RITUAL AND COMMUNAL CONNECTION!
This is the preprint version of
Soriano, C. & Lim, S. S. (2016). Ritual and communal connection in mobile phone
communication: Representations of kapwa, bayanihan and “People Power” in the
Philippines. In S. S Lim & C. Soriano, (Eds.) Asian Perspectives on Digital Culture:
Emerging Phenomena, Enduring Concepts. London: Routledge.
The final version is published by Routledge and is available here !
Ritual and communal connection in mobile phone communication:
Representations of kapwa, bayanihan and “People Power” in the Philippines
Cheryll Ruth Soriano, De Le Salle University
Sun Sun Lim, National University of Singapore
In exploring the relationship between advertising and cultural rituals, this chapter examines
how Philippine television advertisements for mobile technology products and services use the
frame of ritual and mobilize the various dimensions of kapwa (connecting to significant
others) to appeal to consumers. We question how advertisements reify the importance of
culturally-embedded rituals and relationships that are underscored by shared values to shape
the mobile phone’s place in society. At the same time, we explore how advertising promotes
the ritual of mobile communication and consumption through aspirational marketing
campaigns that frame social reality through a ritualized system of symbolic production. The
paper will argue that aside from engaging cultural rituals in mobile advertising, the
advertising of mobile services can be considered as a “media ritual” (Couldry, 2003) as it
entrenches forms of social organization within a locale and the centrality of mobile
communication in that social organization.
Keywords: mobile phones, advertisement, media rituals, “kapwa”, consumer culture,
Ritual and communal connection in mobile phone communication:
Representations of kapwa, bayanihan and “People Power” in the Philippines
Studies analyzing the theoretical relationship between culture and advertising (Lury,
2011; McCracken, 1988; Otnes & Scott, 1996; Williamson, 1978) argue that advertising
brings consumer goods and representations of the culturally-constituted world together within
the frame of an advertisement. Advertising of goods necessarily requires a reflection of
human culture and, consequently, advertisements need to be mediated by a culturally
symbolic field in order to gain relevance in society (Appadurai, 1986; Ju, 2009; Meijer, 1998,
p. 238). The present study builds on this line of inquiry by considering how Philippine
television advertisements for mobile technology products and services use the frame of ritual,
and mobilize the various dimensions of kapwa (connecting to significant others) to appeal to
consumers. We question how advertisements reify the importance of culturally-embedded
rituals and relationships that are underscored by shared values to shape the mobile phone’s
place in society. At the same time, we explore how advertising promotes the ritual of mobile
communication and consumption through aspirational marketing campaigns that frame social
reality through a ritualized system of symbolic production. The paper will argue that aside
from engaging cultural rituals in mobile advertising, the advertising of mobile services can be
considered as a “media ritual” (Couldry, 2003) as it entrenches forms of social organization
within a locale and the centrality of mobile communication in that social organization.
We focus on advertisements’ representation and promotion of mobile adoption in
society because advertisements are considered one of the most visible products of culture
industries. Advertising and technology share the characteristic of double-edgedness. On the
one hand, advertising and technology are seen as tools of the capitalist market for driving the
consumer society (Sassatelli, 2007; Williams, 1980). On the other hand, both advertising and
technology represent societal dynamics and shape culture. We focus specifically on mobile
technology because of its explosive growth in the Global South, illustrated by its emergence
as a primary form of telecommunication. In the Philippines, the local adoption of mobile
technology has been profound, and has evolved to have vital social, developmental, political
and spiritual roles woven into the daily lives of the masses (Goggin, 2006). In 2009, the
average Filipino mobile phone user sent a monthly average of 600 texts, 43 percent more
than their US counterparts (Dimacali, 2010), earning it the moniker of “texting capital of the
world” (Mendes, Alampay, Soriano, Soriano, 2007; Pertierra, 2005, p. 27). This prominence
of the mobile phone in the Philippines amidst a state of relative poverty and economic
development makes it a compelling case for analyzing technology and societal interactions.
Rituals in advertising
The cultural approach to consumer culture and advertising presents a paradigm shift from
the logic of seeing consumption as a purely individualistic activity. The cultural industries do
not merely manipulate, but accommodate the view of consumers as they are involved in a
continuous process of interaction, or the “cultural circuit” (Johnson, 1986; Lury, 2011). In
addition, advertising reflects a society’s values and effective advertising and marketing are
indelibly linked to the underlying culture of the target group (Chang, Jisu, & McKinney, Sar,
Wei & Schneeweis, 2009, p. 672). Advertisements are seen to convey the advertisers’
collective knowledge and/or assumptions about what is appealing to a particular society.
