‘Love the Philippines’ ad firm won at least P187M worth of tourism promotion contracts

PCIJ’s research shows that Doyle, Dane & Bernbach (DDB) Philippines also won at least three other contracts with the Department of Health and the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation. They are worth another P235 million.

BY CARMELA FONBUENA / Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Doyle, Dane & Bernbach (DDB) Philippines won at least two other government deals to promote tourism on top of its discredited P49.92-million “Love the Philippines’’ ad campaign, research by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) showed. 

DDB Philippines got a P124.45-million contract with the Department of Tourism (DOT) in February this year, and sealed the P12.99-million contract with the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) in December last year, based on documents PCIJ obtained from the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (Philgeps).

It’s a total of at least P187 million worth of government contracts to boost tourism promotion under the year-old Marcos administration. The controversial deal with DoT to rebrand the country’s tourism campaign was finalized in April this year. 

DDB Philippines, an affiliate of the DDB Worldwide Communications Group based in New York, has come under the spotlight for producing a promotional video that used stock footage of tourist attractions in other countries for the DoT’s campaign rebrand, “Love the Philippines.’’   

The tourism video – which used footage of rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia; fisherman in Thailand; an airplane in Switzerland; and dolphins in the United Arab Emirates – has made international headlines and sparked outrage. The stock footage was reportedly downloaded from Storyblocks, a stock media subscription company. 

Amid the uproar, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco terminated the contract with DDB Philippines, saying “not a single peso of government fund has been paid with the agency.” But Frasco indicated she was keeping the new slogan, saying “‘Love the Philippines’ reflects the heart of every Filipino because we all love the Philippines.’’ 

DDB Philippines had apologized for using stock footage of other countries in the video that it said was meant for internal use only. It explained that the presentation uploaded on social media was a “mood video to excite internal stakeholders about the campaign.’’

The video was shown at the June 27 launch of the newest tourism campaign that replaced the “It’s more fun in the Philippines’’ branding that had been in use since 2012.  President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. attended the launch.

The controversy has prompted calls for investigation in Congress.  

 Single rated bidder 

Before getting mired in the campaign ad fiasco, DDB has won more than a dozen multi million-peso contracts from government agencies over the years.  

At least six of these were reached during the first year in office of Mr. Marcos.   

NOTICE TO PROCEED. The first contract with DDB Philippines was signed by DOT Secretary Cristina Frasco in February 2023. 

On Feb. 28, the DOT awarded DDB Philippines a contract to provide consulting services for the “promotion of Philippine islands, award-winning Philippine destinations and tourism products” for P124.45 million. 

The six-month contract, signed by Frasco and DDB Group COO and CFO Judd Balayan, was supposed to end on Aug. 31.  

The ad agency was declared the single rated and responsive bidder, meaning it was the only firm that submitted documents for the bid. It also passed eligibility requirements. This is allowed by the Government Procurement Policy Board. 

Also, on April 19, DDB Philippines won the controversial P49.92-million contract from DOT to handle the “consulting services of an agency for Philippine Tourism Branding.”

The ad agency was declared the highest rated bidder for the six-month contract, which was signed by DOT Undersecretary Verna Esmeraldo Buensuceso and DDB’s Balayan, and was supposed to end on Oct. 19.  

These contracts required DDB Philippines to pay security bonds. The first contract with DOT required the firm to pay performance security, which is 5 percent of the contract price (P6.2 million in cash) or a surety bond worth P37.33 million.

The second contract required a performance security of P2.4 million or a surety bond worth P14.97 million.

Bonds are guarantees that the winning bidders could fund the projects. They are returned after the projects are completed.   

The Philgeps documents obtained by PCIJ do not include the terms and reference of the contracts, which would have included the schedule of payments.

These two DOT contracts followed a smaller contract between DDB Philippines and TPB in December last year.  For P12.99 million, the ad agency would provide “consulting services for the conceptualization and development of MICE brand and campaign.”

TPB is an attached agency of DOT that markets and promotes tourism here and abroad.

MICE stands for Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions and Exhibitions, which are specialized sectors of tourism requiring higher standards of services and facilities. 

The contract was awarded to DDB Philippines on Dec. 29, 2022. The notice to proceed was issued on Feb. 7, 2023. 

Outside tourism promotion, the marketing firm also bagged at least three other deals – P108.8 million and P99.73 million to handle the Department of Health’s campaign on seven healthy habits and P26.78 million to mount the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation’s multimedia public awareness campaign.  

A fourth contract with DOH worth P52.5 million was also issued a notice of award on July 10. 

 Another P40-M DOT contract ‘postponed’ 

Among production houses in the country’s capital, many were surprised that a firm as big as the DDB Philippines would make such a gaffe. 

“It’s out of character for DDB to not practice due diligence when it’s their protocol for ages to do so. All production houses, we follow that,” said an industry veteran. The controversy has prompted speculations about the contract.

Former Sen. Richard Gordon, who once served as DOT Secretary, said it was not enough for DDB to apologize.

“An agency as big as DDB cannot overlook a mistake that big. It is their duty to review and have everything checked or the mistake will bite you. More importantly it will rabidly hurt the Philippines,” Gordon told journalist Christian Esguerra on his Youtube program #FactsFirst. 

In the wake of the controversy, the DOT postponed a new bid for an agency to run its social media management and strategic planning. It had an approved budget of P40 million. 

Philgeps documents show that three companies were shortlisted for this service. One of them is DDB Philippines.  END