MANILA, PHILIPPINES– It isn’t a Filipino Christmas without the sounds of children and folk caroling by the time the ber months hit, some of them even in broad daylight. Listen to the mashup of carols closely, and it’s likely you’ll hear an ABS-CBN tune alongside the familiar lines of “Sa may bahay, ang aming bati…”
The annual Christmas ID launch by the network is one of those pop culture phenomena that have earned its place alongside other cultural Christmas traditions— almost as commonplace as setting up a parol and Christmas ornaments in front of one’s home, as well as attending simbang gabi and feasting on bibingka and puto bumbong. So in the wake of 2020 and its flurry of disruptive events, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of the network’s broadcasts, was there room for the annual Christmas ID?
According to Robert Labayen, Head of Creative Communication Management at ABS-CBN, the answer was a resounding yes. The creative communication chief said that the times of adversity made the Christmas ID even more resonant this year, ultimately leading to the theme “Ikaw ang Liwanag at Ligaya” (You are the light and the joy).
“We thought that this was the most difficult year to celebrate Christmas, therefore (all the more that) we should exert extra effort to spread the Christmas period”, Labayen shares. “So that was our attitude before creating the campaign.”
Not that the circumstances surrounding ABS-CBN’s Christmas ID weren’t fraught with changes. Shooting and producing under COVID-19 restrictions, instead of showing off the size and magnitude of the whole roster of network talents in an aerial shot, the stars featured in the video were shot individually in the safety of their homes and the studio, while complying with strict guidelines by the IATF.
This year’s Christmas ID also introduced a first in the network’s history: a collaboration with long-time partner, Unilever Philippines. As the biggest advertiser in the country, the company was not new to working with ABS-CBN in various forms of content, but joining forces with an advertiser for the Christmas ID was unheard of. As Labayen explains, “In the past, we didn’t have advertisers in the Christmas ID because we thought you shouldn’t give out a Christmas message with ads. But during our hard times, our clients, especially Unilever, were very supportive. And we thought that (since) they’re already (practically) part of the ABS-CBN family, we might as well make them part of our Christmas campaign.”
According to Labayen, the Christmas ID was a culmination of their strengthened ties this year, after Unilever became one of the first companies to support the network’s Pantawid ng Pag-Ibig program—ABS-CBN Foundation’s fund-raising campaign for families affected by the Luzon enhanced community quarantine (ECQ)—as well as other year-long efforts such as digital concerts and donation drives. Through their partnership, Unilever was able to provide several packs of their products as relief goods for those who were affected by this year’s COVID-19 crisis.
Joseph Meñez, ABS-CBN’s Digital Sales Head, notes, “For us this year was all about partnering to help. With the pandemic as well as typhoons that has affected the country, we have always wanted to partner with all of our advertisers to help the different communities most affected by it.”
He adds, “We have done efforts to help for us to solicit and partner with organizations and every step of the way we encourage our advertisers to partner with us too. And it is fitting to end the year with the same offer.”
The collaboration was a dream come true for Dennis Perez, Country Media Director for Unilever Philippines.
“Getting into the Christmas ID has always been part of Unilever’s wish list for the past six years.
We know that it’s been part of pop culture, and a really great platform for advertising.”
“However, there’s a big but— we are also very respectful. At the end of the day, it’s the ABS-CBN Christmas ID. It is basically something that the network produces to really embody what the network stands for. And therefore, I always tell the team that we cannot plaster brands there.”
This meant an emphasis on not hard-selling any of Unilever’s products— a guideline that both ABS-CBN and Unilever were happy to comply with. Sales head Meñez shares how both the network and Unilever had to agree on placements within a grueling 24-hour window before shooting. “When we learned that the Christmas ID will be open to our partners, we actually cascaded it to all of our advertisers, and Unilever was one of the first, if not the first who acted on it as quickly as possible. Because scenes where brands can take part in were already set, it’s either a brand joins or they miss the boat. I think that’s how we appreciate the trust with each other— with them letting us also take (the lead and) also understanding that the Christmas ID is sacred to (ABS-CBN). They didn’t meddle with it so much. But they trusted us on how we would be able to creatively implement it so that it will be as subtle as possible, and deliver the message at the same time.”
While Perez notes that he is typically hands-on when it comes to Unilever’s brand campaigns, he also mentions that he and his team had minimal input when it came to conceptualizing and producing the video, waiting to respond to whatever the network would need from them. “This is ABS-CBN’s Christmas ID”, Perez quips. “This is not our ID, but we can make it good together.”
He adds, “With what ABS-CBN wants to do with with their Christmas ID, there’s just this perfect fit of sincerely helping Filipinos. It’s not about advertising altogether, it’s about us moving as partners as one Kapamilya, getting together in order for us to help those who are suffering because of the pandemic in this this COVID-19. So that, that we felt that ‘Okay, maybe this is the right time to do it.’ Because we are also very careful of not being too intrusive, especially in something that is basically sacred to ABS-CBN.”
According to Perez, he and his team at Unilever knew that joining forces with ABS-CBN on their Christmas ID was not about branding, but an opportunity to be a force for good— a common value that both Unilever and the network share. “We’re very aware as well of Christmas IDs, even all the other Christmas ID, it’s really brand-free. One thing that that we also (worked out) with ABS-CBN is how can we use this platform to help out in the service of the Filipino. This is where Unilever saw a good synergy of what we do as two different corporations–that is basically to bring light, life, joy, and hope back to Filipinos.”
The Unilever media chief mentions the stories of real Filipinos shared in the Christmas ID, including the man who had biked to Samar for 10 days, whom they gifted with a livelihood showcase so he and his family can put up a sari-sari store. “These are real people that we’ve helped”, Perez adds, “And that’s basically I think in the core of Unilever, and in the core of ABS-CBN as well.” According to Perez, Unilever donated over 250 gift packs for the beneficiaries, some of whom were featured in the Christmas ID.
Macce Samarista, Country Media Manager for Unilever, shares that the message of Ikaw ang Liwanag at Ligaya resonated with what the country had gone through in the midst of a turbulent year. She says, “2020 is a year of disruptions. This pandemic has shaken our audiences’ normal external routines and have caused them to develop new ones since they’re just staying at home. It has caused audiences to go dark. I can still remember ABS-CBN presenting a lot of digital content pivots which we experimented and launched in H2. When we heard this year’s Christmas ID song, it was so meaningful that it really struck a chord with all the issues we encountered this year; so landing May Liwanag at Ligaya project is very fitting for our business partnership this year.”
It’s clear that the Christmas ID ushered in the opportunity for both Unilever and ABS-CBN to lean into their brand values and uplift the Filipino nation. The collaboration can also be seen as a sign of what’s to come in the space of branded entertainment in the future. For what it’s worth, however, Christmas has not been cancelled even in the midst of adversity– and together with Unilever, ABS-CBN was able to deliver and carry on the tradition of releasing another feel-good Christmas ID that evokes the spirit of the season. As Robert Labayen puts it best, “Bad times need a good song.”