Advertising in turn transmits cultural values through associating material goods with qualities
or values exalted by a particular culture.
Connected to this cultural approach to advertising is a body of literature which studied
the relationship between advertising and ritual (McCracken, 1988; O’Reilly, 2005; Rook,
1985; Otnes & Scott, 1996). Otnes and Scott (1996) developed this association by describing
a two-way relationship between advertising and ritual, in which advertising can influence
existing rituals, while those same rituals can also be incorporated into advertisements in order
to convey meaning. Rook (1985) applied grooming rituals to modern consumer behavior,
where he defines ritual as incorporating both religious and non-religious behaviors: “a type of
expressive, symbolic activity constructed of multiple behaviors that occur in a fixed, episodic
sequence, and that tend to be repeated over time” (p. 252). Rituals are laced with emotion,
symbolism and even cognition and performed either individually or in a group (Otnes &
Scott, 1996). Rituals define the ‘right way of doing things’ and make symbolic statements
about the social order (Rook, 1985). Some public rituals are viewed as contributing to social
cohesion (Ling, 2008) that bind a nation through symbolic nationalistic practices that work to
prevent social conflict and promote social order (Levy & Zaltman, 1975). While ritual has
long been recognized as a method for deriving meaning from consumer goods (Rook, 1985),
ritual can also be used to derive meaning from a particular advertising text (Ritson & Elliott,
1999, p. 271).
But what is the relationship between media and rituals? Couldry (2003) developed the
term “media ritual” to refer “to the whole range of situations where media themselves ‘stand
in’, or appear to ‘stand in’, for something wider, something linked to the fundamental
organizational level on which we are, or imagine ourselves to be, connected as members of a
society” (p. 4). He analyzed the “media rituals” that characterize everyday talk about
celebrities, or the legitimation of “surveillance” in reality TV through ‘Big Brother’ shows
(Couldry, 2003), arguing that “certain practices around media…have the transformative force
of ritual in their own right… as they “construct themselves as socially central” or “as a
central access point to a wider centre” (Couldry, 2012, p. 70). Advancing a critical position,
he argued that while ritual can be seen as affirming social order and community via the
expression of certain transcendent values, rituals are also seen to institute as “natural and
legitimate certain key category differences”, ideologies (of the ruling class), and inequalities
(Couldry, 2003, p. 28). This essentially shifts the emphasis of ritual analysis from mere
questions of meaning, towards questions of power that are embedded, maintained, or
communicated in rituals (Couldry, 2003). The repetitive form of rituals works because it
reproduces categories and patterns of thought that bypass explicit belief. It is also in this
ritualized form that advertisements can successfully reproduce cultural practices without
questions being raised about their content (Couldry, 2003, 2012). Using this framework of
“media rituals” to analyze advertisements of mobile technology products and services, we
RQ1: How are traditional Philippine rituals appropriated as referential tools to
promote consumer adoption of mobile communications and technology in the
RQ2: How do advertisements for mobile products and services depict the
relationship between mobile technology and Philippine society? How do these
advertisements showcase communication rituals that are enabled by these
Mobile communication, culture and ritual in the Philippines
Previous sociological works identified instances wherein mobile devices mediate
ritual interactions that dictate a sense of social order and solidarity within a locale. First, the
mobile phone’s ritualized role is manifested by its salience for the maintenance of social
relationships (Ling, 2008; Pertierra, 2005; Wajcman, Bittman & Brown, 2009). For example,
Ling (2008) has investigated the relationship between mobile phones and rituals in the
European context, and found that through the use of various social rituals the mobile phone
strengthens social ties within the circle of friends and family—sometimes at the expense of
interaction with those who are physically present—and creates what he calls "bounded
solidarity." The ritualized function of the mobile phone was also explored in the
amplification of collectivist cultures and in facilitating new modes of cooperation and social
cohesion (Burrell, 2010; Campbell & Kwak, 2010; Sreekumar, 2011).
