Branding Hidilyn: Should Companies Ride on the Olympic Champion's Wave?
Let me forget, for a while, the politicians and their expected behavior. Forget the obvious, and also quite expected, 180-degree turns of opinion from two years ago.
Over a span of 48 hours, hundreds of Filipino brands large and small have turned out social cards touting their congratulations over Hidilyn Diaz’s Olympic Gold Medal. From donuts and coffee to real estate and financial services, every product category and market segment seems to have already been represented, and the results are mostly fun and interesting.
Indeed, how many clever ways can you merge your logo or signature image into the basic elements of the story: a woman, a barbell, a gold medal, and if you’re willing to take the risk of the copyright claim, the five Olympic rings? Hundreds of ways, too, it seems: I’ve seen the barbell show up as a sandwich, the medal take the form of the top of a sardine can, the five rings manifested as coffee stains.
Each card, for all the uniform confines of its shape and size, comes with an earnest message that is meant to do two things: declare its congratulatory ecstasy over Diaz’s singular achievement, and form a connection with the brand, delivered in the most cut-through creative way possible.
As an advertising practitioner by day myself, I’ve been asking myself: Isn’t this a form of vile political grandstanding, too?
Many have pointed out how much easier it is to celebrate a person’s triumph than show support for them during their struggle. Diaz has been helpfully advised by hordes of Facebook users to be careful about being exploited. Nothing comes without strings attached, we Filipinos so deeply understand.
What we can’t completely understand, I think, is how we should grapple with this kind of success. It’s a kind of success that isn’t based on prize money—though 33 million and counting does make it feel more and more successful. Diaz’s success is, through and through, a pure kind of success, based on incredible individual sacrifice and national pride.
The first of these, the idea of a long sacrifice, has acutely mingled with the enduring and often senseless and incomprehensible sacrifice of our pandemic haze; the second, a sense of Filipino pride, has long been in short supply. In the case of the Olympics, we’d been waiting almost a century, or, as the now-stale joke goes, exactly one Enrile old.
So why shouldn’t everybody—including those weird neither-human-nor-object concepts called “brands”—be included in the party? Why should the fact that maybe these brands just also want to shift a truckload of merchandise along the route of the victory lap prevent them from playing their part in celebrating our nation’s very public achievement?
But then again, I’ve asked myself, would that make them any better than a small-town public official photoshopping their profile beside the winner on a tarpaulin banner?
Just today, a version of the above was revealed to be a fake—the shady photoshop job performed just to discredit a public official—revealing just how, these days, such actions now come at a heavier price. Everything, from wealth to virtue, should be carefully signaled. Everyone should think twice before grabbing undue credit or saying something borderline dodgy.
A gifted ad agency for a popular brand of plastic containers, in fact, shrewdly virtue-signaled against its own industry. I’m not mentioning the brand here because of two things: It might not be commercially kosher to write its name here, and I’m quite sure readers will already know what I am referring to. And besides, I think they’ve sold enough plastic containers on the back of that ad, too.
The largeness of Diaz’s achievement is bigger than these concerns. For a Filipino like me, hungry for hope and angry about many things, it is as big as the moon landing was for America, or the unification for Germany. And as the spectacular savagery of our pandemic uncertainty goes on, it can—and should—only grow bigger.
Up to now I find myself replaying the video I took of that moment, uploaded and made permanent on Facebook: the moment our National Anthem plays for Hidilyn Diaz at the Olympic Awarding.
Every time I play it, I can’t help but catch my breath because I know the anthem is playing for us all. When the Japanese camera cuts to a shot of our flag rising higher than its neighbors on the stands, I can’t help but burst into tears every time because everything outside of it is, really, just a logo, a tagline, a brand, a political figurine. At this point, we really shouldn’t look to them to speak for us, or, much less, support us and give us comfort during these hard times. We really shouldn’t expect them to stand for anyone much more than themselves, no matter how much we buy their products or their promises.
It is Hidilyn Diaz who now has the power to speak for all of us. It is that flag that represents what we all stand for—or more to the point, that we all desperately want to stand for us: that beautiful, neither-human-nor-object concept that is our nation.