What Makes an Ilonggo Video “Viral”?

By joseph batcagan

Unless you deliberately didn’t open your Facebook account during the last year, you might have encountered this video below:

So, let’s get this straight: Yes, I also happen to be one of the 5 million who viewed ‘Kabalan sa Salakyan’ when it was initially posted. With its abrupt cuts and catchphrases (and making “… is liferrr!!!” into a legit catchphrase), this is the kind of stuff suited to today’s generation. That is, people who are content getting their entertainment fixes on Facebook. By principle, it should not have appealed to me. But strangely, it did, and I didn’t feel any less smart for it.

What struck me most, however, was how everything about it just screamed “Iloilo”. Heck, it’s arguable that its obvious ties to the region is what made it stand out in the first place. On the other hand, ‘Kabalan’—and other similar videos of its ilk—stand in stark contrast with the glossy “tourism” videos that have been produced to ostensibly promote Iloilo these days. The creators of these viral Ilonggo videos managed to come up with a few clever workarounds. More importantly, they don’t feel like tacked-on advertisements of Iloilo; they’re documents of what Iloilo is during the time they were published.

So, this begs the next question: if you are an Ilonggo who wants to make hit online videos, but without the budget and the resources to travel around and shoot, how are you going to do it?

1. Accent

If we’re talking about the sheer quantities of videos posted, Rodel Mallo Sumadic could be the O.G. of Ilonggo viral videos. He’s posted dozens of his creations dating back from 2015. In fact, you might have even encountered the first—and most popular, at least in terms of views—one posted below:

He spotlighted a well-known quirk of people who lived for far too long in Iloilo: our lilting, and supposedly malambing, accent. Sure, it’s no-brainer. Like, duh. However, like seeing Manny Pacquiao in his heyday dominate foes in clockwork fashion, it makes it easier for us to be swept in a “proud to be Ilonggo” moment. After all, how many popular videos online do you know where our tendency for spouting perfectly musical Hiligaynon is captured succinctly, and without irony, at that?

Of course, it would only make sense that Anne Rhycie Kate Custodio—she of the insanely popular ‘Kabalan’ makeup tutorial video series—and her team in RANGE Advertising would exploit the accent card to great effect over the three “tutorials” they have posted as of this writing. It seemed like it didn’t even matter to Ilonggos who watched the video below where she took liberties with the language, like this one below:

In the above, she called the karabaw a “kabaw”; it’s meant to be understood comically, and it’s not bad that it even sounds like a Sanrio mascot name. Most unbelievably, however, was that no one even made a stink about karabaw being butchered on the comments section—a rarity in the polarizing us-versus-them climate of modern internet culture.

But of course, Hiligaynon shouldn’t be just relegated to how we speak it. Just like how different peoples of this archipelago identify as Ilonggo, Davaoeño, Ilocano, or any other ethnicities based on their regions, there are multiple ways of communicating in Hiligaynon that go beyond the accent. Take the case of Ilonggo Vines; their page started posting content back in 2014 to decent hits, but it wasn’t until they came up with ‘Savage mode’ that the shares began blowing up:

Well, a simple observation of how Pinoys live their lives today can provide some context; these days, it’s not unusual to see Ilonggos migrate to just about anywhere they please. We see it in young people graduating from schools who then move to cities for work. We see it when some enterprising Ilonggos establish businesses in some provinces because no one’s bothered to do so yet. More overtly, we see it in droves of OFWs still going out of the country every week to give their families better lives.

So, when someone claims to be “Ilonggo” even when they don’t have any ostensible roots here, who are we to even question them?

With that said, this is a good time as any to segue to the second factor on what makes a video “Ilonggo”, and that is…

2. Specificity

By “specificity”, we’re not just talking about the fact that these videos here were shot in Iloilo; if that was the case, we would have already claimed Jessica Soho as one of our own by virtue of having this one Iloilo-focused segment in her Sunday TV magazine program.

‘Kabalan’, with its staggeringly high views, didn’t need the extra attention they’re getting. But in a town that’s still influenced by traditional media despite digital consumption almost becoming normalized, getting validation from national and international media is an effective way to let everybody know how “sikat” one is.

