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Father's Son - Miracles of Quiapo by Ingming Aberia

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Don't sell what you sell

Don't sell what you sell was also published by The Manila Times on 2 August 2023.

President Bongbong Marcos 2023 State of the Nation Address. Photo by RTV Malacanang.


Advertising oneself is fine. In a motivational talk, Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator” in movieland and former California, USA Governor in politics) said: "Work like hell and advertise." After having put in the work, it is fair to tell the world what we have to offer and put a price tag to it. Getting ahead in life for the work that one is good at doing, or even building a fortune from it, is a fair reward for his or her effort.

The keyword is work. The amount and level of standard of work that we put in—among other resources such as technology, method, capital, etc., which a production process may require—determine the quality of products or services we offer. How clients benefit from products is a function of quality; how they get to know we have an offer is a function of advertising or messaging.

The offer of quality needs constant backing, as any marketing expert will tell us. Whenever we offer substandard fake products, our reputation suffers. Soon we eventually lose our customers or clients (or publics, in the world of politics). 

To stay in the game and prosper, marketing experts further advise us that offers of quality are not enough. We need to earn customers' trust everyday by always delivering on a promise and building positive long-term relationships with them.

Speaking of offers, Jon Leger, a highly successful online marketer, has this to say:

"Here's an advertisement we saw recently, outside a hair salon: "We don't sell haircuts. We sell smiles and confidence.

"Their product is haircuts. But what they are selling is the result for the customer. Read that again, because it's an age-old secret to marketing!

"You might have heard it as "sell the sizzle, not the steak".

"If you're a meat eater, do you want an 8oz steak?

"Or would you prefer prime choice, succulent, juicy and mouth-wateringly tender steak from grass reared herds, marinated in the finest red wine reduction and served with a medley of garden-fresh vegetables?

"Which is likely to make you think about the taste sensation? Which is more likely to make you think about the experience you want to have?

"Which is likely to sell for more money!

"8oz steak, vegetables. Accurate, factual and BORING. It doesn't engage the emotions, or the imagination.

"DON'T sell what you're selling - sell what it does for your customer.

"Sell the smiles and confidence, not the haircut!"

In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 24 July 2023, President Bongbong Marcos tried to sell "Bagong Pilipinas," supposedly the new name for his brand of leadership and governance.

If he were a barber, did he sell a new hairstyle or did he bring smile and confidence to his publics?

He cited glowing figures that are, however, hardly relatable to people on the street. His re-assuring numbers about inflation—going down from 8.7 percent in January to 5.4 percent in June—do little to provide a breathing room for household spending, especially among the poor. The snapshot on economic growth is deceptive. He said the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 7.6 percent in 2022 was the highest 1976. But he did not mention that GDP decelerated by 9.5 percent in 2020 largely because of the pandemic. This means that we need to grow faster than that to be able to say we are on our way to economic recovery.

I need time and more details to understand what he means when he said the “digital economy” has contributed about 10 percent to the GDP. But we can assume as well that automated machines do displace people in the workplace, and government needs to catch up on regulatory frameworks that govern a digital economy, including taxation of robots.

On revenue generation, the mention of economic benefits from gambling (PAGCOR and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes) is something that no one should be proud of. Instead, there needs to be a more elaborate tribute to diaspora surplus (OFW remittances), which also accounts for a tenth of GDP. Often discriminated against and sometimes physically and verbally abused—from the Middle East to New York subways—our overseas contract workers have been the anchor whenever external shocks and internal headwinds batter the economy. The country’s labor export is one single factor that gives government confidence to be able to repay its debt in the future, just as foreign powers like China and the US draw their confidence from exports of their war products.  

With accomplishments that he could attribute to his government and a bucketful of wish list, the SONA’s overall message is to rally support for his vision of rebuilding the nation from its social, political, and economic ruin. He said: “I know that the state of the nation is sound and is improving…. Dumating na po ang Bagong Pilipinas.”

It remains to be seen whether he succeeded or not in getting his message across, in ways that engage the people’s emotion and imagination.

Selling an administration well is important because it keeps the people inspired and excited. The taxpayers, especially, would be inspired to open their wallets and pay with no remorse whatsoever, willingly, without need for the police to drag them to court.

People are inspired to work like hell and do something more for themselves, their families, and their communities.

An inspired citizenry also keeps people in government motivated. Civil servants perform at a level that is expected of them. They show respect when dealing with their clients. As a culture of integrity takes root, they become models of professionalism; they take courage and blow the whistle when irregularities take place.

While a rebranded Philippines raises extra expectations, the old unmet ones should remain a priority. For the business sector, people expect a consistent application of government regulations, cutting of red tape, mitigation of corrupt practices and influence peddling, and a lasting solution to peace and order problems.

For most of the population who are poor, we expect equity. In many cases, except in times of emergency, the poor do not need dole outs. They need access to basic services and opportunities. Investments in education and health care that promote social levelling remain important. The level of their participation in the development process largely determines the viability and sustainability of those investments. The new governance brand will require the transformation of constituents from being beneficiaries to being decision makers.  

For everyone else, there is expectation that leaders will lead by example, with a work ethic that inspires less of gambling and more of honest means of livelihood.


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