It isn’t just a can of sardines. It isn’t a breakthrough in relevant social media posts. It isn’t what it appears to be. For Mikko, Mark, and Macky Tung, it is a way of life that has fostered their blood and bond to what it is today.
One morning, the entire country woke up and Ligo, the sardine product that has been a staple in every Pinoy pantry, was cool. We know this because our coolest friend has reposted them and because our neighborhood sari-sari store still sells them. We know this because they now have a Sriracha variant, which means a collab with a major retail label must be next. What we didn’t know was how its third-generation owners, even long before they were owners, have sneakily been planning this all along.
As young students, Mikko Tung, Mark Tung, and Macky Tung always talked about their big plans for their father’s business. Their parents, however, made it very clear early on that no one was going to be forced into the family business—they all fell into it in their own time, each bringing to the table an invaluable set of skills, a unique perspective, and immense pride in the 66-year-old brand their family has built.
Although it does seem like it happened overnight, the brand’s transformation, or rather, its adaptation to the Millennial-Gen Z stage, was a product of a well thought out plan. From sharing childhood bedrooms to hanging out as teens, and now, working on a brand that is turning out to mean more to Filipinos than they ever thought it would, the Tung brothers are thrust into the spotlight both for their business sense and just being plain cool. Here’s what they have to say on work, family, and building a brand that matters.
He’s the branding guy and he’s got the Ligo tattoo to prove it. Macky Tung, the youngest of the three brothers, is the company’s VP for Advertising responsible for the brand’s iconic “No Special Powers Needed” campaign. Something so on-point could have only come from a creative mind (he’s currently also building a company called Drunk Creatives) that’s constantly feeding on content. A movie and TV buff, a video game nerd, a sushi addict, and a die-hard Batman fan, Macky was always into creating, which made the thought of working for a manufacturing business especially unenticing. As the years went by, he started seeing areas in the family business that he could make substantial contributions to and the rest is history, immortalized in ink.
“What drew me to the company was the branding side of the business. I knew I could do things not only my dad has never thought of, but as an industry as a whole. My mindset is always ‘If someone is doing any given thing, it’s either you do it better, you do it radically different, or you don’t do it at all,’” he shares. “’No Special Powers’ is something I take pride in conceptualizing. It took us 20 years to make Ligo the icon it’s known today, but we’re here now enjoying the moment and it’s all thanks to our extended Ligo family.”
Having struggled with low self-esteem growing up and still constantly battling it today, Macky shares how that particular campaign, along with the digital campaign that he created during the pandemic has given him peace and happiness. “To know I made a lot of Filipinos smile from our ad, I’m happy,” he shares. He adds that one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned, he’s learned from being in the business with his brothers: that they should always have each other’s back. “They also indirectly taught me to get a tattoo. So, I can thank them for that, but if my brothers do decide to get one, let the record show that I was first, and that they copied me.”
“I grew up eating Ligo sardines,” says Mark, who is VP for Sales and Marketing and the second eldest among the brothers. “I remember the summers I spent in the production line chopping fish. You can say I really lived, breathed, and ate Ligo. Even up to now, I find myself reaching for a can of sardines as a comfort food every now and then.”
Mark, a business major who focused on export management, returned from working in Canada seven years ago to join the family business. Although they each joined the brand in their own time, Mark has always felt a strong affinity towards it. “I definitely always had a connection with the product. I’ve always looked at the reach of the brand in the country. I knew that this was something I wanted to pursue later on. I really enjoy meeting people, so I got a sales position. I’d like to think my dad played us to our strengths. I think he knew each of us pretty well,” he says, adding that the most important thing he’s learned from his parents is the grind. “It’s not about glamour or prestige. It’s about doing your responsibilities, looking out for your employees, and caring for your customers. It comes down to showing up for work despite challenges and doing it again the next day, and every day after that.”
Outside of Ligo, Mark shows up for work at Golden Koi Deliveries, a logistics venture he set up with a friend, and his food and bar businesses. His hustle is real, and he, along with his brothers, are seeing their hard work pay off. “The feedback we’ve gotten from our customers and fans has been absolutely amazing. It drives me harder and harder to delight our fans with a quality product. That brand is so strongly tied with Filipino culture is a deep and profound honor for us,” he shares.
“What most people don’t know is that the entire rebranding and ‘cool’ factor if you may, didn’t happen overnight. This was years in the making, from developing the new labels to completely reimagining the marketing strategy,” says Mikko Tung, VP for Operations for Ligo and co-founder of Odd Job Bob PH, a construction and handyman business that he runs with his brother Macky.
The eldest, and according to Mark, the most OC among the brothers, Mikko has been in the family business for 10 years. Friends know him as a dependable fitness junkie, tech-head, movie buff obsessed with all things Superman, and an entrepreneur at heart. “I believe that for anyone to want to continue a family business, the number one thing that must be present is the love and passion for the business. Seeing the happiness that the Ligo brand gave to people further motivated me to want to do more for the Filipino people. Having the capacity to touch people’s lives through your business is a responsibility, and it is an honor that I wear proudly on my sleeve,” he says.
He shares that when they were given free reign to do marketing, he and his brothers made a conscious decision to be more bold and decisive in their creative direction, stepping outside the industry standard and collaborating with creatives one wouldn’t think to pair with a sardine brand, such as BJ Pascual and Beauty Gonzalez. Beyond changing strategies within the company, they also started reaching out to their fans.
“In line with our new purpose-driven mission, I launched our CSR campaign to further give back to our beloved Filipino community for all their years of support,” he shares. They are currently working to establish the Ligo Love Foundation, which will serve as the brand’s long-term CSR initiative.
“When your inbox gets flooded with strangers thanking you for giving them hope and laughter in a time of need, it validates your main objective as an entrepreneur who set out into the business world wanting to be a force of positive change.”
As of press time, only Macky has a Ligo tattoo, but who knows what surprises these brothers are up to. What’s certain is we’ll see them working to make their big plans come to life together, no special powers needed.