Field Notes:
Manila has potential...

Date: 20 Nov 2020
Location: Manila, Philippines
By: Felix Ng (Anonymous)
Between November 2017 to October 2018, I spent 238 days in Manila, working on the launch of the Philippines's first UNIQLO Global Flagship Store. Although my role was the project’s creative director, we had started work on the project much earlier on from the research and strategy phase, collaborating with Studioriley. This was the second Global Flagship Store that Anonymous worked on, following the launch of the Singapore flagship in 2016.

The Philippines is one of my favourite places in the world and Manila has become a second home, not just because the food is amazing, but because its people are one of the most hospitable, friendly, and thoughtful I have met. They have a very strong sense of community, often celebrating one and lifting each other. Family and friends are the most important aspect of their lives. If you visit any restaurants, you’ll find the majority of tables set up for 6 to 10, and much fewer tables for 1 to 2 persons. Having a meal is not just about eating, but spending time with people they love. The country is one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia and the world, has some of the most beautiful landscapes and natural spaces on the planet, and an incredible diversity of world-class creative talents that are underrated and overlooked outside of the country. (For now.)

We interviewed dozens of Filipinos, from film-makers, architects, chefs, urban planners, call centre agents (a key industry powering their economy), and more. Throughout the interviews, time and again, we heard people saying “Manila has potential...” and that “the moment” was just around the corner.

This was the insight that led to “Our Future is Here”.

The findings and recommendations from the research were turned into a book, microsite and keynote presentation. These were presented to Mr Tadashi Yanai, President of Fast Retailing (the parent company of UNIQLO), and distributed to key executive management at the global headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Following this presentation, my role was to turn those insights into a marketing strategy and plan, store concept and launch campaign. I assembled a multidisciplinary team drawing from the diverse pool of talents in the Philippines, made up of photographers, film-makers, illustrators and graphic designers, musicians, fashion stylists, editorial writers, and animators. This was complemented by a small core team from Singapore made up of a copywriter, designer, and producer.

The development and execution of the marketing campaign lasted from January to the launch in October 2018. I travelled to UNIQLO’s headquarters in Ariake, Tokyo on 4 occasions to present the proposal to Mr Yanai and President of Global Creative, John C. Jay. (I will write a separate post on my learnings from presenting work to C-suites.)

Working on the Campaign

Ever since we started working with UNIQLO in 2015, I’ve believed that it is a brand which empowers people’s everyday lives with clothing. And that the work we do is not advertising, but creating original content and communication that is authentic and inspiring — improving on what customers expect from brands.

During the research stage, we found 3 interesting insights:

  1. Filipinos are one of the highest users of social media in the world
  2. They have a very strong sense of community, often celebrating and lifting one another
  3. The status quo in advertising and brand campaigns in the Philippines was almost completely driven by influencers and celebrity endorsements

Our strategy for the marketing campaign was to challenge this status quo and reinforce UNIQLO as an everyday brand for all We wanted to do away with a celebrity campaign and instead of featuring inspiring everyday Manileños.

We created a marketing plan that started with a public call for nominations, inviting the community to nominate inspiring everyday people who were driving the city forward to be cast in the launch campaign. The nomination was completely held through social media, where anyone could post an image of the person they are nominating and a caption describing why. This was the first-ever public, nomination-based casting call by UNIQLO in the world. The idea was to create a ground-up network effect through the nominations and to share inspirational stories about the people driving Manila forward. The nomination phase attracted over 3,000 entries, from which 10 were selected to be featured and cast in the launch campaign shoot, alongside brand ambassadors Atom Araullo and Pia Wurtzbach.

Campaign Shoot in Manila

For the campaign shoot, I wanted to capture an honest and authentic portrayal of Manila and our cast of everyday people. To achieve this, I thought it would be interesting to not shoot it as a fashion campaign but as a documentary instead. We brought on Paco Guerrero, a documentary and travel photographer, who also photographed for our research, to work on both the campaign photography and film. A campaign's visuals and film are rarely shot by the same person (largely because of the tight schedule and pressure on set where it is faster to have two separate persons), but it made the most sense for the visual and narrative consistency that we needed. We wrote the narrative for the TVC film to capture the attitudes, dreams, and stories of our cast. The cast featured 12 people: a journalist, architect, film-maker, chef, football player, entrepreneur, artist, dancer, and more. The campaign was shot in 12 forward-looking locations across Manila to capture the energy, future, and grit of the city, with a 180-men production crew, police escorts (to help navigate the city's notorious traffic while moving from set to set) and even a helicopter! Here are storyboards from our final presentation to UNIQLO before the shoot and also behind-the-scenes photos from the production.

