Music from my Bedroom, 1990-1994

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A music playlist is a time machine.
I moved into the upstairs bedroom at our house in Berlin Avenue, Quezon City. My career in advertising and marketing was just beginning. I bought my first personal stereo system, which meant for the first time I could listen to my own cassettes and CDs in the privacy of my own bedroom. The future was bright and beckoned with possibility.
This is the music I was into at the time. What do these songs remind you of?
#NowPlaying “Berlin Avenue: Music from my Bedroom circa 1990-1994” on #Spotify

Why I stood in line for 6 hours to pay respects to Lee Kuan Yew

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Singapore flies at half-mast at Parliament House

In the car just minutes before arriving at Suntec City, my wife and I looked at each other. “This is it. No turning back.” The radio was already warning people since 7am that the waiting time to pay respects to Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, would be at least seven hours. But we were determined.

We joined the line from outside Raffles City. Throughout that morning the line would crawl, speed up and slow down again as we approached the waiting pens at the Padang, where we were then herded together into smaller groups before being asked to join the line again. Spirits were high throughout, despite the heat and humidity. Police managed the flow of the crowd while young men in military uniform handed out free water, isotonic drinks and umbrellas and occasionally making the crowd laugh with jokes.

The entire process took about six hours. Afterwards a colleague of mine told me, “I’m surprised you would do that.” Perhaps she knew about my aversion to queues. Perhaps she knew I wasn’t born in Singapore and such a display of loyalty was expected only of someone who was native born, who grew up with Mr Lee as a persistent national figure.

I was born and raised in the Philippines, lived briefly in Hong Kong and moved to Singapore in 1997. In 2001 I was offered citizenship and became a Singapore citizen in 2002. So why would a Filipino stand in the sun for almost six hours to pay respects to Singapore’s founding father?

How could I not? It was Mr Lee’s vision that gave rise to an economic system where a young man from the Philippines could be welcomed into a multi-cultural society, find career opportunities and pursue the career he desired. I came to pay my respects because Lee Kuan Yew did more to elevate my quality of life and secure a brighter future for myself and my family than any other leader or public servant from the land of my birth. I came because I will always be grateful for the opportunity to live in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore.

I accept the ALS #IceBucketChallenge

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I accept the Ice Bucket Challenge and name comedian Hossan Leong, founder of Goodstuph, Pat Law, and CEO of SingTel Yuen Kuan Moon. 

 140821 Ice Bucket Challenge

I accept the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS awareness made by Don Anderson, Singapore MD of We Are Social!

In turn, I nominate comedian and all-around performer Hossan Leong, founder of Goodstuph, Pat Law, and CEO of SingTel Yuen Kuan Moon. You guys have 24 hours to respond! 

The ALS ice bucket challenge has already raised more than USD 30 million for the ALS Association. You, too, can donate at

Now if you think you’re too cool to participate in this worthy cause, check out who’s already done it here

Recent additions include Tom Cruise…

…and former US President George W Bush.

Update: as of 22 August 2014. SingTel CEO Yuen Kuan Moon accepts the challenge. Well done, Moon!

5 tips for digital content

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Presenting at Content 360 in Singapore

SingTel has spent the last three years refining and investing in its social media and digital content strategy. In the last year alone, SingTel has produced a wide variety of content, from educational infographics to award winning video campaigns like #Need4GSpeed and #HawkerHeroes.

For brands looking to venture into digital content designed for social media for the first time, the path forward might look daunting and pockmarked with risks. Here are five tips to guide you:

1. Aim for the heart, not the head

One of the first things we learned from working with the giant social media network Facebook was the useful sanity-check question: “Why will they care; why will they share?”

When a consumer decides to share a video or re-tweet an article, it is usually either because he found the content thoroughly upsetting (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”) or he found the content so amusing (to which the reaction was “I have to share this!”).

#HawkerHeroes worked particularly well for SingTel not just because of the presence of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay but also because it delved into an issue close to Singaporeans’ hearts: local heritage and cuisine.

As tempted as it sometimes gets to fill marketing content with information, just remember that if this was only about appealing to rational minds, social media would be about the viral distribution of white papers.

2.Accept the fact that you are not Ellen DeGeneres

“Please make this viral” is a phrase social media marketers dread. Too often, making a material viral is seen as the only goal worth pursuing. But unlike Ms Degeneres, most mere mortals (or brands) will never be responsible for the next Most Retweeted Tweet in History.

Instead, understand where this piece of content fits into your overall campaign strategy. Is it meant to educate? Or call attention to an issue? More realistic metrics such as video views or clicks to a campaign site would then be more sensible goals.

3. Have a good budget for production, but set aside a budget for distribution first

Often all the resources are poured into production with an expectation that something so brilliantly creative or funny is sure to go viral. (See Tip #2.) But even the best creative work is wasted if no one finds out it exists. Especially in today’s extremely cluttered media environment where hundreds of hours of video are being uploaded to Youtube every second, the chances of your shiny new video being discovered organically gets smaller by the day.

