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This Chemical Engineer Explains the Science of Storytelling

“Kurot sa puso” is one approach.
IMAGE CYRUS PANGANIBAN
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Filipinos love a good story. From the legends that have been passed down from our ancestors, down to the tales passed around by the neighbourhood gossip, Pinoys are always all ears. Dennis Perez, Unilever Philippines Media Director, also says that there are two easy ways to appeal to a Filipino audience: make them laugh or make them cry.

“It seems like a joke, but if you look at it, there's a bit of truth in it,” he says. “It needs to have those extreme polarities of emotion because we easily get moved. We're such an affiliative culture. When I worked in Singapore for Unilever SEA, we studied our audiences and if you look at the ranking when it comes to the expressiveness of emotion, Philippines is actually the top and Singaporeans are basically the last because they are more individualistic. ”

Photo by Cyrus Panganiban.

From an advertising perspective, Perez says there's still a role for advertisements that just give the information straight but believes that information must be packaged into something more engaging. “If you are able to package that into good storytelling, then the exponential effect of that is actually very much powerful in moving them.”

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The ads that offer “kurot sa puso” is one approach, he says. So is humor. “If you look at it social media right now we're all full of humor communities. We gravitate towards those spikes of emotion and we also love to cry. We love to watch all of those melodramatic films and that's also the reason why we love Korean stuff because Koreans are actually the best storytellers now. Their play of emotions is fantastic.”

Attention to details

The digital migration has made it all the more important in catching the attention of audiences. “In television, or in other forms of media, like print and billboards, technically, what you're doing is that you are imposing the messages to people in television,” Perez says. “You will only see the branding in a commercial gap. Even the types of programs are imposed because there are certain blocks of time for your viewers to watch; 6:30 p.m. is always reserved for news, and after that there is a telenovela block, and after that we'll have again news at 10 p.m., so it's very controlled.”

Imagine taking all of those out, he says, and putting the control with the consumers because they now have endless choices on their digital devices. “They can stop, pause, forward, go to the next content. If you don't resonate well with them, you will go unnoticed.” That, he believes, is the challenge for storytellers of today.

Photo by Cyrus Panganiban.
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“It's very important that you create a narrative that people will actually latch on to or else your whole effort of putting your brand there will be futile and will be useless,” he says. “Even the way that you integrate your brand into your content needs to be thought out. It's about not putting in advertising that interrupts them, it's putting the content that people naturally want of you. Then, when it comes to execution, if you suddenly, you burst the bubble that makes them realize that this is advertising, they will leave. Converting into e-commerce sales aside, I think the biggest thing that all marketeers must solve, at the beginning, is for your brand to be unmissable in digital, because you don't have control on what audiences will actually watch moving forward.”

Data, driven

Perez underscores the importance of knowing your audience, and to do this, you need to look at what they are watching. This is more easily accomplished these days by data analytics that can show what people are watching down to how long they watched before they skipped your ad. “You can see, for example, that they skipped after seven seconds of your video, and you can analyze what happened at that seventh second that made them tune out. You can also look into a lot of data science informing you about metrics such as view-through rate. So all of those data can be a very good source of real-time insights. That's one thing that I love with digital.”     

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As a Chemical Engineering graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, Perez is no stranger to the importance of making decisions based on data. He worked in Research and Development labs out of college before moving to media and marketing. “I was literally in the laboratory, mixing chemicals to discover the next generation of molecules that will make hair straighter,” he shares. From time to time, he was tasked to help with brand claims that can be used in advertisements. This was where he saw an opportunity to carve a career path that resonated with his passion for film that was nurtured by shooting with his dad’s Video 8 camcorder.

Photo by Cyrus Panganiban.

Perez has now been with the company for 20 years, in a job that combines his skills. Right now, my left brain as an engineer is working because I'm diving into analytics. At the same time, I'm converting that into real insights that will inform and that is using my right brain to actually create that into good content.”

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According to Dennis, these days good content is something that gives people a more positive outlook in life.

“Look at the rise of humor content. It's more of escapism, he says. “I think we had so much bad news, whether it's about COVID-19 or politics-driven, I think we are bombarded with so much negativity and I think the whole environment of this multiple longest lockdown is already drawing a lot of energy out of us. Therefore, people are just looking for a means of escape. There are communities forming around people’s interests, and it's just basically like giving them an escape, adding more value to their lives. 

“At the start of Covid-19, content was needs-based,” he adds. “Like, how do I protect myself? People are now, "I just want to basically look forward and escape. Anything that will actually give them that glimpse of positivity, I think, is content that Filipinos are gravitating towards.”

Deep impact

Storytelling is something that has been there since the dawn of humanity, Perez says. “Cavemen made drawings, Egyptians had hieroglyphics—everything is basically storytelling. One thing that storytellers need to always keep in mind is that we have the power to influence culture. We have the power to influence behaviour and we have the power to change perspective. That's why Unilever is very big on purpose.

Photo by Cyrus Panganiban.
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"For example, Close-Up tells stories about Free to Love because we believe that everyone has the right to love and we are all human beings capable of loving. Of course, we communicate the idea of closeness, at the same time, we believe that stories can really influence behavior. I hope that aside from just buying our brand, they also transform into a better person by realizing that everyone is free to love. Dove is a very good example in telling the story that all people are beautiful, regardless of shape, color, size and everything.”

There is so much negative media circulating, and Perez believes that those in the marketing and advertising industry can help in uplifting society through their messaging. “I think we have the responsibility to also shape future behavior. That, for me, is the power of storytelling.” 

Grroming by Muriel Vega

 

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