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Brand Philippines

This morning I went to the supermarket here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to buy rice. And what did I find? "100% Thai jasmine rice." With microwaving instructions. There was no sign of "Philippine pandan rice." I don't think I'd find that anywhere in the world. (If I'm wrong, please let me know.)

Right before I bought the rice, I was reading an article that asserted that the anti-outsourcing efforts by US politicians actually improved the brand image of outsourcing countries like India and the Philippines. And this reminded me that countries themselves can, in fact, be "brands."

What is the Philippines known for? Export-quality Filipinas, entertainers, nurses, teachers, pilots, etc., and call center agents who can speak with an American accent. Sure, there are probably a few products here and there, some tourist destinations, and "People Power," but overall, I think we are rightly known for our people. And that's not counting Imelda Marcos. But I digress.

This is the reason I started looking at Google Trends. Why is it that more Filipinos than foreigners are Googling "Philippines," while more non-Thais, relatively speaking, are searching for "Thailand"? Could it be that only Filipinos want to find out about the Philippines? And why is it that Thailand—a country that benefited from rice technology developed in the Philippines—is now better known for its rice than the Philippines?

The answer lies in the fact that "Thailand" is a better brand than "Philippines." Its food is better known than ours. When was the last time you heard about a Filipino restaurant abroad other than Jollibee? And in terms of tourism, Thailand's industry was badly affected by the tsunami catastrophe, but Philippine tourism didn't quite catch up.

Please don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Thailand, Jollibee or Filipinos who decide to work overseas. I just wish the Philippines could be better represented on supermarket shelves around the world, or that Filipinos wouldn't have to go abroad to be better paid. Actually, the former has a lot to do with the latter. If we could export more of our goods, we'd have more money to pay Filipinos to work at home. It's not that simple, of course, but I hope you understand what I mean.

In a 2003 speech before advertising executives, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spoke of "Brand Philippines," which was recently defined by Commission on Information and Communications Technology commissioner Dondi Mapa, as "a program that promotes local products and tourist destinations of the Philippines." Just how much have you heard about this recently? Well, I hope "Brand Philippines" takes off somehow.

I don't really have any answers as to why "Philippines" is not better known, but I think Google can provide a clue. Look at the results for "Filipino" and "Thai." While I should probably be happy that this blog is in the top 10 results for "Filipino"—along with all the other Fil-Am sites—the "Thai" results are much more varied. Maybe there are other explanations, but could it be that Filipinos are less aware—or, perhaps, less proud—of their brand? And could that be the reason they keep Googling "Philippines"? =)

Anyway, in case you're interested, this Filipino was able to cook the Thai rice in the microwave—something that I didn't think was even possible.

Category: The Philippines

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