Secondly, the mobile phone enacts ritualized roles. For example, studies have found
that women’s uses of the mobile phone fit the spheres of activity and interests traditionally
designated to them, such as taking responsibility for the emotional and material needs of
husbands and children, the elderly, the handicapped, or the sick (Soriano, Lim, & Rivera,
2015; Zainudeen, Iqbal, & Samarajiva, 2010). Men, on the other hand, used phones for
purposes traditionally expected of them, such as work or business (Huyer, Hafkin, Ertl &
Third, ritualized interactions have also emerged from the use of mobile phones (Ling,
2008, p. 167). For example, Ito (2005) presented SMS – mediated ritualized interaction in a
dating context in Japan; and Pertierra (2006) argued that ritualized greetings also underlie the
introduction of strangers in mobile chat lounges. Mobile devices also facilitate a ritual of
“connected presence” (Licoppe, 2004) and “perpetual contact” (Katz & Aakhus, 2002) where
small, regular messages and talks are exchanged to create an illusion of presence and
continued connection between individuals.
The case of mobile phones in the Philippines demonstrates how a globally introduced
technology interacts with local socio-cultural conditions (Pertierra, 2005, pp. 24-25).
Filipinos are one of the most fervent adopters of mobile technologies as cheaper versions of
phones found their way into the market and cellular networks began offering affordable
schemes that fit the country’s “sachet culture” (i.e. prepaid, credit top-up, and “unlimited
texting” promotions) (Mendes, et.al, 2007). As a testament to the ubiquity and extensive
acceptance of this technology, studies have documented its importance in various realms of
Philippine society. These include Filipinos’ use of SMS in social movement formation and
political protests (Rafael, 2003; Rheingold, 2002; Tilly, 2003), as well as in developmental
applications such as m-government, mobile remittances, m-commerce, m-agriculture, and
even m-education (Mendes, et.al., 2007). The overthrowing of President Estrada in 2001 via
a “coup d’ text” (Pertierra, 2005) has made the Philippines a test case for assessing the
political and community-building consequences of this technology (Tilly, 2003; Pertierra,
2005; Rafael, 2003; Rheingold, 2002). Mobile phones have also become more salient given
their role in bridging transnational families in light of pervasive labor migration of Filipinos
(Cabanes & Acedera, 2012; Madianou and Miller, 2011; Paragas, 2009; Uy-Tioco, 2007). As
more than nine million Filipinos work in 135 different countries and territories as migrant
workers (Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA), 2012), the mobile phone keeps
them connected to their loved ones at home.
But the pervasiveness of the mobile phone and its social and political relevance must
also be situated within the structural realities in Philippine society. Cell phone ownership is
becoming a major index of modernity and the basis for a new form of inequality (Rafael,
2003). The increase in cell phone theft demonstrates that its possession has become an
imperative (Pertierra, 2005). Mobile phone acquisition and use also takes up a significant
portion of the Filipino household expense. In a study by LIRNEasia (Aguero, Da Silva &
Kang, 2011, p. 23), mobile telephone service expenditure figures show that the “bottom of
the pyramid or BOP”1 in the Philippines spends the highest on mobile phone services, at an
average of US$9.50 per month or 57% of the personal monthly income, more than double the
percentages for India (24.3%), Sri Lanka (27%) and Thailand (24.4%). The BOP is therefore
a significant market for Philippine mobile networks, given the country’s poverty incidence
1!In said study, the Bottom of the Pyramid was defined as the socio-economic class E for the Philippines with average
monthly personal income of US$18.9; n=800, ages 15-60 (Aguero, et.al, 2011).
estimate of 26.5% in 2009 or an estimated 28 million people2 (World Bank (WB), 2012).
This made it imperative for the biggest telephone networks in the country, Globe Telecom
and Smart Telecom, to come up with their subsidiary brands that cater to the mass and lower
income market, Touch Mobile and Talk n’ Text, respectively. As will be shown later, the
BOP figures prominently in the narratives of mobile network advertisements.
Recent studies exploring the intersections of mobile phones, families, and migration
have also shown that while the mobile phone can lead to increasing connections between
migrant parents and their left-behind families, such mobile phone use has implications that
are nuanced and complex (Madianou & Miller, 2011; Thomas & Lim, 2010). Furthermore,
mobile relationships are becoming more common and while many are advantageous, others
have also been found to be disruptive of certain cultural norms and social relations (Pertierra,
2005; Turkle, 2011). In light of these varied implications of mobile phone use in a
developing society, this paper highlights the importance of culturally-embedded rituals in
shaping and understanding the mobile phone’s place in society.
