Romeo and Juliet have nothing on this record-shattering couple.
True, Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza aren’t exactly star-crossed, but their split-screen story is the stuff of social media legend. As in, their ongoing romance has captured the attention of five continents and counting.
The actors, who appear on Filipino lunchtime series Eat Bulaga! have been dubbed “AlDub,” a combination of their names (Mendoza’s onscreen character is named Yaya Dub) but also a tribute to the nature of their romance. For months, these two characters on the series courted but took their sweet, sweet time actually meeting, communicating instead via Dubsmash—the social media tool that allows users to lip-sync to popular tunes and upload their videos to share online.
The duo was first introduced on the series back in July, after producers learned Mendoza had a real-life crush on Richards but had never met him. She had originally come to the long-running series (Eat Bulaga! has been on the air for 36 years and counting) because of her Dubsmash popularity and social media prowess. As she was performing one day on the series, she realized Richards was watching her segment from another area. Her visceral reaction—which included a rare smile and a flirty wave known as a Pabebe wave in the Philippines—captured the attention of the nation.
As the weeks went on, producers capitalized on the growing attention Mendoza and Richards were receiving on social media. Both came with their own unique set of followers (Mendoza is the third-fastest growing celebrity on Twitter, surpassed only by the likes of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift), but their obvious flirtation coupled with the fact that they had not met sent fans into a frenzy and created the biggest Internet ship to date.
The strategy of pairing two actors on screen and hoping the audience roots for them to become an actual couple isn’t a new one to the Filipino television format. What made this pairing unique was the spontaneous, real-time interactions and responses from the actors, as propelled by the fans. Rather than manufacture another romance, this was one viewers could see unfold for themselves, on screen each and every week. For months the couple kept trying to meet, but a series of circumstances kept preventing them from doing anything other than sending those Dubsmashes via split screen.
By the time the couple finally did meet in person, at the beginning of September, fans generated 5.7 million tweets to celebrate. The number grew from there, with their first date garnering 12.1 million tweets and their first home visit more than doubling to 25.6 million.
Finally, in late October producers decided it was time to capitalize even further on AlDub’s popularity. Brand sponsorships with fast food chains like McDonalds and popular mobile services were proving that the coupling was its own masterclass in how television could use social media to gain popularity.
“They get to listen to their fans. The story follows what the fans wanted to see, so it’s an open-ended series,” Ehden Llave Pelaez, social media manager at Isentia Brandology explained to Bloomberg. “They’re leveraging cliffhanger moments. If you see the different numbers, the audience is really not confined in the Philippines. It’s around the world. The tweets are coming from five continents. Imagine the huge reach and impact for brands. It’s something new and refreshing.”
And so on Oct. 24, AlDub gave the fans what they ultimately wanted and performed together live for the first time, at a charity concert to promote the show’s 36th anniversary.
The Cinderella inspired meet-and-greet became the highest-tweeted moment of AlDub to date, with the hashtag #AlDubEBTamangPanahon (Al Dub, in the right time), procuring more than 41 million tweets—six million more tweets than the previous record-holding moment, the controversial 2014 Fifa World Cup semi-final in which Germany thrashed Brazil 7-1.
While North Americans might be late to the AlDub phenomenon, it’s one that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Some scribes have referred to the couple’s slow-burn as a dangerous one that propels stereotypical fantasies. Others, meanwhile, have written about the lost virtue of true romance, and what society can learn from these types of old-school courtships in a world ridden with bare models and sexuality oozing from every poster, TV screen and magazine. Still others, like BuzzFeed, have capitalized on videos showcasing American reactions to the very first AlDub episode, and completely not getting it.
One thing seems clear, and that is that AlDub is only getting started. When asked by Bloomberg if marriage would be a natural endpoint for this couple’s 15 minutes, Ehden Llave Pelaez indicated it could surge well beyond that.
“They were able to establish a very unique and very strong fan base, which they were able to accomplish using social media,” she said. “Even if they do get married it will go beyond that.”
No wonder #AlDubTheRing is already a thing on Twitter.