I always joke that, when I was first asked what I knew about the Philippines, I replied: "They’re a lovely couple." However, the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan meant that, by 8 November 2013, the watching world was all too familiar with where these islands were. The world’s outpouring of help brought no end of thanks from a grateful nation – and I too must add my thanks to many of Campaign’s readers who joined in the Adland v Haiyan drive, which raised more than one million pesos.
But the Philippines is no stranger to natural calamity: typhoons take countless lives each year; flooding destroys living spaces; earthquakes can devastate communities. Footage of major international networks inevitably speaks of the "enduring spirit" and "natural resilience" of the Filipino people. Is this just mythical?
My experience among the adfolk of Manila uncovers a much deeper, ingrained characteristic than mere journalistic cliché. The industry is not large, but each agency’s thought is always how to help – not out of bogus corporate social responsibility requirement but from an authentic belief in volunteerism. Though hundreds of miles from the disaster zones, every agency provided shifts of people to pack supplies or drive evacuees to shelters in the capital. This went on for weeks as agencies adapted their working schedules and developed their own programmes to help.
While creative agencies are sometimes held back by a shortage of the kind of craft skills and production technologies that are so readily available in Soho, there is an incredible ingenuity and inventiveness that kick in to help with social problems that bring lasting and meaningful benefit. Concern for fellow man is a value that lies at the heart of many briefs – and this sometimes demands a more imaginative solution.
The industry is not large, but each agency's thought is always how to help - not out of CSR requirement
One of our rivals won a Cannes Grand Prix by helping school kids who struggled with books on their long journeys to school by developing textbooks that could be accessed on SIM cards through unwanted mobile phones. Our own collaboration with Pepsi helped spread a simple technology using water, some bleach and an old plastic bottle to provide the equivalent light of a 50-watt bulb to previously unlit shanty areas.
Indeed, the campaign we produced at the time of Haiyan was "#unselfie", which spread across the globe – even to John Kerry’s inbox. It simply urged selfie-obsessed individuals to cover their face with handwritten messages urging charity support. There was none of the sneering you might expect of one agency at another’s work. Instead, the industry got behind it and spread the message.
We say "It’s more fun in the Philippines" and, for us in the industry, it’s true. But it is also more imaginative, more supportive and utterly unselfish.
And, once more, for all your help: #phthankyou.
Tony Harris is the chief executive at BBDO Guerrero
This article was first published on