We conducted a YouTube search of mobile and network television commercials from
the Philippines from February to April 2011 using the combination of the following key
words: advertisement, commercial, patalastas (local term for commercial) Smart Telecom,
Smart Buddy, Globe Telecom, Globe Tattoo, Touch Mobile, Red Mobile, and Sun Cellular
(which pertain to the major network providers in the Philippines) and Nokia, Samsung, Sony
Ericsson, iPhone, Blackberry, and names of local brands such as Cherry mobile and
MyPhone for the mobile phone advertisements. Obtaining commercial videos from YouTube
allowed us to sample a range of advertisements from a broader time period, enabling us to
analyze the changing patterns of mobile use across time. All videos YouTube suggested, on
2 Poverty headcount ratio at $1.25 a day. Philippine population at 91.7M in 2009 and 93.3M in 2010 (WB, 2012)
the top right corner of the screen, carrying the network names in full or abbreviated
form were also reviewed. In all, over one hundred advertisements were reviewed. From this
pool, we selected advertisements that were crafted specifically for the Philippine market and
which featured stories/narrative as we wanted to explore the social embeddedness of the
product or service being marketed. Advertisements that featured only a straightforward
presentation of information on product prices and promotions were therefore excluded from
consideration. A total of sixty advertisements were subjected to further semiotic analysis
(Table 1). Most of the advertisements indicated the date created and aired on television
(production range is 2002-2010) and ranged from 0.12 seconds to 1.2 minutes in length.
[INSERT TABLE 1 HERE]
Findings: Rituals in mobile advertising: depicting the mobile phone as central in
The actualization of a collectivistic logic in a community’s appropriation of new
technologies has been overlooked in many studies of mobile phones (Sreekumar, 2011). As
well, mobile advertisements in other countries have been found in previous studies to
primarily represent individualistic values and aspirations (Ju, 2009). A few recent studies,
however, have shown how the availability of mobile technologies has allowed for the
amplification of collectivist cultures and enabled new modes of cooperation (Burrell, 2010;
Campbell & Kwak, 2010; Sreekumar, 2011).
Consistent with these new directions, the advertisements in our corpus depicted
mobile technologies as central in facilitating various forms of relating to the other
(pakikipagkapwa): (a) nurturing familial bonds; (b) facilitating the maintenance of rituals of
solidarity with the community (bayanihan); and (c) as contributor to rituals of “People
Power”, political mobilization, and nation-building. This concept of maintaining smooth
interpersonal relationships (pakikipagkapwa, or kapwa) has been identified in previous
studies of Filipino psychology as integral to the individual’s belief systems and as an
important means for maintaining social acceptance (Bulatao, 1992; Enriquez 1978, 1994;
Enriquez & Guanzon-Lapeña, 1985). The concept of kapwa is central in Filipinos’ various
relationships and actions – from nurturing familial ties, engaging in acts of solidarity with a
neighbor, or in joining efforts towards broader goals, such as nation-building. In Filipino
cultural psychology, kapwa implies other people connected to a person (me/other orientation)
by virtue of a shared identity (Enriquez, 1978). Although the usual English translation for
kapwa is “other”, it is important to emphasize that the term “kapwa” regards other people as
closely connected to oneself or even extensions of oneself, while the English term “other”
implies difference and separation from oneself (Sapitula & Soriano, this volume). Developed
from the root word, “kapwa”, the term “pakikipagkapwa” is a verb that reflects the
collectivistic logic running through Philippine society, where one’s actions (i.e. use of the
mobile phone) are conducted in consideration of one’s “kapwa”, or in the process of
acknowledging someone as a “kapwa”.
The notion of “kapwa” is an important lens through which to understand much mobile
phone engagement in this particular locale. Through various forms of mobile
communication, users are able to keep abreast of the goings-on in both the private and public
spheres of their kapwa. As we discuss the findings in the succeeding sections, we explore the
role of advertisements as “media rituals” which work both in articulating social values and
affirming “pakikipagkapwa”, while promoting the essential role of consumer goods in the
achievement of these.
