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In hilarious TV ad, Filipinos get to know 'Barack-O'

By the time president-elect Barack Obama is inaugurated on Jan. 20, Filipinos should be familiar him, thanks to a television advertisement that is funny, irreverent and, apparently, effective.

In the 30-second spot for the indigestion drug Motilium, Obama, played by an Indonesian look-alike, is shown having dinner at the presidential palace with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, played by a male comedian. Arroyo feeds Obama a Filipino dish called “kare-kare” (oxtail and tripe stewed in peanut sauce, with a side dish of “bagoong alamang” or shrimp paste). “It’s oks,” a beaming Arroyo reassures Obama. For dessert, she treats him to a serving of sweet corn in coconut milk. “It’s corn but we use our coconut,” she tells him, playing on the Filipino expression “use your coconut,” meaning to use one’s head.

The dishes prove too much for Obama: indigestion sets in, he almost keels over, his bodyguards franctically check him out. In the spot’s funniest moment, a worried Arroyo literally glides from one end of the long table toward Obama, screeches to a hilarious halt, and orders that he be given Motilium, an over-the-counter drug for indigestion. Arroyo then offers a relieved Obama “kape barak,” a play on “kape barako,” a type of strong coffee.

The TV spot, which has been running for weeks, is a hit among Filipinos and on YouTube as well. “People find it hilarious and a winner,” writes Roger Pe, a blogger at Advertising Age.

Some, however, were not amused. Pe, in his blog, points out that a Nestle executive in the Philippines thought the ad was offensive, “shows lack of courtesy” for both officials and was “a shallow attempt at humor.”

Perhaps, but this is the first time a U.S. president has been introduced to Filipinos in a humorous way. Not even President George W. Bush, probably the most parodied president in American history, got this kind of treatment from Filipino advertisers. Of course, whether Obama — who, political cartoonists swear, is tough to caricature — finds the ad amusing is another story.