Musician-turned-advertising exec Herbert Hernandez's life is filled with "happy accidents." Photograph by Roxanne Nebres
Culture Spotlight

Ad man and music guy Herbert Hernandez on grand plans and happy accidents

A jack of all trades and master, it seems, of all, Herbert Hernandez is a guitarist, a songwriter, a visual artist, and now a co-founder and creative partner of advertising agency Gigil. Give the guy a trophy, he’s winning at life. 
Bam Abellon | Jan 29 2019

The past year has been the busiest year in Herbert Hernandez’ career—the guy’s no rookie at multitasking and he handles the barrage of work with purpose and ease.

The 37-year-old guitarist and songwriter for OPM bands Moonstar88 and 6cyclemind also happens to be a visual artist, speaker, former executive creative director for global marketing communications at Young & Rubicam (Y&R). Recently he’s added founder and creative partner to his resume. But if one looks closely at his career timeline, his success is barely surprising. In fact, it seems almost inevitable.

With 6CycleMind during one of their provincial tours. The band members fly once or twice a week for these tours. Photograph by Kim Nuñez

Writing the Wrongs

“Hindi ako magaling mag-drawing, pero mahilig talaga ako mag-visualize,” Herbert tells us during our interview. We meet the bespectacled artist around lunch, as we excavate some of his childhood memories of creating art.

He sits and talks comfortably on a couch in one of the co-working spaces in BGC. He’s wearing a well-fitting, short-sleeved button-down shirt, exposing some of his tattoos; a pair of dark, tailored joggers; and sneakers. It’s an exterior that encapsulates his ethic: artistic, risky yet calculated. He wears his Ray-Bans (a brand for which he’s an ambassador), for example, because “from backstage madilim, ’tapos pag-akayat mo ng stage, malakas ’yong ilaw.” Like an expert ad guy, he elucidates on this image: “Image is important sa lahat ng industry kasi binabayaran ka ng mahal, e. Binabayaran ka ng kliyente mo, ’tapos, ano, nakapambahay ka? Unless you are packaged differently.” However, for his general sense of flair, he gives major props to his wife, Heidi Borja Hernandez, makeup artist and former Binibining Pilipinas pageant candidate. He wakes her up to get her fashion approval before he leaves the house.

In a panoramic view, his artistic endeavors began to have freedom when, as a child, he discovered what he calls, “happy accidents.” He sites Bob Ross, the creator and host of the instruction TV show, The Joy of Painting (1983-1994), as one of his early inspirations. “Suddenly, walang mali. Sa drawing pala, walang mali. They are always happy accidents.” Naturally, he became the “art guy, taga-drawing ng poster,” in their batch, at St. Matthews College in San Mateo, Rizal.  

“Hindi naman ako ang pinakamagaling,” he repeats. “Pero siguro sa batch namin, ako ’yong pinaka-passionate.” The passion, we believe—we saw and heard it. It’s how to shoot to the top even when genetics gets in the way.

Moonstar88 was given the Wish 107.5 WISHclusive Elite Circle awards. The artists in the circle are those with at least 10M views on their WISHclusive videos on YouTube.

His brother is Darwin Hernandez, founder of the music and events management and production group, Soupstar Entertainment, which handles the OPM bands, Imago, Sandwich, Hilera, Pedicab, Moonstar88 and 6cyclemind. He also wrote the “Torete” by Moonstar88. He also taught Herbert how to play the guitar.

Herbert’s paternal grandmother was a poet. She wrote poetry until she was 90 years old. His late father, a mechanical engineer, whom Herbert describes as very “militaristic,” grew up in a family who thought of the arts as “kabalbalan.” But he had strong artistic inclinations. His father, he says, would hide in his room and write his stories, then submit his works to radio stations. “Attached din siya sa emotions niya,” Herbert recalls. “Madaling sumaya, madaling lumungkot. Parang ako.”  

In high school, still at St. Matthews College, Herbert began to hone his musical skills, but didn’t close his doors to his varied, intrinsic capabilities. And when we say varied, we mean he was student council president, a member of the dance troupe, and the head of the drum and lyre club. Plus, he played table tennis. He also won first place in the Math Olympiad Provincial Competition, won the Juan Luna Award and Gerry Roxas Leadership Award. He then went on to graduate magna cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Fine Arts, Major in Advertising. College was also the time Moonstar88 happened. Didn’t we say varied?

