The AdStars interview: Melvin Mangada on TBWA\SMP’s success and their most recent highly-awarded campaigns
Melvin Mangada is one of the most influential figures in Philippine advertising – a talent so prodigious he was recruited by Ace Saatchi & Saatchi as an art director, straight out of college. Today, Mangada is Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer of TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno – which earned back-to-back honours as AD STARS’ most-awarded Philippine agency in 2018 and 2017. In the most recent 2018 Campaign Brief Asia Creative Rankings TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno proved themselves to be the dominant creative force in the Philippines topping the Country Rankings, for the third year in a row, and coming in at #11 overall in all Asia.
In August, Mangada will bring his creative talents and leadership skills to AD STARS 2019, leading the Design and Print panel as Executive Judge. Here Barbara Messer speaks with Mangada.
TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno won Grand Prix at AD STARS 2018 for the viral video ‘Disgusting Stories’. How did the idea come about?
The challenge was to create something that would appeal to the target – prospective donors. The creative lead for the project was our ECD Brian Siy. During his research, he came across drawings by abused children sketched during rehab and he thought it was a very powerful way of presenting the campaign.
We had several huddles with Brian and [then-TBWA\Asia Pacific Creative President] Nils Andersson to get the execution right. Another challenge was the appropriate use of music. Endless exploration led us to a love song “Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia, the lyrics of which took on a different and more painful meaning against the visuals.
What were the challenges of making ‘Disgusting Stories’?
It was a learning curve for Facebook as much as it was for us; one week after the campaign launch, a few audiences were offended and so it was promptly taken down. We didn’t expect that the one week airing reached communities and organizations overseas who appealed to FB that the spot be re-uploaded. Thankfully, Facebook acceded to the requests.
‘Amoy Kita’ (‘Smell the Love’) was a huge success last year and just won the Philippines’ only Webby Award this year. Why do you think it attracted over 3 million views so quickly?
Bench is the biggest local fashion brand in the country. The people behind the brand are a progressive bunch with a strong grasp of pop culture and a deep respect and trust for the agency and the work.
The Philippines is also a peculiar market as it’s Asia’s only Catholic country, steeped in tradition and yet quite sophisticated, aware and discerning perhaps due to its Western influence. ‘Amoy Kita’ is about the age-old struggle of acceptance by family. Whether it’s unwanted pregnancy or a profession a child chooses to the disdain of parents, acceptance can be difficult.
We approached the launch of their perfume for ladies, ‘So In Love’ with the question, “What if a guy uses it?” and featured a young man who lives two lives, one as the ideal, respectful son at home and the other, the flirty boy who uses the scent to attract his big crush in school. The campaign struck at the hearts of the audience and resonated across generations.
We reached a huge audience but the Catholic Church instructed its followers not to patronise the product. This just led to more conversations online, with the brand right in the middle of the discourse. The call for a boycott did the reverse in fact, as sales of Bench scents were at an all-time high during the campaign.
You’ve sat on judging panels many times. Now you’re doing AD STARS 2019. What’s your favourite thing about seeing the work of others?
AD STARS is one of its kind, not only because it is state-sponsored but also it chooses to celebrate great work that may not necessarily be seen in other shows.
I enjoy learning about insights of other cultures and how creative minds from diverse backgrounds translate those insights into compelling executions. When I’m judging in shows, I assume the gems are already there – it’s a matter of finding the ones that sparkle most.
How did you come to be hired as an Art Director at ACE Saatchi & Saatchi straight out of college?
Jimmy Santiago [Co-founder and President, TBWA\Santiago Mangada Puno] sat in on my thesis class eons ago (!) and was apparently impressed with my campaign and asked me if I wanted to be in advertising. I remember him saying, “I’ll make you an art director on the first day.” Being impressionable at that time, I said yes immediately, not knowing what I was getting into.
The morning of that very first day: what was it like?
The early days were nerve-wracking – I didn’t say too much because I didn’t know much! [laughs] I was fresh from school, had no idea how the industry worked nor what was expected of an art director! Fortunately, I joined Saatchi at the right time: Saatchi London was the agency of the moment, churning out disruptive work for British Airways, P&G and Silk Cut. The culture encouraged brave work and so being new to all this, I wasn’t afraid to do crazy stuff.
You set up the TBWA/talent fund. How does it work & who is it for?
Jimmy and I both graduated from the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts, so we know that the last two years in college are the most crucial time for some students who can’t always afford to pay for a dormitory, transport, and expensive art materials, which leads to dropouts at senior level.
Since 2010, TBWA selects four to six underprivileged junior students from our alma mater and funds their education and daily expenses to ensure they finish college. Our scholars are not obliged to work at TBWA after graduation, and they can opt to work in competing agencies. The goal of the program is to not only help the underprivileged but also encourage young minds to join the industry.
You seem to have a strong instinct to educate and nurture talent. In a different life, might you have been a full-time teacher?
I taught for a few semesters in the state university, was a lecturer at the University of Asia and the Pacific and I am still asked to speak in universities and colleges.
I come from a family of teachers and educators, so teaching has always been second nature to me. My grandfather established in the 1960s secondary education for indigents in the province, which my mother expanded later on, into an institution that included nursery, primary and tertiary levels, with vocational and special courses. My family sees the value of good education and its transformative powers on an individual and society.
Are you working on any interesting projects right now?
We’ve just launched a project called “BayBayan” for the Cultural Centre of the Philippines’s 50th anniversary. The project revolves around the creation of the CCP’s very own font, which is a combination of the modern Roman alphabet and the country’s ancient writing script called Baybayin. The project hopes to educate and inform a growing youth segment distracted by pop culture and social media.
These days, more clients are serious about bringing more value beyond sale and awareness to consumers. Brands are now into meaningful messages beyond the sell – that’s what excites me the most at the moment.
The Philippines has such a rich history of creativity. Can you tell us a little about the creative culture in the Philippines?
We have a very vibrant culture that intersects the West and East, having the Chinese and Arabs as trade partners long before we were colonized by Spain for more than 300 years (making Catholicism ingrained into our values); spent 50 or so years with America, followed by the Japanese during the second world war.
We are composed of several thousand islands with hundreds of dialects, traditions and celebrations. Geographically situated at the Pacific Rim, the country is used to natural calamities with at least a dozen typhoons ever year and earthquakes, making us not only a resilient people but one that can smile at or laugh off a tragedy.
I suppose the creativity comes from all that – the openness to other cultures, 7,100 islands of riotous fiestas and the resourcefulness and sense of humor when faced with adversity.