Cherifer's latest commercial is a smash hit, and a perfect storm of advertising savvy.
Culture

This is so far the year’s happiest commercial—and here’s how it was made

With a 90s ditty millennials love, choreography that jumps out of the screens, and a moment just looking for something unapologetically happy, the new “Tangkad Sagad” TVC is pure advertising magic. By JAM PASCUAL
JAM PASCUAL | Aug 26 2020

A country spending half a year in quarantine makes the average Filipino citizen’s Facebook feed look a certain way. Bad news, memes, a beloved establishment closing down, more bad news, a random exotic animal on the loose, more memes. Settled into an algorithmic routine, today’s feed leaves little to no room for joyous things.

But one day in August, that changed. From out of the digital blue sprung a video of the Cherifer baby dancing to a tune you haven’t heard since either the 90s or the last time you boogied inside a crowded club, with choreography and relyric-ing so fresh the song feels as good as new. 

The ear worm that espouses drops for babies, syrup for kiddies, and capsules for teens has made its way into your brain, and the biggest smile has latched onto your face. When advertising is done well, it’s a transcendent experience. And Cherifer’s new commercial, which effectively jingle-izes the 1993 Japanese pop jam “Sweet Soul Revue” by Pizzicato Five, really gets it right.

The TVC dropped last week and went semi-viral, as of now clocking in at over 1.4K Facebook shares, while the 30-seconder just breached the 400,000 mark on Youtube. The people who’ve lauded the TVC have captioned their praise in three ways. One: oh my god, this song! How’d they get this song? Two: oh my god, the choreography! Three: who is responsible for this jingle?

DOP Ike Avellana checks his shot.

We’ll address the first two concerns shortly but as for inquiry three, the answer is creative agency MullenLowe. You’re likely familiar with their work, having also helped produced Cherifer’s last two jingles: one parodying “Together Forever” by Rick Astley (A.K.A. “Cheriferver”), another using the Voltes V theme song (A.K.A “Cheri5ever.” You can’t make this stuff up).

“The first time that client asked us… like 80 percent of advertising nowadays is jingles, right? It was particularly more saturated that year, like, left and right,” says Abi Aquino, Chief Creative Officer at MullenLowe Philippines. This was for “Cheriferever." “So many different brands were coming up with jingles. And then the client said, ‘I want a jingle.’ And then we said ‘A-a jingle? Another one? Okay!’ So instead of resisting the request… wala kong proper English term. Ginago namin."

Gago” seems to be the most apropos descriptor. After all, when they did the Rick Astley TVC, the intention was to basically RickRoll its audience. But roll with it Cherifer did, and that kicked off a kind of creative-client partnership that has produced the slap-happiest jingles of the past few years.

But MullenLowe really struck gold when they picked “Sweet Soul Revue” by Pizzicato Five, a Japanese pop-disco number that—despite not having name recall as strong as the average American Billboard single—occupies enough niches in culture to be universally known and loved.

MullenLowe copywriter Anissa Villaverde, the hero responsible for relyric-ing the song, shares how she came to the idea. “When choosing a song, I thought of different songs na, one, a lot of Filipinos know, so madali siya ma-catch on. Two, sana may nostalgia factor. And I was just lucky with this song, kasi noong naisip ko siya, ‘Huh! No one actually knows the lyrics to this!’” Go through some of the shares of the TVC, and you’ll find captions and comments celebrating the fact that they can finally sing the song with lyrics they can easily memorize.

On top of that, “Sweet Soul Revue” is a song with multigenerational appeal and significance. Millennials might recognize it as the theme song for the anime Ranma 1/2. Others who saw pop culture unfold in the nineties might also remember it as the song that the Filipino dance group Manoeuvers popped and locked to. “It’s just a very familiar song to everyone,” says Villaverde. “I think na-realize ko lang kung gaano siyang kalaki, na it was a song familiar even to my mom’s generation, noong narinig ko zinu-Zumba nila.”

The TVC has been praised for its skilled choreography, but MullenLowe would rather keep the man behind the moves a secret.

As for the work of relyric-ing the track, it was simply a matter of matching syllables, and integrating details required by the client, which include citing Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF), how the product applies to different age demographics, and the obligatory mention of observing a proper diet, that particular detail brilliantly integrated as a bouncy backup vocal. “There’s no science to it,” says Villaverde. “It’s all just tenga work. It just has to sound good. Dapat nandun lang yung only lyrics that people know, yung ‘baby!’”

Securing the rights to Sweet Soul Revue was a surprisingly ordinary, frictionless process, according to Business Manager Sachi Iwasaki. “Once we know the final music, we tap different music publications that we know, and then we inquire who has the license of the music,” she says. “And when someone replies to us, then we coordinate, we talk about the details of the project, cost and all. And then once we have those details finalized, then we bring it to the client.”

Now it’s one thing to secure the rights to the song, but it’s another thing to handle the arrangement, composition, and engineering of the track. That’s where Wonder Collab Studios Inc. came in, the same studio responsible for producing the Voltes V jingle. Clearly, this was no one’s first rodeo when it came to wrangling and reworking a Japanese classic.

