Here’s how a can of sardines gained a fanbase amid a pandemic

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The lockdown entailed much more than just a shift in daily activities. It brought on a new challenge for companies to figure out how to continue their businesses amid a pandemic. But when the public is fearing for their health and safety, it’s quite hard (and borderline insensitive) to bring the attention back to entrepreneurship. People may point to capitalism, thinking that brands are taking advantage of the health crisis to generate profit. However, some brands have utilized certain strategies to stay relevant through responsible advertising.

A rundown on branding

Studying multimedia arts in college taught me a number of lessons on branding and advertising. There are essential steps in building a brand—a precursor to which is coming up with values. This will determine what the brand can do for its customers, which in turn will become the bases for how they choose to advertise their products. 

Every once in a while, there are brands that amplify their brand values as in the cases of Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, Jollibee’s Kwentong Jollibee series or Starbucks’ “What’s Your Name” commercial. These campaigns garner them praise from the public and also shows their brand’s advocacies and beliefs—letting the public judge if they are friend or foe in this capitalist society.

This is what makes brands, along with their products and services, relevant figures in itself. Think of them as influencers that have a loyal following. They have customers who consistently avail of their products and stay on the lookout for latest developments. Their brand presence can have a significant impact on the general public which is why their stance on the current pandemic is crucial and has to be well thought-out.

Staying relevant

How does a brand stay relevant when everyone’s concern is staying alive and healthy? The answer has to do with the brand’s values. Basic human decency tells us that this pandemic is not the time to make profit or boost your capital. However, many advertisers can be self-serving and opportunistic, using the pandemic to sell their products.

So if a brand’s values are based purely on making money, the audience may not take their stance during the pandemic seriously. A solution to staying relevant amid a pandemic is to shirk purely profit-oriented goals and focus on social responsibility—a move that a sardines manufacturing company has recently taken.

[READ: Ligo Sardines show us what decisive youth leadership looks like in big business]

Ligo Sardines’ marketing strategy isn’t new—they’re tapping into what’s currently relevant and highlighting that in their print and digital advertising strategies. In the Philippines, the government’s flaws in handling the pandemic are usually what’s trending across social media. Ligo’s (subtle) take on the matter, delivered in their cheeky, discreetly political tone, has been read as echoes of the Filipino public’s sentiments.

Mr. Jeryc Garcia, a branding and advertising professor from De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s Multimedia Arts program and former associate creative director at Doyle Dane Berbach Philippines, says that Ligo has found an “advertising Goldilocks Zone,” a term that connotes an unlikely but successful outcome. 

According to him, “Ligo is successful because they have found a sweet spot where they deploy their product features (quality, testing, flavors, varieties, etc.) to comment on what’s currently happening in Philippine society. But the commentary is only implied.”

Reading Ligo’s recent posts, you see that there is no direct hit towards the government or to anyone in general. The main feature is still their product, and to a person who knows nothing of the current situation, Ligo is simply marketing themselves. On the other hand, to those who may be more well-informed, Ligo’s posts feel like an inside joke, an opinion shared between brand and customer under the guise of advertising.

“Ligo is successful because they have successfully mixed sass with class,” Garcia added.

Business with a cause

Make no mistake, Ligo’s advertisements aren’t pure activism. This advertising strategy benefits their business. However, choosing to voice out their opinions is a way to let the public know that they support the same cause. Besides this, they aren’t hypocrites. Ligo Sardines decided to donate their budget for advertising to COVID-19 relief efforts. Likewise, brands like Coca-Cola and Etsy have also donated to the same cause—at the very least, shelling out portions of their revenue for a worthy cause despite the need to make capital.

One nation, one family. #OneNationOneFamily

Posted by Ligo Sardines (Philippines) on Saturday, March 21, 2020

Good advertising focuses the audience’s attention on the product while still establishing a connection between product and potential customers. Ligo’s advertising works because they have made known what their company stood for and it resonated with the audience. Their tone is now more memorable as they continue to practice social responsibility by making use of their wide audience and loyal patronage. 

[READ: The secrets to sustaining a 65-year-old brand, according to these third-generation owners]

“Advertising is a matchmaker and people are supposed to fall in love with what they’re being matched to,” said Garcia. Ligo Sardines struck the right balance of wit and social relevance that built them a larger following. But let’s face it, Ligo has always had an edge–sardines are accessible. The P17 can is familiar to low to middle income classes, fishermen and market sellers, which is why the company’s advertising schemes, besides being socially relevant, has proven to be extremely effective: the product itself resonates with the majority of the population. And not every brand can ride this bandwagon. When it’s obvious that there’s no connection between the product and a dreadful situation like the pandemic, a viable solution brands can take is to simply avoid all the gimmicks and make a donation in cash or kind to the cause.

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Writer: THEA TORRES
ART JOEY SIMBULAN

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