Babangon Tayo: The story behind 2020’s most hopeful ad

David Dizon, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 02 2020 11:44 AM | Updated as of Oct 03 2020 10:43 AM

Ad creative who penned 'Babangon Tayo' coffee ad survives COVID-19

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MANILA -- “Babangon tayo, susulong tayo.” 

These are the first words in a coffee ad jingle launched just 5 days after the eruption of Taal Volcano. Ten months later, the jingle is shaping up to be the most hopeful TV ad in the Philippines for 2020 in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Babangon Tayo,” which translates to “we will rise,” was not written for the Taal eruption or the COVID-19 pandemic that came after. Rather, the song was the winner in an intense advertising agency war to land the Nescafé PLAN project – a campaign for one of the biggest coffee brands in the Philippines.

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Gian Nealega, associate creative director at Dentsu Jayme Syfu, said the Nescafé pitch was one of the very first projects he had the chance to work on after a two-year break from advertising so he and his wife could work as lead creatives for a church. 

The brief for the Nescafé PLAN account was simple: create an ad campaign that would promote Nescafé’s continuing efforts to help local farmers increase their yield and income from coffee farming. 

Not so simple though was the competition: every ad agency who wanted to land the account was bringing their A-game. “Kapag nagpi-pitch kasi, pabonggahan,” he said. 

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Gian Nealega, associate creative director at Dentsu Jayme Syfu and a COVID-19 survivor, penned the song "Babangon Tayo" for Nescafé.

For Nealega, the idea for the Babangon ad was a natural progression of Nescafé’s previous ads that focused on the message of bangon (to rise).

“Dati pa kasi ‘yung words na bangon o babangon sa Nescafé. Pero ano kasunod sa babangon? Susulong tayo. We have to move forward,” he said. 

(The use of ‘rise’ or ‘rising’ has already been used for Nescafé but what comes after rising? You have to move forward.) 

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The song also drew inspiration from other sources: the Bible, a popular Filipino folk song, and an animated film.

“The principle of sowing and reaping is in the song so you have the words ‘kapag may tinanim, may aanihin.’ We also wanted to use the song ‘Magtanim ay Di Biro’ because it’s familiar and really tells the struggle of the coffee farmer. You really have to take care of the plant to get a harvest. For the feel of the song, we wanted it to be light and fun because the earlier Nescafé PLAN ad was more dramatic.” he said. 

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Once the song was written, the agency tapped Soundesign Manila in Makati to do the sample track. 

“Sabi namin sa kanila, dapat lahat ng sound effects, natural sounds. Hindi pwede na canned lang,” he said, adding that the foley artists had to recreate the sounds of hoes breaking ground and coffee cherries being dropped into the basket. 

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Nealega was in Nami Island in South Korea when Soundesign sent the initial mixes of “Babangon Tayo” to the team. “They gave us several versions but there was one mix na kinilabutan ako. ‘Yung isang teammate ko, naiyak nung narinig niya,” he said. 

"We really went all-out for the pitch because we believed in the brand and its purpose. We made sure we presented a nice sample of the song so clients would appreciate it more,” group account director Monica Cabanos added.

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When Nescafé heard the pitch, they instantly fell in love with the song. “When we first heard the song we felt that not only is it hopeful, it gives a feeling of pride and motivates you to move forward,” said Nescafé business executive officer Dennis Austriaco.


After landing the account, Dentsu Jayme Syfu quickly went to work by sending a team to Bukidnon to shoot the ad. 

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The final ad shows the culmination of that successful pitch: A farmer waking up to a rooster’s crow, drinking his first cup of coffee, farmers tilling the ground together as children play. At one point, the ad shows farmers with flashlights caring for the coffee plants during a downpour at night. And finally, a harvest of coffee beans, which transform to a cup of coffee – the same cup appearing not just in farms but in offices. 

Senior art director Chary Chu said that during the shoot, a farmer’s wife came in during the middle of the take carrying a live chicken that she and her family wanted to offer the team. 

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“It was both a welcome gift and a thank you. I can’t speak for the chicken, but the gesture warmed our hearts. Our farmers are the most generous people in the world -- it’s one of the toughest jobs and yet they give so much love and energy in what they grow for us,” Chu said. 

“These farms were made by the hard work and love put in by our farmers -- and through this film, we wanted to show this off to the world.”

The ad as pitched would take 3 months before it would air on TV and the internet. Nescafé’s in-house team, however, developed its own ad that would preview even earlier. 

“Ano Man Ang Mangyari: Babangon at Susulong Tayo,” the first ad to feature the song, aired on January 17 with an ad that showed more clearly the link between the coffee farmers and that final cup of coffee. It instantly drew praise for its hopeful message, many saying the song was very timely after the eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12. 

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Since its first airing, the original ad has been viewed more than 8 million times on Nescafé’s official YouTube account. The second ad, which aired March 1, 2020 – about 2 weeks before Metro Manila went on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic – has been viewed more than 15 million times on YouTube.

Some commenters on Nescafé’s YouTube account joked that the song is effective as an alarm tone in the morning. 

Tucked in the song is one hopeful lyric that transcends its coffee ad origins and takes on deeper meaning in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic that has affected over 300,000 Filipinos. “At ang pagbangon natin ang gigising sa mundo (And our rising will wake up the world).”

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"It's very timely because it pushes not just Filipino farmers, but the country to hope, to move forward and to rise regardless of the hardships, challenges we’re facing,” Merlee Jayme, Dentsu Mcgarrybowen chairmom and global president, said.

"Even before this global pandemic, we really wanted Nescafe to be the beacon of hope for Filipinos, having been in the Philippines for over 7 decades. This campaign anchored on us rising and thriving is a perfect message from a brand that is strongly ingrained in the Filipino's' daily lives,” added Ronald Barreiro, Dentsu Jayme Syfu managing partner and general manager.

“Timing talaga ang paglabas nung client, kasi after Taal and then COVID-19. Akala nga ng tao sinulat ‘yung song for the volcanic eruption pero hindi,” Nealega said. 

On a more personal note, Nealega said, “As a Christian, gusto ko talagang gumawa ng kanta na puno ng hope.” 


Hope would also be a theme for Nealega after a personal tragedy struck in the middle of the pandemic. 

In July, he and his parents fell ill because of COVID-19 after being exposed to a construction worker who had displayed COVID-19 symptoms. His father died of the illness after 4 days in the hospital. 


Nealega was hospitalized for 2 weeks before going on home quarantine for another 2. It would take another month of rest before he would be recovered enough to go back to work. Nearly every member of his family tested positive for COVID-19 but has since recovered.

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Nealega admits losing a father in the middle of a pandemic has been hard as he also had to fight the disease. 

As he copes with the loss, he continues to make plans for the future – one filled with hope. After all, it is his faith in God that gave him inspiration for the song and gives him the will to move forward. 

“I am still adjusting. It’s still fresh (the loss). We will be moving in with my mom for a while to take care of her. But we are all COVID-free now. We’re survivors,” he said. 

"It took some time for me recover, but thank God, I'm getting stronger each day. I know that He was the one who healed me, who gives me strength every day. Parang ‘yung kanta, laging babangon at susulong ulit.”