“See poster and print ads for derails.”

My strange afternoon began with the national
anthem, followed by a parade of twelve

I had been invited to be a judge
at a mini Advertising Congress in FEU. FEU, the Far Eastern University, never
entered my mind when I was choosing which college to attend. The University Belt
was too far, and besides, they were just “one of those schools.”

It was their third Ad Congress. Every
year, the junior marketing students presented an integrated marketing
communications plan, complete with produced TV, radio and print ads, plus an
eyestraining amount of promotional items and gimmicks, in a format patterned
after the industry’s Ad Congress, complete with awards. This year, the product
was the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. (The Philippines is this year’s host.) The
students were divided into groups, each group tried to act like an ad agency,
and their presentations were all done on stage in the college

Which is why I had to look
respectful and interested while a dozen proposed SEA Games mascots, ranging from
a shedding endangered bird to two kinds of civet cat to a mouse deer in silver
boxing shorts, staggered to the center of the stage and danced to “Let’s Get
Loud.” This was meant to mimic the parade of agencies that traditionally opens
the Ad Congress. (I must say it did give me the same mixed feeling of
embarrassment and amusement.) Behind the mascots, on the wide screen, were the
names the students had chosen for their agencies, under the peculiar heading,
“Participanting Agencies.” It was slightly painful to see their Ad Congress open
with a typo – and there was only more pain to

It was not that every group’s
presentation document was pockmarked with grammatical errors, typos (including
the title of this piece) and bad judgment (one group included detailed write-ups
on every SEA games sport; another had at least five pages detailing the
physiology, behavior and habitat of their proposed mascot, the civet cat). It
was not that all of them apparently thought integrated marketing communications
meant throwing at least a dozen promo concepts into the mix. What was painful
to see was all that raw enthusiasm and potential talent sabotaged by very poor
communication skills – in English or Filipino. I would have welcomed an
all-Filipino presentation, or even a Taglish presentation, as long as it had
been done with competence. As it was, even reading from scripts, everyone was
barely coherent. It was a pity, as I saw good ideas trying to fight their way
out of execrable grammar – and failing.

graded them as I would have job applicants. I figured that would be fair, as
landing a marketing or advertising job would seem to be why they would be in a
marketing course. Of course my scores pulled the other judges’ scores down, so
the winning group only received 86 out of 100, whereas groups that won in all
the other categories I didn’t judge averaged in the 90s.

(One of the categories I didn’t judge
was “Best Mascot.” If I ever decide to teach in FEU, that would be the first one
to go.)

Still, at the end of their Ad
Congress, while handing out the medals and the trophy and posing for pictures
with the students, I couldn’t help but admire FEU’s herculean effort. It’s
paying off. The Dean of their business school told me that just the day before,
the FEU contingent sent to Harvard to compete in a global business plan shootout
had returned a winner. They won together with delegates from Harvard, Wharton
and other well-known business schools. It was impressive, heartwarming news.
It’s the kind of news we need to hear: that potential can be unlocked, that our
youth do win outside of singing and dancing competitions, that there is hope yet
for this confused, squabbling, half-heartedly bilingual country.