He took up advertising because he read an article that advised its readers that whatever one excelled at as a child is his true calling, because childhood talent is unfiltered. He says, “Mahilig din ako sa concept kasi. Daydreamer ako, e. Malaro ’yong utak ko.” It’s true. Sometimes, when he speaks, it seems as if his mind interrupts itself to make way for ideas outside his current space.  

 Moonstar88 was announced as one of the Coke Studio Icons.

He also believes that circumstances are swayed by divine intervention: “Prayers talaga really helped me a lot. Kasi ang mga desisyon ko, ino-offer ko everything sa Kaniya, so hindi ako nagwo-worry. Nagwo-worry ako pero, ‘Guide me. Bibitawan ko ba to? Kung kailangan kong bitawan, give me a sign. Pero hindi e. Laging nagpo-progress.”

But it doesn’t mean he leaves it all to fate. Herbert calculates his moves to accommodate his multiple interests. In college, he would talk to students from higher batches to get tips on a subject. He would frequent National Bookstore to do advance research, and he reads—a lot. “Dahil may banda ako, minsan mag-aabsent ako. Kaya kailangan naka-pondo ako.”

He says he never had to choose among his passions.

“Gift ’yong music, di ko siya bibitawan. Gift din ’yong opportunity. Complement siya, e.”

The Need for Gigil

Herbert’s career has been governed by mentors and idols, and two of his favorite words, “happy accidents.”

In college, for instance, he had an idea for a song for Moonstar88, and was told by their former vocalist, Acel Bisa, “Bakit hindi na lang ikaw ang gumawa ng kanta?” He did, hesitantly. That song was “Sulat” (2002), the first song he wrote, which became one of the most played OPM songs on the radio, Youtube, Spotify, open mics, and even on karaokes. Happy accident.

The Pioneers of Gigil. Jeano Cruz, Badong Abesamis, Herbert Hernandez and  Isabel Prollamante (not in photo).

There was another instance. In 2007, Moonstar88’s third album, Todo Combo was already produced when one of Herbert’s mentors and the band’s current bass player Buddy Zabala (formerly of Eraserheads), told him “may kulang pa sa songwriting mo.” Something that Buddy said hit him hard, “Kulang ng mali. You have to make it wrong para may bago siya.” After hearing that insight, Herbert thought about writing another song—and he thought hard and played with words to make them “wrong” The song that came out was “Migraine.” The first line goes, “Oo nga pala, hindi nga pala tayo.” It was added to the third album and became a classic hit.

For his “day job,” he has the same mentality. He dreams, he envisions, he works hard, and he looks up to people.

After graduation from college, he started doing freelance work, until he was hired as a designer in one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world, J. Walter Thompson (JWT) in 2003. He remembers that while he was still in college, when he would register for the design application Adobe Photoshop, he would put “J. Walter Thompson” as his company. “If you dream, kung ano ’yong gusto mo, you’re halfway there,” he says.

He spent three years in the company, where he learned the ropes—and heartaches—that come with working for the industry. He admits. “The first storyboard I ever did for JWT, inulit ng boss ko. Devastating. Pero resilient ako. Gusto ko matuto. Aaralin ko.” He left JWT in 2006 as an art director.

That same year, he transferred to DM9 JaymeSyfu DDB as senior art director. In his six years with the company, his projects won awards from advertising’s biggest award-giving bodies: Cannes Lions, Spikes Asia, Clio, Philippine Creative Guild, AdCongress Araw Awards, Tinta Awards, to name a few.

It was through these campaigns in the industry that he met one of his idols, Badong Abesamis, one of the youngest inductees to the Hall of Fame of the Creative Guild of the Philippines. “Idol ko si Badong. You have to learn to be a fan. Kasi magiging guide mo ’yon, e. Hindi naman to copy, pero magiging guide mo.” During his stint with DM9 JaymeSufy DDB, he and Badong made plans for a collaboration that didn’t materialize. It was only when they both worked at Y&R (Herbert started in 2012) that their combined talent and passion paved for the discovery of an exceptional partnership.

