Just being different isn’t the point

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on December 24, 2010

Just about a month ago, Filipinos demonstrated their disdain for change for the sake of change with the debut and rapid withdrawal of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) proposed new imagery and slogan for the Philippines’ country branding initiative, Pilipinas kay Ganda. As you’ll recall, that initiative was riddled with a number of infirmities, including plagiarized imagery; a dull, curious slogan; and, a URL embarrassingly similar to a porn site.

In the uproar following the preview cum launch of the branding program, still current and now former DOT officials responsible conceded that the program’s development was rushed; did not benefit from focus group review, surveys or other research; and did in fact, drew “inspiration” from Poland’s tourism campaign for reasons that are unclear. Poland’s campaign isn’t particularly memorable or innovative. The reason for the rush was the urgent need for something new and different from the previous administration.

The near universally critical appraisal of the branding initiative demonstrated very clearly that just being different isn’t what Filipinos are looking for in their relatively new government. While there seems little doubt that the nation wants to move away from the flawed political culture and negative country brand image that characterized the previous administration, Filipinos clearly want to see their government do things differently in a good-even great-way.

Apparently, however, that lesson has still to sink in. With the embers of the crash and burn of Pilipinas kay Ganda still glowing, the Philippines announced another visibility initiative last week. Like the ill-fated DOT experiment, the launch of colorful new banknotes meant to showcase the Philippines’ natural wonders left many wondering if government officials are as concerned with “getting it right” as they are with “getting it done.”

Like Pilipinas kay Ganda, the design of the new banknotes appears to have been rushed, with the result that sloppy work has again drawn the ire of Filipinos. Judging from news reports, three errors are particularly irksome, it seems. The first involves a rendering of the rare blue-naped parrot, which is indigenous to the Philippines. Along with a blue nape, this special bird also sports a red beak. Except on the new P500 bill, where it is yellow. The parrot’s tail feathers are also incorrectly rendered.

Two other issues involve maps on the P500 and P1,000 bill, and the misplacement of two UNESCO world heritage sites. It’s one thing for prospective tourists and investors to be ill-informed in terms of the locations of these sites, but quite another for Filipinos, especially those drawing them on maps. While no one expects to be using a banknote for a map, marketing collateral for tourism-even if it’s a banknote-should provide reasonably accurate locations for top attractions.

The P500 bill provides the wrong location for Saint Paul’s, a spectacular subterranean river. A map on the P1,000 bill shows another UNESCO world heritage site, the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, approximately 400 kilometers from its actual location according to Jon Villasper. Mr. Villasper is a cartographer and a member of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. He was quoted in a report on the new banknotes that appeared on Australia’s ABC network website. Good news always travels fast.

The map shows the Tubbataha reef “on or near Malaysian territorial waters” according to the ABC Australia report. Perhaps most damaging of all, the map-featured on all six of the new banknotes-appears to exclude Batanes as Philippine territory. But while these mistakes might seem laughable-for good reasons-does it make sense for critics to get so riled up about them, or the Pilipinas kay Ganda debacle for that matter?

Controversy over the design of banknotes is not unique to the Philippines. Many historians, for instance, believe that Andrew Jackson-as a general and later president of the United States-so mistreated native Indians that his image is unsuitable to appear on the $20 bill. Australia backtracked on the label of its currency in the early 1960s, ditching “Royal” for “dollar.” The Philippines has had a series of banknote controversies, such as misspelling the name of the president during the previous administration.

The sheer number of alleged errors in the new Philippine banknotes does seem to be something of a record. Despite the expense, chances are they will be revised soon. When they are, it will be good to bear in mind that fixing them involves fixing them right.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand . Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2010 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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