Exclusive: The story behind ‘Olivia,’ the big reveal, what’s next

Why was she named Olivia? Why were interested parties mostly guys? Meet the creative team behind the viral ‘Olivia’ ads

MANILA, Philippines – Olivia is running late.

A fleeting once-over of her outfit – ballet flats, slim-fit trousers, and an oversized sweater – and she’s out the door.

The messages in her phone tell stories: “text when u get here na,” “babe wru, dinner tonight?” “Meeting’s at 10:30, did you prep the agenda?”

Her salary. Her favorite restaurant. How long she’s been with her boyfriend (who’s apparently about to propose).  All these were details considered by a small group of 5 at Empire East, the real estate company behind the viral “Olivia, will you marry me?” ads.

The in-house team is composed of special projects officer Bheng Traqueña, a slight, stylish character, and marketing communications specialist Jazz Gacula, a spritely take-charge type. 3 graphic artists round out the team: no-nonsense Mike Mijares, shy Denise Ballares, and droll, matter-of-fact Cara Garcia.

MEET THE TEAM BEHIND 'OLIVIA.' From left: Marketing communications specialist Jazz Gacula, graphic artist Mike Mijares, special projects officer Bheng Traqueña, graphic artists Cara Garcia and Denise Ballares. Photo by Leanne Jazul / Rappler

Though the creative team has been around 5 years, this is their first project of this nature. “Our projects before were more straightforward. No teasers. This was the first time we got to try that,” says Jazz.

All you had to do to find out 

“We just didn’t want it to be a common name,” says Cara in Filipino. “Olivia was almost Genevieve or Margaux,” chimes in Jazz, “But that sounded way too pilit (forced).”

It turns out that if you had wanted to find out who was behind it, all you had to do was ask who put up the ads before the Olivia ones came up. Empire East had previously occupied this with older, more generic material, with some featuring their endorser Venus Raj.

“It was the start of the year and we needed to change our billboards because those spots have always been ours,” says Bheng in Filipino. Conceptualized just in the last week of January, the campaign was privy only to these 5, and to their superiors, VP for marketing Jhoanna Llaga and CEO Anthony Yu.

“It was a big secret. We couldn’t tell anyone, even our own colleagues, who were coming up to us and asking why our spots on EDSA were suddenly removed. We had to pretend we didn’t renew those spots internally,” added Jazz.

115 placements along North and Southbound EDSA as well as Quezon City meant they could maximize the space, with a few words to a billboard. “Will you marry me” material was later changed to “Olivia said yes!” along with images of Empire East’s featured project.

BIG REVEAL. The Olivia billboards are part of a campaign for Empire East. Photo by Ira Agting/Rappler

Rappler Entertainment reporter Ira Agting was, in fact, commuting to work when she spotted the first reveal ad about Pioneer Woodlands, while on the way to the MRT station along  Mandaluyong. News of the reveal, first reported on Rappler, had social media talking, and had others picking up the phone.

Within the first 5 minutes after the first reveal material was released, Jazz says they were inundated with calls from interested parties – curiously, mostly from males.

“Practical sila!” she says. “Payment terms ‘yung tinatanong nila, hindi kung sino si Olivia.” (They were asking about the payment terms, not about Oliva.)

The one thing that has the whole room explode in howls of mirth? Conspiracy theories on Olivia’s origins, ranging from Scandal promo to real-life proposal between John Prats and Isabel Oli, real name, Maria Olivia Daytia. “Weh!” they holler. “Ibang level ang research at ang curiosity ng mga tao.” (People’s curiosity, the research they did, were on another level.)

Critical numbers

The inclusion of the “21414” was critical. At first referring to February 14, Valentine’s Day, the number was later revealed to be a promotional payment term: “For as low as Php 2,141.4/ week,” read the big reveal.   

This was the first time that they introduced a weekly payment term, and it was designed specifically for this Valentine’s campaign, says Jazz.

It isn’t only about the lowest price in this case; the number just has to fit. The monthly total (2141.4 per week for 4 weeks, for a variety of unit types), P8564, isn’t even the lowest value the company or their competition has to offer, with other deals on the market going from P5000-7000 a month. But if it fits, it seems, it sits. Valentine’s is key, as well as their target market, so frequently in transit.

SHOWROOM STYLE. A peek at the showroom in San Lorenzo Place, an Empire East Project and the subject of the 2nd billboard reveal following the viral 'Olivia' ad. Photo by Leanne Jazul / Rappler

“Actually, contact point ng mga target namin ‘yung billboard,” says Bheng. “Makikita nila ‘yan as they go home, go to work.” (Our target market encounters the billboards  along their commute.)

Viral proposals, they insist, and not viral ads, were what inspired this move. “We wanted to show that, instead of buying an engagement ring, why not an investment in something that will last? 

(READ: Real-life ‘Olivias’ and other mystery marketing campaigns)

Collective eye roll vs kilig

You might not have seen the last of Olivia yet – she does, after all, have a ways to go, getting married, choosing a place, moving in, and you haven’t even met her boyfriend yet.

“We may just continue her story,” teases Jazz. “And we already have a name for the boyfriend.” But now that the cat’s out of the condo, the real mystery now is whether the audience will continue to be interested in the story, though the big reveal was received by a few with enthusiasm, and by many with a collective eye roll.

Comments on the big reveal as well reactions via Rappler’s mood meter mostly showed that the audience was disappointed, and not a little annoyed.

“At least hindi na sila ‘angry!’” quips Mike. “At the end of the day, pinag-uusapan nila kami. Negative or positive, it would help us din naman e.” (At least they’re no longer angry! At the end of the day, they’re talking about it. Whether negative or positive, that’s all helpful.)

“I became aware – of Olivia and the proposal, but not really the brand.  I know it’s a condo, but I doubt I’d remember the brand of the condo.  Awareness without recall isn’t as effective – unless you follow through with a brilliant ad.  Right now – a billboard with a hurried connection of Olivia to the condo is disconnected,” reads on Facebook comment by Tellyjunky.

“Ha ha ha ho ho ho hum…I hate it. Not witty by any measure. This campaign won’t be remembered but memorialized,” reads another by Oscar Gomez.

A moment of silence, then a response. “Oh, you’ll remember Empire East,” ventures Jazz. “You’ll remember it because of Olivia.”– Rappler.com

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