Bonding with Friends and Francis: The Ultimate Bonding Experience
The ultimate bonding experience. These words perfectly encapsulate how Pope Francis’ 5-day Philippine papal visit turned out to be. From the moment He stepped out of the plane as his white skullcap flew off, to his moving speeches wherever he went, until his final wave of goodbye in the Villamor airbase, Pope Francis effortlessly captured the hearts of millions of Filipinos. The 2015 Papal visit was one of the most unforgettable events in the country’s history and we are all still experiencing some sort of hangover because of it. Surely, nobody saw this coming.
A few months before the Pope’s arrival, several groups came up with initiatives to build up excitement around the Papal Visit. One of these groups came from a small university in Pasig. As part of one of their class projects, the graduating batch of the University of Asia and the Pacific’s Integrated Marketing Communications program were given a brand to market. This was no ordinary brand as they had to market Pope Francis’ Papal Visit to the youth. Initially, the students were challenged as to how they could possibly convince 2 million young people to make the effort to join the crowds and witness Pope Francis’ visit personally. After weeks and months of brainstorming, meeting, and strategizing the batch finally came up with a campaign that they hoped would convince the Filipino youth to take part in the Papal visit.
This campaign was entitled “Bonding with Friends and Francis” (BFF) with the official hashtag “#BFF2015”. It is a social media campaign that came up with virtual Facebook characters that reflected several types of Filipino youth. The main character, Frankie Francisco, created the BFF campaign to try and convince his barkada to go with him to the Papal Visit. The Facebook page would feature several videos and posters trying to convince the Filipino youth to the then upcoming Papal Visit. Naturally, Frankie’s social media efforts evolved into an “online-serye” with his group of friends as the protagonists. Aside from the online efforts, the group also decided to go around various schools and churches in Metro Manila (and even to provinces like Batangas!) to set up photo booths with the Pope Francis standee. The participants would instantly get printed versions of their pictures, which were also posted in the official Facebook page. These online and offline efforts worked cohesively to build buzz around the Papal visit. As the weeks passed, more and more people started engaging with the official Facebook page and by the start of 2015, the page already had roughly 2,000 likes. Now, the group was just waiting for the Pope’s arrival and see how effective their efforts were.
A few days before the Pope’s arrival, the group was featured in one of the most visited websites in the country–When In Manila. This helped in giving recognition to the BFF campaign. Once the Pope arrived, other media outlets also picked up on the campaign thanks to the official hashtag. The Associated Filipino Press also interviewed Jeano Cruz, the Activations Head of the campaign. This led to a feature in Rappler, Wazzup Pilipinas, Choose Philippines, the Philippine Star, and even international news sites such as Daily Mail UK and India Times. As Pope Francis was creating an undeniable impact on the country, so did the BFF 2015 campaign. The official Facebook page would post regular updates about the Pope’s visits. They would even release posters of the various quotes from Pope Francis’ speeches. Of course, the group didn’t stop with their online efforts. Some of their members personally went to the various locations of the Pope’s visit whether in Manila or in Tacloban. Some of them shared their personal experiences:
“The closest word I can think of to describe my Papal Visit experience would be ‘sensational'”, said Max Arcenas, a 4th year UA&P student. “From watching his arrival, homilies, speeches, or just his peaceful gaze to the people on TV, as well as hearing his inspiring messages and ‘quotable quotes’ – all of these had a very sensational impact to my life. That sensational experience felt completed when I caught a glimpse of him as he passed by Roxas Boulevard on his way to the airport on his last day here. Seeing that he was real – that such a person like him exists – with his knowledge, wise words, caring heart, and humility – I feel that now more than ever am I called to be a better Catholic because of this Papal Visit. I also thank God for bringing Pope Francis to the Philippines to re-energize our Christian spirits and leave this sensational feeling that will compel us to think well, feel well, and do well”.
The head of the BFF Campaign, Cielo Calunsag, recounted her own Papal Visit experience with the idea of love in mind. She said, “In my personal experience in the Luneta mass, I witnessed how people risked the danger of stampedes, suffocation, and the like just to be with the Pope. It really is true when they say: love can get you to do crazy things – and there is no doubt that the Filipino people love Pope Francis”.
One of the members of the BFF Campaign, Julls Culas, is actually from Tacloban and returned home for the Papal Visit. He described his Papal Visit by saying, “More than just being lucky, we are extremely blessed. Seeing Pope Francis set foot in my hometown was surreal. All the pain and suffering was worth it. The Pope in Tacloban was the most rewarding and comforting thing that ever happened since Super Typhoon Yolanda.”
The Dean of UA&P’s School of Communications, Dr. Jerry Kliatchko, also shared his sentiments about the project that would promote the Papal Visit to the youth. “I wanted to challenge my class to think differently”, said Kliatchko. He continued, “What better way to do this by giving them the most unique and most influential brand today–Pope Francis. I am happy that they were able to come up with a creative way to convince the youth to attend the Papal Visit through their #BFF2015 campaign. With the use of hashtags and photo booths, I hope my students were able to create a lasting impact on the Filipino youth as much as Pope Francis did.”
By the end of the Pope’s 5-day visit, it became apparent that his visit never really needed to be marketed by any commercial or campaign. Pope Francis’ awe-inspiring humility perfectly juxtaposed with his wonderful ability to connect with the Filipinos was more than enough to convince anyone to get out of their house and catch a glimpse of his holiness. The Bonding with Friends and Francis 2015 campaign became one of the many reminders of how inspiring Pope Francis’ words were to every Filipino. As the group tried to convince young Filipino barkadas to come together and see Pope Francis, the opposite actually happened. It was as if Pope Francis specifically came to have a heart to heart talk with his good friend, the Philippines, to accompany, comfort, and inspire, just as any good “ka-barkada” would do. Truly, it was an ultimate bonding experience between Pope Francis and the Filipino people.
by Troy Bautista and Ina Villegas