Viber talks LDRs, Itchyworms, and the Pinoy lifestyle
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - The venue was casual enough and reflected the vibe, pun intended, of the brand. Niner Ichi Nana’s couches were punctuated with bright purple throw pillows. With each bearing an immediately recognizable, cutesy sticker of Viber.
Viber CEO, Talmon Marco, was recently in town to talk to the press. Clad in a statement tee and jeans, in beat-up sneakers, you would not think that his company is in talks for an $800 million acquisition.
This fun and casual demeanor informs the way Viber relates to its users as well. Barely a year in the country, the Viber story has become a runaway success.
Launched only last 2013, Viber has since made its stamp on the Filipino lifestyle, with its enthusiastic ring tone sounding off in both office space and home.
Connecting families and even becoming the communication platform for certain press desks, Viber has grown a great deal from its initial roots as a voice and messaging application.
When asked how he would define Viber now and whether it has become social media, Talmon replies, “My answer has evolved with time. When we launched Viber [in Israel] in 2010, we said, ‘this is voice.’ But then we added photos. And then we added stickers. And then we added groups. And we added more and more of these things which were less one-to-one communication and more about sharing. I think today it is more social.”
Viber and other communication platforms have changed the way people interact with one another. Crystal Lee, Viber country manager, admits with a bit of a laugh, “Well, certainly, we have enabled many long-distance relationships. But more than that, we want people to be able to connect with their families, even if they live in the same place. The best is when we hear stories of kids being able to communicate with their parents, and overcoming family hierarchies, thanks to Viber.”
Lifestyle, not tech
Talmon was quick to point out though what he does not want to be. Unprodded, he clarifies, “Do we plan to have more of the features of Facebook? I hope not. We want to keep Viber [as that] communication [tool] to your close friends.”
With free cocktails in White House Boracay, plus strategic exposure in the metro’s events, Viber has had a deliberately lifestyle approach in its marketing. Crystal explains, “We spend money on our users. You go to a concert, we give you treats. We wanted to be very integrated with the Filipino life.”
And this integration is proven further with the launch of the first ever Filipino sticker collection, represented by no less than the band Itchyworms.
Jugs Jugueta, frontman of Itchyworms (and regular host of popular noontime program Showtime), and Kelvin Yu, lead guitarist, also dropped by Niner Ichi Nana.
Jugs described their first brush with Viber through their events company. The brand sponsored one of its concerts. Jugs recounts, “So during that time, our in-house artist was also designing stuff na pa-cute lang. Based on our new album, Lost in Space. We were pitching ideas and naisip ko, okay siguro na maging Viber sticker siya."
(And I thought, it would be great to have Viber stickers.)
The response of the Viber team was more than enthusiastic. Jugs continued, “At that time, we only had 12 or 15 of the characters tapos bigla naging (and then they said), ‘We need 40!’ But we really really wanted to be the first band in the Philippines to have a sticker set.”
The collection was quietly introduced July 16 and has been available for download. On July 29, the sticker collection was officially launched in an event at Route 196.
Crystal confides, “We liked Itchyworms because they represent something fun. They are very Filipino and their songs and their lyrics have become part of our lives.”
That the Philippines is the texting capital of the world, with arguably the most social media savvy users in the world, says a great deal about Filipinos’ need for connectivity. Talmon concludes, “I think every market is somewhat different and somewhat similar. People are people wherever they are. They want to share. But people here [in the Philippines] are maybe more social than others. And we see that. People here are more emotional, more connected.”
Small wonder we ping and sticker to our heart’s content. It really is more fun in the Philippines. –Rappler.com