I suspect the reason why RANGE’s ‘Kabalan’ series worked so well was because it gave viewers a sense of cultural idiosyncrasy. For example, they just didn’t choose any jeep to plop down their gear to film; they deliberately chose the brightly-colored and sleek-modeled interiors passad for their first video.

On the other hand,  their classmates from Bun-ag Creatives—another group in their class who were also rushing to complete the same project—published a video of what’s essentially their take on James Corden’s ‘Carpool Karaoke’ called… well, ‘Trikepool Karaoke Challenge’. The title is straightforward, but at least it got the point across:

It’s a videoke session filmed inside a tricycle, where passengers were made to sing along to Aegis’s ‘Ulan’. All while eating pulburon. It’s essentially Ilonggos’ two favorite pastimes—videoke and watching parlor game mechanics applied in everyday situations—combined in a so-Pinoy-AF concept that it should’ve netted the video thousands of views. However, Bun-ag published it a few days after ‘Kabalan’, which may have contributed to it not getting enough views as it should have had. However, when taken on its own, it’s an ideal example of what ideas to go for when aiming to make a viral video. But hey, who said the marketplace of ideas is a fair player?

Now that we’ve established that place and culture contributes to the “feel” of an Ilonggo viral video, there’s another thing I’ve noted that was almost consistent in all the videos I watched so far, and that is…

3. Spontaneity

Or, more specifically, it’s those videos lack of polish—whether it’s in their technical presentation or in their execution of their ideas—that give them their charm. Indeed, one common factor between my interviews with RANGE, Bun-ag, and IV VIBES were that their most popular videos were published in rushed forms.

For RANGE and Bun-ag, academic deadlines spurred the ideas that drove their breakout videos. Stephen Santos, the latter’s production director, even narrated how they pleaded with their dorm’s labandera to refer them a few Miag-ao townsfolk who would be willing to be filmed singing because the designated talents didn’t show up. IV VIBES, on the other hand, had a more freewheeling schedule, but their process is more exacting; they’re compelled to document every situation they’re in when all six members are around and filter what comes out as good content later on during editing. That’s how they came up with the ‘McDo’ skit, for one.

No matter how well-produced their videos are—particularly those of RANGE’s and Bun-ag’s, considering the high standards they needed to ace their subject—they still don’t hold a candle to the fancy production values of those tourism videos that were in vogue as of late. You know, like this one below:

Sumadic, for all the pioneering his outputs did in promoting Ilonggo culture, bear the hallmarks of dated, Vine-style videos. RANGE’s, even three videos into their ‘Kabalan’ series, still had difficulties mixing their audio. It’s highly obvious that, above all else, their creations qualify as “passion projects”.

But you know what? I’ll take Sumadic filming himself with a smartphone camera while their house’s kurtina flutters behind him, or Custodio enduring weird looks from commuters but still carried on filming because… well, labot man nila, right? It’s also Santos literally fetching passengers en route to their daily errands so they could cram an Aegis song in one take. Heck, even some of their punchlines made me cringe. But at least I knew I was watching something that is—or at least, seemed—authentic. In many respects, the way their videos were created resemble the pito-pito, hit-and-run shoots of today’s Ilonggo filmmaking community.

And, in the rarest of times, that gig can actually pay: Custodio managed to parlay that sweet, online fame into starring in advertisements from big brands like Jollibee and TM. She still posts the occasional makeup video whenever her busy academic and commercial will allow her, but the recent outputs are more toned down than the more outrageous skits where she was filmed atop a moving tricycle and a roving karabaw.

The rest of the creators, on the other hand, seemed to have dropped off from posting new content. That’s not entirely surprising, though: Creative work can be fun but also exhausting, and it’s only a matter of time before the real world comes calling along.

Would they be back? Who knows. For the meantime, the rest of us can only wait till another young group of people shoot videos for nothing more than getting lulz.

Joseph Batcagan is the editor and a writer for Project Iloilo.