Nurturing familial bonds
The most common theme in the advertisements is that of nurturing family and social
relationships. These advertisements highlighted the use of the mobile phone for connecting
with family and communicating familial responsibilities in light of increasing mobility. The
family rituals that these advertisements capture are those of children expressing their love for
their parents, a renewal of ties with extended family through mobile calls, and family
members communicating with one another while on the move. For example, Smart
Telecommunications launched a series of advertisements focusing on stories about each
family member: “The Father”, “The Mother”, “The Son”, and “The Daughter”. In multiple
contexts, the mobile phone is represented as bringing the family together, sometimes, even in
death. Even as mobile communication services have evolved to facilitate diverse social and
instrumental connections, this ritual of the family keeping in touch continues to be avidly
used in advertisements.
This persistent representation by advertisers of the ritual of family connection is a
reflection of the central role of the family in Philippine society (Cabanes & Acedera, 2012;
Church, 1987; Quisumbing, 1963; Uy-Tioco, 2007). The Filipino family is believed to be the
foundation of the nation, and the family—nuclear, extended, and transnational—as the
cornerstone of Philippine culture. Among Filipinos, a strong sense of family solidarity exists
regardless of its size. The importance of family and kin has been consistently emphasized as
being the "highest value in Filipino culture" (Quisumbing, 1963, p. 135) and "the core of all
social, cultural, and economic activity" (Quisumbing, 1963, p. 137). The bilateral extended
family provides emotional and economic security and support, and its functions in the
economic, political, and religious realms are far-reaching. The advertisements that carried a
central theme about the role of technology in mediating relationships—within or beyond the
family, clearly disrupt individualistic assumptions about consumer culture and opens avenues
for conceptualizing advertising and technology use as something undertaken in relational
The maintenance of familial relationships is also depicted in light of the reality of
increased migration of Filipinos. According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency
(POEA), 1.47 million Filipinos left the country for employment overseas in 2010 (POEA,
2012). In these advertisements, Filipino migrants are shown to use cellphone technology to
maintain relationships with their families in the Philippines. Communication technologies
such as mobile phones allow people to imaginatively detach from their geographical
locations and momentarily suspend their physical separation with loved-ones (Uy-Tioco,
2007). Nurturing relationships, albeit virtual and mediated, can exist despite the separation of
space and time. The advertisements also show how familial relationships are maintained
through innovations in cell phone services (i.e. mobile-remittance; pasaload or passing of
phone credit from one account to another).
What is striking in some advertisements of mobile services is the positive depiction of
overseas parenting, where overseas Filipinos are often depicted as professional workers who
continue to actively parent their left-behind children despite their physical distance. Further,
most of these advertisements depict the father as the overseas worker while the mother is
rarely shown as based overseas. Notably, when the mother is overseas, the husband is not
shown to receive the call at home. On the contrary, when the husband is based overseas, the
wife/mother is always shown in the Philippine home, to receive the husband’s call, and to
pass on the call/mobile phone to her children. These depictions strike a discordant note with
reality, where left-behind fathers performing the mother’s role in the home is becoming a
common phenomenon in light of increased migration of Philippine mothers (Cabanes &
Acedera, 2012). The advertisements hide this real, yet socially unacceptable scenario of
mothers as breadwinners (possibly taking care of other people’s children overseas) and
fathers as homemakers. Instead, positive representations of mobile-mediated parenting in
advertisements serve to create illusions of normalcy and efficient parenting, silencing the
complicated realities faced by migrant families while setting unrealistic expectations
(Soriano, Lim, & Rivera, 2015). We argue that such depictions support particular social
categories, positions, and expectations (i.e. gender roles in parenting) even when these do not
necessarily match reality. Thus, the mobile phone is presented in the advertisement as
successfully enabling the performance of such ritualized roles. Such depiction of
technology’s relevance through advertising can be construed as a “media ritual” (Couldry,
2003), where, while highlighting the mobile phone’s “social centrality” through
representations that affirm social order, family, and community, these also distort reality and
hide issues of power that underlie consumption of mobile products and services.
Enacting “bayanihan” (solidarity with community)
In Philippine culture, there is a specific exercise of pakikipagkapwa known as
bayanihan, a traditional Filipino practice involving a community of Filipinos helping one’s
neighbor to (literally) move one’s house (originally a nipa hut) from one location to another.
Bayanihan is derived from the word bayan, referring to a nation, town or community, and
underscores a spirit of communal unity or joint effort to achieve a particular objective.
