Jollibee: How to create brand love in this pandemic

Its stories are powerful truths that speak of the Filipino

Hidilyn Diaz lifts the Filipino spirit in this Jollibee ad: Brands shouldn’t ‘cretinize’ the consumer.

Francis Flores: ‘Powerful truths well told’ (Photo from FB Francis Flores)

The relentless lockdowns have turned us into a captive audience of the digital platform—we watch, see, and read whatever goes on in our mobile sets, smart TVs, laptops. A captive credible audience who believes even the ridiculously incredible, like the MOA Globe being stolen.

To brands that need to market themselves and sell—a hard task in this pandemic—the digital platform is like the apple in the Garden of Eden (not Steve Jobs). It’s a temptation they can’t resist—but can sometimes misuse, big time.

Seeing the cheap publicity stunts that are becoming more and more regular, one asks: must a brand risk the ill will of the market, just to draw hundreds of thousands of likes and views? Must marketing sacrifice a brand’s DNA and values for a publicity stunt? Must a marketing gimmick eclipse the brand itself?

If television was considered the wasteland in the ‘70s and ‘80s, how will the future generations look back on today’s digital wonders? And to what extent can digital brand marketing cretinize us, the users? Turning us followers and users into cretins, I mean (with due apologies for the historic meaning of the term). It’s a dumbing down done with the speed of technology.

To me, in all this, Jollibee—a Filipino brand that has prevailed in the pandemic both here and abroad—has proven itself to be a notable enviable exception. Instead of resorting to cheap attention-grabbers or head-turners, it opted to tell stories that speak of and for the Filipino experience. In recent years, we’ve seen it tell stories—about the Filipino Christmas, Valentine’s, the OFW family, just about everything that stirs our emotions and thoughts, and these stories go viral. It is a Filipino story we can be proud of; it doesn’t cretinize us. And it is a storytelling that could be uplifting—not insulting.

“Powerful truths well told,” said Francis Flores.

What comes to mind now is the online talk given by Francis Flores, Jollibee Foods Corporation Philippines regional and country marketing head and Jollibee Global Brand CMO. Delivered before the select audience of the University of the Philippines School of Economics Alumni Association last August, the talk was about how to build brand love during the pandemic. Brand marketers would do cartwheels just to be able to build or at least sustain a brand in this pandemic.

Brand marketers would do cartwheels just to be able to build or at least sustain a brand in this pandemic

And as Jollibee has proved, reaching the goal starts with sensitivity to what people are going through. Empathy is a word often used and misused today, but there’s no substitution for this word. (This is not the presidential campaign.)

“People are hypersensitive now more than ever…Brands, celebrities are judged harshly if they are perceived to be insensitive,” Flores said.

We can’t but agree. Even in our households, patience is stretched taut; I deal with mood swings every day, even from our kasambahay.

Flores explained that brand love is needed now more than ever, the brand’s ability to create connection to the market. And whichever brand is able to achieve this will become even stronger after the pandemic, he said. Brands today must be salient and top-of-mind, for them to have a life in the post pandemic.

“We must learn how to communicate with the audience now even as we see shifts in consumer mind, attitude, and behavior.”

A brand in this pandemic normal must be able to create empathy, and manifest sincerity and authenticity.

“It’s about echoing the brand values,” said Flores. “The audience can smell if the ad is for PR only. So the message must be attuned to what the consumer needs.”

And that comes from “a deep understanding of what the consumers need now,” he said and explained the Jollibee experience. “If before, the consumer was after mainly the taste, today the consumer is also after safety. One needs to feel safe. One needs to be grateful by focusing on the good things, to find strength and hope and pride, to find happiness in simple things.”

Flores noted the silver lining behind the clouds. “We got to spend more time with the family. In my memory, 2020 would be the year of the family, and 2021 too. And that you can never take things for granted.”

He said, “When people are starting to lose hope and pride, we need to seek our source of pride, to lift our spirits as a nation. And that source of pride is the people. Kahit mabigat, tutulong sa iba. Yan ang Pusong Pinoy.”

He stressed that Pusong Pinoy is a unique Filipino trait.

‘We need to seek our source of pride, to lift our spirits as a nation. And that source of pride is the people’

He said that the new normal has made it inevitable for the brand to pivot. And the brands which deliver will survive.

“We need to experience something new,” he said; thus, “Jollibee accelerated innovations (to meet the times), such as Sweet Chilli Chicken.”

Jollibee opens first store in Spain. (Photo from FB/IG Francis Flores)

Jollibee just opened its first store in Spain. Flores noted how the OFWs make the most powerful brand ambassadors abroad.

In our private chat after his talk, Flores spoke of our personal transitions through the years. He said that we should stop referring to age as “age.” Instead, we should call age as “life stage,” where what matters is one’s motivation for living.

Now that made me feel good—the apex of any branding exercise.

Read more:

I heard Hidilyn Diaz, loud and clear

‘Maangas’: What creative believers went through for Leni Robredo

I took the Lexus LM to Caliraya—smoother than a sailboat on a lake

How I got into the algorithm of the Poor Souls in Purgatory

About author


After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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