It was producer Jhohanna Hukom who approached Wonder for the project. When the studio received the gig, composer Kahlil Refuerzo was excited by the work. “It’s a novel idea,” says Refuerzo, emphasising that “Sweet Soul Revue” is, advertising strategies aside, a genuinely great song. “We kind of knew it would blow up like this, it would go viral. It’s really a nice song, it’s a great song, it’s a snappy, dance-y, happy [and] melodic song!”

Post-production for the TVC was already underway in March, until lockdown happened.

So Wonder Collab got to work. Refuerzo explains that most of the instruments of the composition were produced synthetically, having found an electric piano and drum kit sound that best approximates the sound of the original. Sound engineer and audio producer Sho Hikino did the guitars for the track, and even voiced the count-off in the intro. Hikino is also half-Japanese, which certainly must’ve helped the overall feel of the jingle.

Refuerzo and Hikino cite one name who was absolutely essential to the process: Cyril Cabornay. “She is, in my opinion, the best female singer I’ve ever encountered,” says Refuerzo. And according to him and Hikino, she’s been behind some of the most memorable jingles of the past five years. Y’know that “Bounce back sa Lazada!” ad that plays before a YouTube video? That’s her. Real dream team stuff.

But we’re not just talking about an mp3. The Grow Up with Cherifer TVC has been praised for tight, jovial choreography. And as willing as MullenLowe has been to pull back the curtain on the process, the choreographer is their secret weapon. Villaverde says he’s “our secret sauce.” Aquino jokes that he’s the Cherifer baby. What we do know however is, according to Villafuerte, the mystery choreographer integrated steps taken directly from the iconic Manoeuvers dance, sort of as a terpsichorean tribute.

Nonetheless, all these factors coalesced in creating perhaps the catchiest, most feel good jingle to grace our feeds and TV’s in recent history. To what do we owe the virality of the commercial?

For Hikino—multigenerational appeal and artistic quality aside—the song choice represented a kind of break in the advertising paradigm. “Most ads use current music,” he says. “You gotta use some K-Pop songs, you gotta use some OPM songs.” MullenLowe went with something of a classic standard, which isn’t to say that using old songs is a groundbreaking move, but no one could have predicted Pizzicato Five.

The song choice for the jingle, "Sweet Soul Revue" by Pizzicato Five, has multigenerational appeal and jives with different age demographics.

And yet, in terms of tapping into the tastes and preferences of modern audiences, Pizzicato Five could not have been a better choice. “The 90s is the now music eh,” says Refuerzo. “Parang Pizzicato Five now is current! Classic siya pero tunog current.

Aquino however recalls that, with the Cheriferever and Voltes V jingles, reception was polarizing, which is sometimes just a thing that happens when a project showcases “a very peculiar and specific mix of the creative tastes of the team, with the songs that they choose, and how it’s executed.” If you look up the YouTube videos for the aforementioned jingles, the like/dislike ratio is actually pretty severe. “Like the people who dig it, really dig it,” says Aquino. “They get the sense of humor that we have about it. We don’t take ourselves too seriously.” Perhaps more time in the ether will produce similar reception for the Sweet Soul jingle, but for now it stands as a universally loved TVC.

On a personal note, I could tell that my peers in the creative industry considered the existence of the commercial as a kind of miracle—nobody imagined that one could reasonably pitch Sweet Soul Revue by Pizzicato Five to a client and the idea would fly. It makes one wonder what kind of stars have to line up for a project like this to come through, for a client and creative team to see eye to eye on an idea other companies might consider a little too silly.

MullenLowe is also the team behind Cherifer's last two TVC's, which use the Voltes V theme song and "Together Forever" by Rick Astley.

MullenLowe’s team partly considers it good fortune, but it’s mostly a matter of building the right relationships with the right people. Aquino puts it thusly: “In advertising kasi, a lot of people say that great advertising starts with a great brief, which is true. I’ve also found that great advertising starts with great clients. Doesn’t matter if the brief is great, but if the client doesn’t understand, or if the client doesn’t share the same thinking or the same spirit or the same ambition? Parang if you’re not on the same side, that’s one thing you have to battle pa before you get to fun work.”

MullenLowe’s creative lead Gari Valderrama echoes this sentiment in a way that really vindicates any creative whose had a genuinely good idea shot down. “Onus naman namin kasi, especially for us creatives, is to produce talagang awesome works in terms of creative ideas. At the same time, we’re only as good as what a client [permits], kung ano yung ambition nila, how to take their brand moving forward. So, yun din yung struggle.”

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Cherifer was thankfully, with a mix of child-like enthusiasm and mad boldness, the kind of client that could sign off on a jingle that’d resonate with Ranma 1/2 fans. Still, producing the TVC wasn’t exactly easy. Post-production work was already underway in March, and Wonder Collab had the mix done by February. But COVID-19 marched in and, like many projects caught in the crossfire, the commercial was put on hold. 

There’s a cosmic irony (or even congruence) to how production of a commercial for a vitamin, of all things, could be hampered by quarantine measures, and come out the gate full force in the middle of a pandemic. As Villaverde puts it, “I guess with the current situation, you just look for content that will brighten up your day. A lot of the content we see now, at least on TV na rin, medyo COVID related. It’s just… it pops out from everything. The song is very familiar and relatable. It’s a breath of fresh air.”