Volleybelles now endorsers: their time has finally come

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Until very, very recently the bulk of commercials where athletes were involved seemed to surround the Azkals (namely the Younghusband brothers and Chieffy Caligdong), UAAP basketball sensations (almost solely Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena) and a quite a number of PBA stars (I just love Ali Peek’s character in that Talk n’ Text “unli” ad with Robin Padilla). Before, we had a handful of female athletes such as Lydia de Vega, Bea Lucero, Mikee Cojuangco and Tata Garcia that have a few endorsement deals, but practically none for what is emerging to be the second most-watched spectator sport in the archipelago: women’s volleyball.

Sure, Shakey’s—one of the Philippines most recognizable pizza restaurants—has already utilized the talents and beauty of these amazing athletes in various mediums. However, Shakey’s (since 2004) has been synonymous to the sport with the Shakey’s V-League; the premier women’s volleyball league in the country. ABS-CBN Sports has also realized the potential marketing strength they can draw from the lovely athletes they televise and have gone on to produce several plugs for their product.

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In fact, Ateneo de Manila University has also used the mainstream fame of two its most iconic volleyball heroines in Gretchen Ho and Fille Cainglet; erecting a few traffic signs using their images within the campus. I’m not aware of other schools that may have done similar awareness campaigns using their student-athletes, but it is ingenious.

Eminent volleybelles Rachel Anne Daquis and Denise Tan have appeared in quite a few ads themselves—owing to their careers as part-time models, while former University of the Philippines (UP) varsity standout Jed Montero has taken it even one step further and has gone on to pursue a career in showbiz.

Yes there are a few of who made the transition from volleyball court phenom to eye-candy, but capitalizing on the popularity of the sport by using its celebrated has not been on the agenda of many television commercial producers—until this year.

Modess, a popular brand of feminine sanitary napkins under Johnson and Johnson Philippines launched a new advertising campaign featuring some of the more visible volleyball players today.

The campaignKabataan For The Win” is set in a fictitious outdoor volleyball match wherein “Team Philippines” is pitted against “Team Japan” in a knockout match with “Team Australia” already waiting for their next opponents in the playoffs. The central figure in the television commercial is reigning UAAP Finals MVP Michele Gumabao (#7) who figures in a key block in the fifth set along with De La Salle University teammate Wensh Tiu (#17)—after a successful serve by Adamson University’s Sheila Pineda (#1). Michele then becomes the main attraction of the ad as she is depicted using the “Modess Day & Night” product. The next sequence shows National University’s Kai Nepomuceno (#8) stepping out of the way to allow Gumabao to reach for a heroic dig, and then set up by “setter” Melissa Gohing (#5) of the Lady Spikers eventually spiked cross-court by Daquis (#13) for the victory. The Philippines (with "reserves" Jill Gustilo of Adamson and Gyzelle Sy of FEU) celebrates (in each one’s trademark manner), proceeds to exchange handshakes with their Japanese opponents and are pictured in the end brandishing the Philippine flag in triumph.

Fellow volleyball broadcaster (and mother of the aforementioned Kiefer) Mozzy Ravena brought up the commercial during one of our recent telecasts and noted, “What if our national team really looked that good?” To which I replied, “Then all of them (foreign opponents) are in trouble.”

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Gumabao, Pineda, Tiu, Nepomuceno, Gohing and Daquis were excellent choices in the casting, with Gumabao being the main draw.

“That shoot kept me up for days,” Gumabao recalled when I was with her recently. “But it was so much fun shooting the volleyball sequences. It was very well made.”

Johnson and Johnson Philippines came across a gold mine with that campaign. Women’s volleyball in the Philippines is reaching unprecedented heights in terms of popularity and casting some its more notable stars is a sure way of getting many of the demographic target group to avail of their product.

The new Jolibee delivery commercial top bills Gretchen Ho (with a special cameo by La Salle rival Mika Reyes).

Gatorade Philippines also recognized the sport’s growing trend that it signed into its “G Rising Stars” spokesmodel squad Alyssa Valdez and Den-Den Lazaro of the Ateneo de Manila University Lady Eagles and Lady Spikers Abigail Maraño and Reyes and—thanks to the confidentiality clause of the advertising industry—a renowned clothing line, a famous department store and (I’ve been told) a car company also have plans of using more volleybelles as their product endorsers—and not as nameless models.

It won’t be long before someone comes up with the idea of creating a professional women’s volleyball league to extend the longevity of these icons as well as revive the popularity of others who were once the toast of the volleyball world. For now, women’s volleyball in the Philippines is entering a new chapter and I consider myself lucky to be among those witnessing its rise.

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These young ladies deserve every bit of recognition they get, because at the end of the day, they are more than just pretty faces with very toned bodies. They are exceptional athletes who are also marketing weapons and role-models to a new generation of Filipino youth.

Their time has come, and I think it’s really about time.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter (@NoelZarate)