In 2017, they left Y&R. They left because an agency wanted to hire either Badong or Herbert, or both of them. It’s when they decided, “Tayo na lang tayo ng atin.” Herbert, 36 at the time, didn’t even have to think about it before he agreed. “On the spot, nag-go ako.”

Looking back, Herbert remembers he had a former mentor, another one of his idols. The mentor was married at 26, and had his own agency before he turned 40. Herbert married at 25. You can fill out the rest of the story.

With the whole team of Gigil during company outing/Chrismas party at Anvaya.

Gigil had their first client before they even had a name for the company. “No’ng time na ’yon, wala pa kami masyadong background sa business. The client asked, ‘Magkano ba kailangan para makapag-start?’ E, pagsabi namin “x” amount, umo-o.” Badong usually handles the writing side, Herbert handles the visual side.

Then they thought of names. “No Plan B” was an option. Herbert smiles at the memory, “E sa akin, lagi akong may Plan B, Plan C. Hindi ako ’yon. Si Badong kasi, ‘Hindi tayo puwedeng mag-fail.’ ‘A’ lang talaga.”

“Toyo” was also an option. It was okay. But then, Badong mentioned the word, “Gigil.” Herbert lights up—shows more than his usual level of sparkle—at the mention of the word. “Gigil, passionate. ’Yon na. Maraming magaling, ilan lang ’yong gigil.”

 

Helmed by Sig Bernardo, director of hit movie "Kita Kita," GIGIL's heartwarming holiday-themed commercial showcases the Levi's Tailor Shop, and how it enables a father to get the perfect gift for his son.

In less than two years since its official launch in October 2017, Gigil has racked up big-name clients: Konsulta MD, P&G, Globe, Unilever, Cobra, Levi’s, 7-11, Landbank, Sip, Joy-Nostalg Hotel and Suites, Honestbee, Disney, and Avon. 

For Konsulta MD, Gigil’s campaign called, “Dr. Internet” was recently shortlisted for the One Show 2019 Awards under the Film – Health and Wellness category. It also won at Spikes Asia and Boomerang Awards in 2018.

“We get our ideas from real insights,” Herbert says. “The truth. Ang advertising kaya siya nagiging boring kasi nambobola. If you base it on real insight, mapapaisip ka. Ano ’yong nangyayari ngayon na totoo na hindi binabanggit?”

They have 16 team members now, including Badong and Herbert. They are picky with their members, he says. They need to be really good and—and this is underrated in job qualifications—kind.  In the next years, they plan to get bigger, become more “digitally equipped,” grow organically, and win more awards. “Gusto din naming sumikat kliyente namin. Hopefully, five years from now, baka may gusto mag-invest sa amin na multinational. Ten years from now, dapat made na kami. Ten to fiteen years from now, gusto ko retired na ako. Enjoy na lang, consultant na lang. May mga gino-groom kami. Kaya ngayon, hataw, gigil.”

 

GIGIL snatched a Silver in Clio Health 2018 for its film for KonsultaMD.

It’s a good thing he has learned the value of waiting through years in the business and advertising business. “You have to love what you’re doing, but you have to know the reality. First half ng career mo, underpaid ka. Second half, overpaid. You just have to wait. You love what you’re doing so never kang mapapagod.”

Now, he’s not looking anywhere else other than the goal—or should we say goals—right in front of him—or around him. “Run at your own pace. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon,” he says. Something he knows not just in theory but in practice, having just completed a 42-kilometer race. “Lahat tayo makakarating sa ending. Hindi ka mararating sa ending ng istorya mo kung huminto ka. So you just have to run kung anong pace mo. Ang importante hindi sa bilis, basta natapos mo.”

These days, he tries to spend at least one day a week with his family. Once every year, he takes them on an out-of-country trip. This year, it’s Japan. He bonds with the youngest of his three kids before he heads to BGC from Marikina City, and before he spends an hour and a half in traffic.

 
GIGIL paid tribute to Filipino workers on Labor Day through this Cobra Energy Drink commercial

After the interview, he rushes toward his next meeting—with around a hundred unread messages on Viber alone. Two days later, during an email exchange for additional files, we find out he was running on four hours of sleep after a gig in Nueva Ecija ended late.

Maybe, with his kind of gigil, he’ll be the first to hit the finish line. Never mind what he says about life being a marathon. For the best of us, it’s a sprint.