Pacquiao in LA

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on August 13, 2011

“They said I couldn’t win a fight. But I did. They said I couldn’t fight above my weight class. But I did. They said I couldn’t get elected to Congress. But I did. Now, I’m trying to make it in music. Ha ha. Millions of hits!”

Computer manufacturer HP is hoping Manny Pacquiao’s “can-do” attitude will convince U.S. consumers to buy its new TouchPad tablet. The alignment is obvious: Nobody thought Pacquiao could do the things he’s done as an up-and-coming fighter on the international circuit. And very few think the TouchPad offers a viable alternative to Apple’s iPad, although the HP tablet is a decent enough first-generation device.

The television commercial featuring Pacquiao’s mini-autobiography and TouchPad testimonial is being broadcast between news segments on CNN in the United States. It’s smart—although perhaps fruitless—to leverage Pacquiao’s visibility and popularity to try to sell the TouchPad although research—as well as superficial knowledge of the champion boxer’s lifestyle—suggests he doesn’t actually use the tablet, or any tablet for that matter.

But he does provide a means for HP to achieve a level of distinctive visibility for its device—and other products Pacquiao endorses for the company—that its competitors can’t emulate. That is the role of celebrity endorsers.

Watching the commercial, two things occurred to me. First, that here’s a Filipino who is widely admired outside of his country. There are others, including the technology entrepreneur I’ve written occasionally on, Dado Banatao; the martyred father of Philippine President Benigno “Nonoy” S. Aquino III, Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino Jr; and singing sensations Charice Pempengco and Arnel Pineda.

Of course, there are Filipinos who are widely known for their infamy as well. The late former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his power-sharing wife and former first lady, Imelda Marcos top the list. When Imelda emerges from her limo on Rodeo Drive, scandal-loving paparazzi jockey for the opportunity to photograph her, and wonder along with the people who gawk at their photos how she has stayed out of jail for a quarter century since she and her husband fled the Philippines in disgrace.

The point is that whoever said—actually, there are many—that Filipinos can be world class was absolutely right.

Second, I wondered how many people in the United States who watch that HP commercial know Pacquiao is Filipino? With the hugely negative brand perception of the Philippines in the United States, it’s profoundly remarkable that an industry-leading multinational technology company would settle on a Filipino fighter regardless of his accomplishments as a key endorser to champion their products.

Is it that Pacquiao’s own personal brand overshadows the Philippine country brand? Or, could it be that the Pacquiao brand is largely—if not completely—disassociated from the Philippine country brand. Only research can answer that question definitively. But it can be said that it’s doubtful that most people who watch his bouts know much about the Philippines, and what they do know isn’t very good.

Now, imagine this. What if the Philippines leveraged these famous Filipinos in its own visibility campaign?

I’m not sure Pacquiao would go along. After all, HP—a source of millions of endorsement dollars—might not appreciate its champion endorser being so tightly aligned with the negative Philippine country brand. There’s also the matter of Pacquiao’s close political relationship with former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has been alleged to have cheated herself into a second term after helping unseat a constitutionally elected predecessor.

The current administration might not be that thrilled either, although Pacquiao has made an effort to develop closer ties with the president. Other celebrities might worry that helping this administration achieve better brand visibility for the country will upset a significant set of their fan bases. Those are legitimate concerns. After all, the Philippines contributed little to the success of these individuals, why should they sacrifice for their country now?

But if they could be persuaded to do this thing, the results might be stunning, and enduring. “No one expected the Philippines to produce a world boxing champion. But it did.

“No one expected the Philippines to produce a technology engineer who would revolutionize personal computing. But it did. No one expected the Philippines to produce entertainers that inspire an international audience. But it did.”

These are brands that sell themselves. And they can sell the Philippines, too. As advertising executive Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr. has said, the Philippine is its people. And its people are the Philippines.

(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 TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.). Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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