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Bacolod City, Philippines Tuesday, February 12, 2019
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with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

The ‘Eye Mo’ syndrome

Rock & Refuge

Way, way back, Eye Mo launched an advertising campaign anchored on the season’s most popular ditty then that was sung by The Carpenters which was also the most popular duo at that time. Set to the tune of the song, “What do you get when you fall in love,” the Eye Mo jingle changed the lyrics to “What do you get/ when you have sore eyes?/ Put Eye-Mo, Put Eye-Mo…”

It immediately clicked with consumers. People found themselves singing it. And it sent people into the so-called Last Song Syndrome or LSS, before the phrase was even invented. LSS is this tendency to keep singing or humming the last song one heard because it has stuck inside one’s head. Undoubtedly, the marketing campaign was a resounding success; on its back, Eye-Mo became a household brand. The success was enduring: it taught people they need to “clean” their eyes when no one did before.

It also turned out to be one of the most enduring communications lessons of our time. It wasn’t long before people started playing with the lyrics. Here in Western Visayas, people especially children started singing it with a twist: they dropped the space between Put and Eye and the whole meaning of the song changed and people laughed at it. Surely you don’t want an eye care product associated with something Lactacyd takes care? This forced to the fore the fact that it is imperative to plumb advertising copy and song lyrics for their “other” meanings and translations and nuances, their subtext and slang, to make sure the messaging holds in whatever context the word was used. This is especially true in an archipelago like the Philippines, where there are many dialects and the culture is tribal. We all know the word “sabot” and how that word is a whole lot different when it is spoken in Cebu. We also know how beliefs and mores from one tribe can be turned upside down in another. How bad manners in one can be respectable in another. Communications people, therefore, especially the ones in advertising need to know these to make sure their messaging is not garbled on its way to the target market.

Interestingly, my Good Friend RR recalled, the Put-Eye-Mo joke spawned other jokes of same nature: Init to Tay tubig/ Sakit akon tiyan. Its literal translation is, “Heat water, Pa. I have a bum stomach.” The translation turns risqué when the first three words are strung together with out spacing.

The other joke: “Gwapo ta ya…,” literally translated as “We’re handsome, you see!” Again, drop the spaces in between words and it means differently.

The “Eye Mo” syndrome has become very relevant these days considering that the election season is beginning to heat up and thousands of candidates are jostling and clawing their way for the 30-second exposure that will capture the voters’ imagination and engage them till election day. All these years, we’ve had examples of successful political advertising that achieved their goals.

One was the simple down-home, “Sobra Na. Tama na. Palitan na!” which Cory Aquino used in 1986. Another was “Ampunin si Rene!” that was used for the senatorial run of Rene Saguisag. Of course there was the unforgettable “Erap, Para sa Masa” which bannered the victorious campaign of Erap Estrada who gave us an unforgettable presidency.

There are a few of the political advertising campaigns now that are in danger of falling into the “Eye Mo” syndrome, One is the campaign of Francis Tolentino, which is bannered by “’Tol ng Bayan”

“Tol of course is from the word “Utol” which means brother. In not so subtle way, Tolentino is positioning himself as Brother of every Filipino which is a strong statement given our culture and love for our siblings.

Except that “Utol” in our dialect means something else. It refers to that blood-sucking pest and parasite that attaches itself and lives off on the blood of dogs. Certainly, no politician, especially candidates, would want to be associated with a blood sucking parasite, is there?

Another campaign worth watching – not necessarily supporting – is Bong Go’s which has his plastered all over the Philippines. His name takes on a different meaning when spoken fast and accented on the last syllable.

He also carries SAP, for Special Assistant to the President, in his name so that it reads: SAP Bong Go. I wonder just what do people think when they hear sapbonggo?*

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