Insight: Why Coca-Cola Philippines turned advertisements to donations

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    MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Ezra Ferraz takes a look at the trend of Filipino brand giving up their advertising budgets for donations in the fight against COVID-19. Ferraz interviews Public Affairs, Communications, and Sustainability Director of Coca-Cola Philippines Jonah de Lumen-Pernia to find out what the company is hoping for. 


    When the COVID-19 crisis spread across the world, many private companies stepped up.  

    International giants like JBL, Starbucks, and Apple immediately donated necessary equipment for medical frontliners or allocated a certain amount of money to support communities immobilized by the outbreak.  

    In the Philippines, big companies have also pitched in donations; some even allotting their marketing budgets to support medical frontliners and other affected groups instead.  

    For example, direct selling company Amway Philippines donated its marketing budget, and more than Php 3 million in cash, nutrition and personal care products, and personal protective equipment sets to support COVID-19 frontliners.  

    Canned sardine giant Ligo Sardines similarly reallocated its entire 2020 advertising budget to donations for different organizations spearheading COVID-19 relief and response efforts.  

    Coca-Cola Philippines pledged its P150 million commercial advertising budget to support medical frontliners, families, and small retailers, citing that “advertising isn’t all too important at a time of crisis.”   

    According to Jonah de Lumen-Pernia, the public affairs, communications, and sustainability director of Coca-Cola Philippines, it didn’t really matter where the budget was sourced, but advertising and marketing usually receive the bulk of the company’s operational funding.   

    To Coca-Cola Philippines, it was imperative to be present in the community during the pandemic. 

    When the pandemic hit the Philippines, it became first instinct to tap into the advertising funds to make a meaningful impact on Filipinos. Coca-Cola Philippines did something similar in 2013 when they halted all their Christmas and marketing campaigns and dedicated their advertising budget to support relief, rehabilitation, and rebuilding programs after Typhoon Yolanda struck the country. 

    Because the company has a history of putting people first through every crisis and disaster in the Philippines, de Lumen-Pernia said it wasn’t difficult to pitch the COVID-19 related donation to their internal team. Coca-Cola Philippines also saw that halting their advertising efforts did not eliminate their relevance in Filipinos’ lives. 

    “I believe every company or brand will be challenged to live their purpose through this crisis,” said de Lumen-Pernia. “Consumers will not remember if your product was present in a store or they saw your ad on Facebook. They will remember how you were present in their lives amidst panic, uncertainty, and fear.” 

    After placing their donations, Coca-Cola Philippines continued to create programs aimed to support their consumers, especially micro-retailers.  

    As of writing, the company is working on a project that builds off of their Sari-Sari Store Training and Access to Resources (STAR) Program, jointly run by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), various local government units, and different micro-finance institutions

    While the STAR program is intended to help Filipina entrepreneurs run their sari-sari store better and more efficiently, the new program is meant to help mico-retailers restart their business.  

    As the world moves to the new normal, de Lumen-Pernia said that it’s important for companies to be sensitive and sincere with their work because consumers can see through company actions and brand communications. Aside from giving donations in times of crisis, it is also crucial for brands to provide a convenient way for consumers to avail their products and services. For example, Coca-Cola Philippines accelerated their home delivery and e-commerce services because those are what consumers need during the pandemic.

    “Companies need to look broader. There are many ways that brands can show support as there are so many areas and industry segments that need help,” de Lumen-Pernia said.

    She added that in times of crisis, brands should ask themselves if their messages matter and if their proposition addresses their priorities. When Coca-Cola Philippines ran through these questions, they realized that they needed to continue living their purpose, which was to refresh the world and make a difference. They felt the responsibility to support the Filipino community as they’ve been operating in the Philippines for more than three decades. 

    “When you’ve been operating in a country for many years, it’s not just about the business anymore. Being part of the community can really make a difference,” she said.


    About the Author

    Ezra Ferraz is the managing partner of Ambidextr, a content marketing studio that serves tech companies in the Asia Pacific. He is also the co-author of Asian Founders at Work, which features interviews with some of the top founders across the Asia Pacific. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in history and earned a Master in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.

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