Although bayanihan practiced in its original form is rare today, the word has come to mean
any manifestation of the powerful spirit of communal unity that can make seemingly
impossible feats possible through the cooperation of many people working towards a
Philippine communities’ cultural practices of sharing resources as well as social
bonding in an environment of struggle help explain the salience of this theme in the mobile
advertisements reviewed. A significant number of advertisements in our corpus showed the
use of mobile phones to promote a sense of “bayanihan”, depicting culturally enhancing
ways that facilitate community cooperation and solidarity, particularly in moments of
struggle and hardship of economically marginalized communities. In one advertisement
(Trevor Hone, 2010), the mobile phone is shown as being used by a rural community of
fisherfolk, to help a fellow fisherman driving a local jeepney (traditional mode of
transportation) from falling off the cliff. Through the mobile phone, two fishermen in a
threatened jeepney immediately send mass messages to other fisherfolk in the community,
enabled of course by the low-cost mobile plans offered by the network. Showcasing the
mobile phone’s capability for micro-coordination and communal unity especially in rural
contexts, the community of fisherfolk gathers to the rescue, rapidly creating a magical bridge
to save their peers. In another advertisement (Cerdian Gonzales, 2012), a poor student passes
the entrance examination of the State University, but does not have enough funds to enroll.
The advertisement shows the student’s friends mobilizing to form a dance group, using the
mobile phone, to help the friend raise funds for his tuition. Both advertisements highlight the
mobile network’s capability for facilitating various moments of one’s “pakikipagkapwa” and
depictions of “bayanihan” (overcoming difficult situations through collective acts).
Interestingly for some of the advertisements, mobile phones are not even used or shown at
all, but the same themes are used as the company’s slogan.
What is interesting in these depictions of the bayanihan, however, is the use of
popular celebrities as leaders of the community movement. In mobile-mediated
interpretations of bayanihan (silverballe, 2008; Trevor Hone, 2012) television celebrities star
in the advertisement where they are shown helping peasants carry their load (the first peasant
is shown to carry seemingly heavy logs; the other peasant is shown to carry a heavy metal
bucket of gravel). The heavy loads are marked with the mobile network logo, symbolizing
the company’s strong potential for empowering the masses. But the masses are not shown to
achieve empowerment on their own, and need the celebrities, and the network, Touch Mobile,
to be empowered. Couldry (2003) argued that the media ritual involving the juxtaposition of
ordinary people with media celebrities is fundamentally a manifestation of symbolic power.
In advertisements incorporating this media ritual, celebrities are seen walking ahead of
peasants, and are shown leading them or offering solace, subtly underlining the marginalized
status of the consumer and their need to employ mobile communications for personal
Nonetheless, these narratives of “help” are applied in multiple and diverse contexts,
and a mobile-enabled environment where the cooperative use of new technology is
highlighted. Thus, in contrast to the findings of mobile advertising in the Korean case (Ju,
2009), Philippine mobile advertisements frame progress as social cohesion and maintaining
healthy and thriving community relationships. Such representations of the relevance of the
mobile phone can be interpreted as exaggerating the role of mobile phones in community
building and empowerment for purposes of persuasion, creating false aspirations that one’s
problems or hardship can automatically be alleviated through the connections enabled by
mobile services. The very idea of new media as “automatically transformative’ in their social
impact is perhaps the fashionable version of the myth that through media we can access our
realities and our future.
However, in the midst of media and advertising messages that predominantly
highlight individual material progress, such representations of the value and appropriation of
technology in everyday life that is situated in local values of community shows how culture
shapes the relevance of a consumer good in society. These also show the reflexivity by which
technology producers and advertisers respond to cultural values.
Narratives of “empowering the weak”. We also observed that many of the
advertisements invoking the concept “bayanihan” represent the use of mobile phones by a
broad range of users, including actors from the margins. This redefines the ‘technological
society’; beyond the middle and upper class as model of “technology user”, and materialism
as model of the “good life”. A series of advertisements featured construction workers,
farmers, fisherfolk, or street peddlers, who are not as prominently featured in the
advertisements that we have reviewed for other countries from Asia (i.e. India and
Indonesia). The Philippine mobile advertisements feature these users not as peripheral but as
central actors and users of technology. The advertisement narratives revolve around them and
how the mobile phone can be used as “weapons of the weak” (Scott, 1985).
