her smiling sheepishly in embarrassment.

Taking all of three days to make, the ad has a real balikbayan mother-in-law to play the lead. Everyone involved in the production agreed that US-based Monette Galang was perfect for the role for her bubbly personality. Directed by Raul Ona, the final copy of the ad was chosen over two other storyboards since it exemplified a typical family setting involving these humorous characters.

The most challenging part of the whole process, according to Petron advertising department head Charmaine V. Canillas, was coming up with an ad that would complement the product, in this case a lubricant. "A lubricant is a lubricant. It has no aesthetics to speak of. But nobody has really related it to the reality of everyday living until now," she says.

Canillas adds that Filipinos have always associated lubricants with racing and other extreme road conditions. What they don’t realize, she says, is that extreme conditions don’t mean continuous driving but the constant stop-and-go, as well as the heat, dust and engine exhaust, that one can find right in the metropolis.

"The Pinoy’s reality is what you see outside. Di ka pa nakakaandar, stop na; di ka pa nakakastop, go na. Our proposition is really simple and has not changed since we developed the positioning for Ultron in 1986 – the ultimate release from engine stress. We just made it more relevant now and zeroed in on the primary target which is the Pinoy motorist," explains Canillas.

Cheche Tugbang, who was part of the Petron team who took care of the project, tells us that the ad was produced "to tell the motorists that we understand their needs and make them realize that your cars are important to you because that is where we spend time and share a lot of experiences, with our loved ones."

In a way, the son personified the "vehicle" who was subjected to the stress brought about by the "irritant," represented by the mother-in-law. And Ultron? Well, Ultron comes to the rescue, literally and figuratively speaking. It protects the car from the daily grind, and it saves the son from his biyenan’s critical attitude by transporting her safely home.

The so-called "emotional hook"is a tried-and-tested formula as far as advertisers are concerned. It’s that little tug at the heartstrings. According to Canillas, they wanted to tell consumers that no matter how hard the day went, one has a family to come home to, which makes everything all right at the end of the day. Definitely, a "walang ganyan sa States" moment.

The first Ultron TV ad produced years ago was not anything like the "Balikbayan" ad now. Then it was all high-tech gobbledygook which could only be understood by car experts and technicians. The challenge was to make it more layman-friendly and more relevant to day-to-day living. "Why come up with something preachy when you could make it light and easy? The Filipino consumer is smart so you have to talk to him as an equal," says Canillas. "

The Petron commercial’s impact on the Pinoy consumer’s consciousness resulted in a 38 percent increase in sales of Ultron, says Canillas. "We were not known before as a lubricant company but somehow we have shaken things up a bit," she enthuses.

At the moment, the radio version of the "Balikbayan" ad is lording it over the airwaves, this one having carabaos included in the picture as the setting of the story is rural. A campaign to sustain the interest and awareness of consumers about Ultron is currently underway as well.

Apart from the durability of traditional advertising including TV, radio and print, Canillas and company are maximizing the possibilities being offered by non-traditional advertising schemes. Non-traditional can be anything, from casual ads (i.e. having a celebrity wear or endorse the product) to events (i.e. show sponsorships), among others. This form of advertising, after all, can only be limited by one’s imagination.

For a company that has been here for generations, Petron has flowed smoothly with the changes and challenges of time. From the traditional and conservative approach, it has changed gears and stepped on the gas towards a more relevant, contemporary and fun image. Going by the kinds of ads it’s been making the past years wherein people are treated as thinking and feeling beings, and injecting these with humor that only Pinoys can truly appreciate, this company has penetrated the quirks of the Filipino psyche, and captivating his heart in the process. Truly, walang ganyan sa States.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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