Created in the United States sometime in the early 1900s, RC Cola has not been top of mind when it comes to soft drink brands in the Philippines—until a few days ago, when the brand released an advertisement that agitated, confused, amazed the erratic world of social media.
First, a gist—and we will say this as straightforward as possible. The commercial begins in a dramatic tone. A distressed looking boy—dark-skinned with curly hair—comes home from school, and asks his mom if he is “ampon.” The mom—fair-skinned and is wearing a white scarf around her neck—asks her son why the question. The son says he’s being bullied in school for being “ampon.”
When the mother tries to comfort the boy, and tells him not to mind his classmates, everything becomes theatrical. The boy stands up, removes his uniform top, and asks his mother why he has four empty glasses stuck to his back. He bends over, lies face down on the table, and the camera focuses on the four empty glasses.
The mother stares at the glasses in front of her and begins to cry. She admits she and the rest of the fam have been hiding something from the boy for a long time. She stands up, removes her scarf, pulls her head up—and off—to reveal a bottle of RC Cola attached to her neck. She puts ice in each of the glasses, and then bends her torso to pour a drink in each glass. The rest of the family members arrive, and they all take a sip from the glasses of cola still stuck on the boy’s back. The scene ends with everyone looking happy.
Now, every brand has a different goal when it comes to making commercials. If this brand—one that has been somewhat removed from our realm of consciousness for a while—had the mission to bring awareness to itself, then they’ve certainly achieved that.
As of press time, the viral video on Youtube, created by the advertising agency Gigil, has more than a million views. The fan art and the memes keep coming. The conversation is ongoing.
And as conversations go about a piece of work that is unconventional (does that sound like an understatement?), groups of people began asking questions. One such group is angry about the way the commercial depicts the sensitive topic of adoption.
Peejo Pilar, voice actor (Saving Sally), writer, and former magazine editor-in-chief, tells ANCX how badly he felt about the commercial, specially because his son is adopted.
“Very disappointed in the RC Cola commercial,” he says via text message. “The visuals aren't the bad thing. This message, that being an "ampon" is a negative thing, really needs to stop being a storyline not only in advertisements but in all forms of media. Yes, we've seen the same old cliché from local and foreign TV shows and in movies. Please, if you're a writer, a copywriter, a producer, a director, stop spreading this message that being adopted means you're not good enough.”
What? Why? How?
How did this ad come to life, in the first place?
The word from which everything revolved around is “basta,” explains Herbert Hernandez, one of the co-founders of Gigil, the agency behind the TVC. Drinking soft drinks is not benefit-driven, he says. And there isn’t any reason why people drink soda: “Hindi naman ako lalakas pag uminom ako. Basta, masarap siya.”
The target is the Gen Z market. And the answer to questions like, “What the hell was that?” or, “How did that happen?” or “What were they thinking?” was supposed to be simply, “Basta.”
But when was social media ever content with just “basta”?
“Dapat kasi hindi naman namin i-e-explain,” says Hernandez. That was the strategy from the beginning. “Ngayon, parang kailangan namin i-explain kasi binigyan nila ng malalim na dahilan, na iba pang dahilan,beyond what we wanted to portray.”
This is not the first time Gigil made ads that created buzz. Early this year, they released an ad for a brand of cheese, where a man wearing a cheese costume went around town painting a portable toilet, and getting a tattoo, among others.
Then there was the interrupting Greenwich commercial.
Another one is about a brand of plastic home storage products. The commercial was patterned after a home shopping network segment, where they tested the product for its durability. The product ended up breaking after it was thrown off from the 30th floor of a building. “Well, kahit anong brand naman masisira—30th floor ’yon, e,” a line from the ad went.
But the RC Cola project created the most engagement. And Hernandez gives a lot of credit to their client, whose bosses used to work for ad agencies. “That’s why they’re really open-minded, looking for something new.”
Sometime in the last quarter of 2019, Gigil began talking with RC Cola. They shot the commercial—supposedly a summer campaign—in March 2020, a few days before the quarantine. The teams involved in the project decided to delay the launch to be more sensitive to the ongoing pandemic.
According to Hernandez, the agency submitted three concept statements, but the client preferred this one, the one they shot and eventually released—this was more disruptive.
Although they were hoping to avoid spitting out explanations, Hernandez says that as with many scripts, the storyline is comprehensive, and replete with symbolism. And as with many scripts, too, most parts of the storyline were written for the purpose of context, and were not necessarily explicitly shown in the final product.
But why does the character have to be an 'ampon'?
“The direction was unconditional love,” Hernandez explains. “Kasi kailangan namin i-set-up ’yong unconditional love no’ng mom na kahit ampon siya, pero binigay sa kanya ang lahat. Binuhos ng nanay niya lahat para sa anak niya. Kailangan i-set-up para ipakita ang acceptance, ang unconditio
Add to that, he says, they had to cast characters who look very different from each other, to establish the story visually. “It’s an ad,” he elaborates. “Hindi kami pelikula na makapag-establish. At ang hirap naman niyan pag magkamukha sila. Kailangan namin ’yon para makakuwento, into what, a little more than one minute. In-accept siya. ’Yon ’yong point. In-accept siya, minahal siya.”
Before the commercial was aired, the team even brought in a lawyer and a doctor, who is a mental health advocate. The latter told them that now is the perfect time to launch the project because people want to consume anything that is not related to COVID.
Now, the team involved in the viral ad are trying to take everything in—both the good and bad stuff. That’s what happens when one tries to focus really hard on breaking a wall—he or she may miss the other sides.
But, Hernandez says, the last say will always come from the client. And this latest one, he adds, is very happy.
“We give our client ranges. They decide kung anong kaya nilang panindigan,” he says. “But we tell them, mas magastos maging safe ngayon. You spend millions ’tapos walang papansin. Mas risky maging safe.”
They did their job. And the members of the audience, the most responsive critics in the world, did theirs—which is how it should be.
So that’s the long and (what was supposed to be) the short of “basta.”