Making of Films

I’ve always been fascinated with the bonus behind-the-scenes content that comes with DVDs. They are often more interesting than the film itself. So when we started planning the campaign, I thought it would be interesting to bring the audience through the process of what goes into a UNIQLO campaign as a lead-up to the store opening. We commissioned a series of 8 short 1-min films and worked with photographer-filmmaker, Carmen Del Prado to produce them. Illustrator Craig Halili visualised storyboards we used to present the concept to Japan and also as a guide for the filmmaker during the shoot. You can watch the 8 short films here, and scroll on for the storyboards.
Post-production in Japan

To ensure the film and key visuals were produced at the highest quality possible and a standard in line with UNIQLO’s global campaigns, we brought on producer Keigo Nakamura from Monster Films Japan as a production consultant. After the production wrapped, I travelled to Tokyo for the post-production where we worked with Keigo-san and his team at Monster for the final edit, colour correction, photo touch-up, final processing and delivery of the film and key visuals. This is the second time we worked with Keigo-san and Monster following our collaboration in 2017 for UNIQLO Wherever. He was also the producer behind the iconic UNIQLOCK campaign and was introduced by our friend, Koichiro Tanaka of Projector Japan.

Designing the store experience

One of the key objectives for the Global Flagship Store is for UNIQLO to be a good neighbour and member of the community. That’s why it was important to collaborate with and present creative talents of the host country to the world. The store was envisioned as a vessel and platform to showcase local culture. This was a strategy that we created for the UNIQLO Singapore Global Flagship store and has since been adopted in other key stores around the world such as Vietnam, India, and even the new UNIQLO Tokyo at Marronnier Gate Ginza 2.

The insight for this strategy came from a friend who lives in Japan, who told me when Japanese people moved to a new place, they would offer small gifts to their neighbours. It is done as a form of respect and appreciation for accepting and welcoming them into their neighbourhood and an apology for any inconvenience caused by their moving in. This humble tradition of being a good neighbour in Japanese culture highlighted an important opportunity that a Japanese brand could embody and present through their flagship stores. For the store to become a member of the community, especially for the Manila store, we collaborated with Filipino artists, designers, musicians, animators to present the city’s culture and talents.

The store’s hoarding (also known as board-ups in the Philippines) were illustrated by Plus63, a design studio made up of 4 illustrators: Dan Matutina, Joanna Malinis, Raxenne Maniquiz, and Craig Halili.

Their artworks were also featured on paper bags distributed at all UNIQLO stores across the country weeks before the opening and turned into exclusive Japanese sensu fans which were given away to customers on the opening day. Animations of the illustrations were also featured in the flagship store.

We also commissioned an in-store soundtrack exclusively for UNIQLO Manila, the second UNIQLO store in the world to have music designed to complement the shopper’s experience. Produced by Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez, featuring Caliph8, Nonplus, Moon Fear Moon, Auspicious Family, Carol Bello, and Mark Laccay, the “Soundtrack for the Future” was designed to play different audio elements in various parts of the store, encouraging customers to explore the space.

A common element across all UNIQLO Global Flagship stores in the world is the abundance of LED and LCD digital screens wrapping the space, presenting a futuristic, technology-driven experience for customers. We collaborated with a motion designer to produce a series of animations projected throughout the store, using the “logo play” visual identity that we designed and combining it with the energy and exuberance of Manila.

Opening Day

On October 5, UNIQLO Manila, the second Uniqlo Global Flagship in Southeast Asia opened successfully. I was at the store to oversee the shoot for the Making Of film: to capture the final moments before the opening, and conduct an interview with Mr Yanai. After 11 months of research and production, working with a global team of incredibly talented individuals and teams, and hundreds of meetings in Singapore, Manila, and Tokyo, we launched the UNIQLO Manila Global Flagship Store.

Here is the full-length Making Of film.