These advertisements reflect the attention given by mobile networks to a growing
market, that is, the BOP. As mentioned earlier, the poorest of the poor, who spend over half
of their monthly average income on mobile services, constitute a promising market for
mobile companies in the aggregate. It is this market which has also driven innovative and
effective marketing strategies attuned to the poor’s “sachet” culture in the country. A study
by LIRNEasia (Aguero, et.al., 2011) found that the higher a person’s income, the lower the
relative importance of mobile telephony in his budget (i.e. 6.3% of average monthly income
earners of USD$165). This can help explain the efforts by mobile networks to capture this
market through well-targeted advertisements.
The use of ritual analysis in this regard is therefore appropriate, because the
engagement of such advertising narratives targeting the poorer sectors of society show that
consumption of the mobile phone has a “consolatory function” in that “it enables people to
carry on living in an imperfect world, believing that perfection can eventually be reached in a
distant future” (Sassatelli, 2007, p. 111). The salience of communication for maintaining
social and relational ties in Philippine society, in comparison to other Asian countries, can
also be gleaned for the high spending on mobile services. However, over half of the monthly
personal income spent on mobile services (or $9.50 out of $18.90) leaves a limited amount to
be divided for food, transportation, water and electricity, education and other basic needs.
Future studies may explore the rationale behind this high percentage of mobile spending
among the BOP in the Philippines, and the implications of such intensified mobile
advertising to target the poor communities.
Mobilizing “People power” for nation-building
Embedded in historically entrenched “rituals of rebellion” in the country, the third
trope of advertisements depict the mobile phone as providing the masses the collective power
(symbolized by the mobile phone network) to form a concerted movement of aggrieved
people. The mobile network Touch Mobile uses this theme of political mobilization
prominently in its advertisements, with the tagline, “Power to the People”.
Perhaps more than in any other Southeast Asian country, the ritual of revolution holds
particular potency in the Philippines. The concept of “People Power” (denoting mass political
mobilization), where “being with the other” is central to form a collective force, has been
salient in the Filipinos’ collective memory given important socio-political events in history:
the revolutions of the masses during the Spanish, American, and Japanese occupations and
during mass mobilizations against Philippine Presidents. The role of the mobile phone in
political mobilization had been especially salient in recent years. Notably, in 2001, the
political protest demanding the resignation of President Joseph Estrada was catalyzed by the
spread of text messages stating “Go 2EDSA, Wear Black”. The viral exchange of this text
message mobilized tens of thousands to troop to Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, (EDSA),
which eventually led to the overthrow of President Estrada. In 1986, EDSA also hosted the
“People Power Revolution” that led to the ouster and flight of then President Ferdinand
Marcos, and which symbolized the reclaiming of Philippine democracy through collective
efforts. Anthropologists have described such political occurrences as a “ritual of rebellion”
(Pertierra, 2005), or the “messianic without the messiah” (Rafael, 2003, p. 41 invoking
Derrida) characterized by the reclaiming of power, displays of community and the
momentary dissolution of difference (Pertierra, Ugarte, Pingol, Hernandez, & Dacanay, 2002;
Rafael, 2003). Given the salience of the revolution theme to Filipinos and the assumed
“instrumental role” of the mobile phone in political mobilization, it is not surprising that the
theme is used actively in mobile network advertisements.
In a Touch Mobile advertisement for example, peasants are shown to march together
with their red flags (symbolizing the ritual of revolution) amidst a mountainous backdrop,
accompanied by rousing music (eurasiaweb, 2009). The advertisements emphasize the power
of communication technologies to transmit messages at a distance, thus emancipating the
poor as they tap into that power. Such utopian visions portray the Filipino masses as
believing they can utilize the power of the crowd to speak to the state, arising from epochal
political revolutions in the collective memory. In these advertisements, the mobile network is
portrayed as a benevolent enabler of People Power, empowering the masses with “pro-poor”
subscription plans for the BOP. The historical memory of revolutions past is thus engaged,
even when these revolutions are not necessarily mass or peasant-led, and have even been
criticized for their middle-class orientations (Tilly, 2003; Rafael, 2003). Moreover, the
promises of such “rituals of revolution” are still actively engaged despite popular resentment
about the absence of concrete structural changes emanating from such revolutions, as well as
the injustices left unanswered (Rafael, 2003).