Combining an influencer outreach programme, traditional PR and an initial burst of paid media can give your content that boost it needs to get an audience’s attention and get that Share snowball rolling.

#HawkerHeroes, SingTel’s most successful campaign from last year, may have looked like a random viral campaign. But it only came to life through a complex, multi-channel strategy whose execution was planned down to the minute-by-minute detail.

4. Get your consumers involved

The best content campaigns are the ones where the audience gets in on the action. Consumers can be valuable co-creators, as we have seen in a number of campaigns from Old Spice to Oreo.

SingTel’s own #Need4GSpeed enlisted consumers to provide their best applications of a high speed mobile connection which were then translated into comedy sketches by comedian Hossan Leong.

5. Keep it simple

One common mistake brands make is to make participating in a campaign too complex, which can be an obstacle to a social media campaign’s success.

I personally prefer apply the “60-second Rule”. Ask yourself, would responding to the content or participating in the discussion take more than 60 seconds? Years ago, brands relied heavily on mechanics like photo submissions and anticipated no more than 10% of the audience would actually participate while the rest simply watched. Today the hashtag offers a much simpler way to participate and lowers barrier to entry.

Content-led social media campaigns need not be so daunting. While there are always risks, they can be extremely rewarding for any brand with the right concept and adequate planning.

This article was originally published in Marketing Interactive and was based on my presentation made at Content 360 on 3 April 2014 in Singapore. Full presentation below:

‘Peanuts’ to return as an all-CGI animation feature

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Charles M Shulz’s beloved cartoon strip will return to the big screen in 2015, apparently as an all-CGI animation feature.

Watching this teaser trailer, I actually realized I haven’t seen many of the old cell-animated cartoons. And when I imagine Charlie Brown’s voice, I hear my mom’s voice. That’s how I was introduced to Peanuts: my mom reading it to me. (I’m pretty sure she still says, “Auggghhh!” in real life.)

Nowadays it’s likely many young people, particularly millennials, are largely unaware of Peanuts. My hope is that Peanuts can live on for future generations.

My Father’s Watch


Brands I Love, Part 2: the Omega Dynamic, circa 1970

My father's Watch

Sometime in 1970, on his first trip to Switzerland, my father, Luis G. Bernas, walked into a watch shop in Zurich and bought an Omega Dynamic.

Omega’s Dynamic line of watches is rare, especially when compared to the more popular lines like the Speedmaster and Seamaster, both of which have been in production for over 50 years. In fact, Dynamics were only released three times by Omega: the first was released in 1969 and discontinued by 1975. (The watch shown above is from that series.) The Omega Dynamic was then released again as a quartz watch in 1984 and then once more between 1997-1999 as an aviator watch.

Pop’s watch had been almost forgotten. Because the line had been discontinued, its leather strap was no longer easy to find (especially not in Asia). Several months ago I discovered  — to my horror — that the watch was wearable only because a metal bracelet had been soldered onto its casing. The watch itself had also fallen into a state of disrepair: the date could no longer be adjusted, the crystal face was scratched and one of its hands was bent out of shape.

Read: Omega Man: Brands I Love, Part 1

131204 Omega 1It took me several months of approaching antique watch dealers in Singapore, asking if they could restore it to its original state. Most refused outright because of the risk to damaging the watch. One even tried to convince me that I should be satisfied with its current condition. But I refused. It wasn’t the way the watch was originally designed. More importantly, it wasn’t the way my father wore it.

131204 Omega 2Finally, I found this shop in Tanglin Mall whose technicians were not only willing to take on the job, they were also certified to service vintage Omega watches. The repair work would take several weeks. Parts would have to be sourced from Switzerland, including the watch crystal. I would also have to source the accompanying one-piece leather strap on my own.

Months after I started this project, I couldn’t be happier with the result. Apart from some minor scratches on the watch face (which in my opinion, only give it more character), the watch is fully restored and as good as new.

My father passed away in July 1987 at the very young age of 49. But now I am satisfed to know I will have a part of him with me everywhere I go. Years from now, his grandson, my nephew who bears his name, will inherit the watch. With luck, he will my pass father’s watch on to his grandson.

Creative Client of the Year


Creative Client of the Year at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 by phatfreemiguel
Shiny!, a photo by phatfreemiguel on Flickr.

Last night at at the Creative Circle Awards 2013 (aka “The Gong Show”), I was awarded Creative Client of the Year for my work at SingTel. There were a number of awards given to SingTel that night for the #HawkerHeroes and #Need4GSpeed campaigns. (Click here for the full list of winners.)

What a ride! Just last week, SingTel took home the lion’s share of the awards at Marketing magazine’s Marketing Excellence Awards and was awarded Marketer of the Year.

I may be the one that took home the gong (yes, I get to keep that freaking huge gong in the photo) but I share the credit with our agency partners, Ogilvy, BBDO and MEC, SingTel management and most of all my amazing Digital Marketing team at SingTel. Thank you all so much.

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