The triple articulation of “ritual”
Advertisements as a representation and driver of culture draw from “cultures of use”,
which allow the brand and product to obtain greater resonance with the local market. Like
technology, advertisements, as we saw from the Philippine case, are shaped by cultural
values, which in turn, leads advertising into becoming a form of public communication for
promoting a national history, culture, and values that further shape the construction and
meaning-making of technology use in society. The use of rituals in advertising, where
technology’s role is highlighted in maintaining relationships and performance of rituals,
communicate social order and affirm notions of community. However, this use of rituals in
advertising is not free of power relations and asymmetries that are maintained through their
We argue that in these advertisements, rituals are triply articulated: first, advertisers
appropriate traditional Philippine rituals as referential tools to communicate and resonate
with consumers. The cultural representation of mobile technology use is rooted in a strong
culture of communal connections denoted by the concept of kapwa: family ties, “bayanihan,”
and mobilizations for social justice or “People Power” that foreground Philippine history,
culture, and politics. Thus, mobile advertising, in order to command legitimacy for
consumption and promote the economic viability of mobile communication and the
advertising industry, engage rituals that emphasize mobile communication's crucial role in
social and political formation, but also in reproducing category differences. Moreover, we
saw narratives of technology use as embedded in culturally dominant values such as
nurturing relationships, cooperation, or political mobilization which contradict the values of
human greed, competition, material progress and control built into neoliberal and capitalist
projects. While this could be seen as “cultural objectification” or using culture to more
effectively sell consumer goods, the use of such rituals and values in advertising play a role
in re-emphasizing the relevance of such values in the present age. It could be argued that this
emphasis on particular cultural rituals enacts the societal importance of some values over
others. This leads to our second argument that advertisers encourage the ritual consumption
of mobile phones by showcasing communication rituals enabled by these devices, thereby
setting normative ideals of communication for consumers. Advertising presents expectations
on how mobile phones ought to be used, and situates these uses within rituals of
communication that also work to normalize the social centrality of mobile devices.
Third, advertising further entrenches the ritual of capitalist consumption through
aspirational marketing campaigns that frame social reality through a ritualized system of
symbolic production. It is important to see beyond these advertisements, recognizing which
social values they highlight, and which social issues and realities they hide and dismiss.
Through an analysis of advertisements as “media rituals,” it could be gleaned that
advertisements carry a strong reflection of a consumer good’s (mobile phone’s) relevance in
affirming and promoting social values, in highlighting important points in history as a source
of solidarity, while also distorting certain realities that are situated outside priced values and
notions of acceptability. Thus, there is a need to reject not only the romanticism which sees
media’s consequences for society as automatically negative, but also the romanticism which
sees these consequences as positive or at least isolated from questions of power. Similarly, it
is imperative to question assumptions that society is a well- functioning unity, and that
mobile mediation works to maintain or solidify that unity. These romantic notions of
technology and society captured by advertisements, while inspiring values, can keep us away
from recognizing and acting upon the social issues that it hides.
Our study is based solely on an analysis of advertising narratives. An extension of our
work may include a mixed method design that will explore the logic of advertising agents–
mobile companies, creative designers, or scriptwriters, in the crafting of mobile
advertisements and the cultural meaning that they attach to these advertisements. Future
research in this area should assess the impact of branding strategies reliant on representations
of cultural rituals, both in terms of commercial success of marketers as well as the social and
cultural impact of these efforts.
The collectivist logic of “kapwa” as reflected in familial ties, “bayanihan” and
“People Power” is essential in the enactment of Philippine cultural rituals and evidently
foreground the representation of mobile communication in the country. In turn, as mobile
advertisements continually use these culturally relevant themes, the ideology that mobile
technologies are crucial in the maintenance of cultural rituals and in promoting such
collectivist logics is also solidified. Here we can argue that these concepts of “kapwa” and
“bayanihan” have particular resonance in collectivistic societies and may even be extended to
understanding the logics of the internet with its sharing economy and culture of reciprocity.
As well, it could be asserted that the concept of “kapwa” has particular resonance because it
accords requisite weight to the affective dimensions of mobile communication. Finally, the
trope of “People power” is an interesting one that can be usefully applied to the framing and
popular understanding of the perceptions, utility, and impact of the recent wave of
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