On Political Ads, Elections and Campaigning: The First National Campaigners-Media Interface

By Joy Aceron, Political Development and Reform Project
Coordinator, Ateneo School of Government
Ateneo de Manila University

The Ateneo School of Government, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS)
and Newsbreak publication held the First National Campaigners-Media
Interface last May 13, 2008 at the Hyatt Hotel and Casino Manila. The
whole-day event provided an opportunity for media practitioners,
political strategists and campaign managers to interact, discuss and
reflect on the state of affairs of the country’s national electoral
exercise.

The morning session featured the launching of Newsbreak’'s newest
book, "Selling Candidates: Political Ads in the 2007 Senatorial
Elections," a follow-up of the book "Spin and Sell: How Political Ads
shaped the 2004 Elections." It was covered by ANC’s Media In Focus
and was hosted by Ms. Patricia Evangelista.

Dr. Dennis Gonzalez, Associate Dean of the Ateneo School of Government
and Mr. Klaus Preschle, Resident Representative of the Konrad Adenauer
Stiftung, opened the ceremony. Executive Directors Ms. Marites Vitug
of Newsbreak and Dr. Ana Maria Tabunda of Pulse Asia provided the
background and overview of the book respectively. Insights were given
by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano in his short message.

A panel discussion on The Promise and Limits of Political
Advertisements moderated by Ms. Cheche Lazaro of the Probe Team
followed the book launch. It included Senator Cayetano, former
Congressman Prospero Pichay, Ms. Yoly Villanueva-Ong of Campaigns and
Grey, Ms. Charie Villa of ABS-CBN News, and Ms. Marichu Villanueva of
the Philippine Star as panelists.


The panelists agreed that the efficiency of political ads lies
primarily on their ability to prompt recall. With costly political
ads, according to Ms. Villanueva, the candidates’ names “easily get
into the voters’ minds.” However, the panelists were cautious in
taking this assumption as an absolute truth due to cases wherein
candidates lost in the elections despite bombarding the media with
their political ads, or instances of victory despite having fewer
political ads. Former Congressman Pichay and Senator Cayetano were
regarded classic examples of these instances. When and how political
ads may or may not be an effective campaign tool became the focus of
analysis.


The big question Ms. Cheche Lazaro asked the panelists was, “Why did
Cong. Pichay lose after being the top spender on political ads?”
Cong. Pichay reasoned that he was only a new name in the senatorial
race. Ms. Yoly Ong, in her analysis of Cong. Pichay’'s defeat, said
not all ads are created equal; some were made better than the others.
Ms. Ong also stressed that the candidate’'s track record and stand on
issues are also determinants of winning an election because she
believes that an image cannot be fabricated. There should be an image
that truly characterizes the candidate, and the media handler’s sole
duty is to highlight and enhance the image.

Ms. Villanueva cited Sen. Cayetano as an example. He had fewer ads but
numerous media exposures in the issues that he engaged in.

Ms. Charie Villa agreed with Ms. Ong: “Pichay disconnected with his
message of wanting to solve poverty,” she said.

Meanwhile, Senator Cayetano said that the voting public has
transformed into a more aware, discerning and critical electorate,
making it more difficult to win by ads alone. “People may be totally
aware of you, but how sensible is your ad?” he commented.

In his closing remarks for the morning activity, Dr. Gonzalez shared
his observations, and posed a challenge on making campaigning more
meaningful in light of voters becoming more discerning. He urged
campaigning to veer away from sheer gimmickry.

The afternoon activity was the Campaigners’ Forum that featured issues
and developments in Philippine electoral campaigns. Hosted by Ms. Joy
Aceron of the Ateneo School of Government, local and national
campaigners and political strategists from various political parties
such as LAKAS-CMD, Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, PDP Laban,
Akbayan!, Kapatiran and other political parties participated in the
forum.

Mr. Klaus Presche welcomed the participants and introduced Dr. Helmut
Jung, a German expert on political opinion research and Managing
Director of Gesellschaft für Markt- und Sozialforschung mbH (GMS) in
Hamburg, Germany. Dr. Jung discussed "Trends and Developments in
Political Opinion Research."

In his presentation, Dr. Jung highlighted the importance of conducting
surveys and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) in making informed
decisions in campaigning. In the discussion moderated by Ms. Chay
Hofileña of the Ateneo de Manila University, Dr. Jung elaborated on
the concept of “micro targeting”. Micro-targeting, being a trend in
political opinion research in Germany, involves reading the
psychological characteristics of voters to assess their voting
attitudes. Dr. Jung also encouraged the development of
micro-targeting in the Philippines.

The second topic, Preparing a Candidate, followed the discussion with
the German expert. Panelists for the topic included Ms. Yoly Ong, a
renowned communications specialist; Congressman Glenn Chong of the
Lone District of Biliran, a success story of the book "“How to Win an
Election”" published by the Ateneo School of Government and Konrad
Adenauer Stiftung; Mr. Averell Laquindanum, campaign manager of
Governor Ed Panlilio, the priest who won the governorship of Pampanga
against formidable opponents; and Mr. Raffy Baraan, provincial
administrator of Pangasinan who is well experienced in local
campaigns. The topic was moderated by Ms. Miriam Grace Go, Assistant
Managing Editor of Newbreak.

Based on her experience, Ms. Ong said there are five basic elements
that determine the success or failure of a campaign. These are 1) the
correct positioning of the candidate; 2) correct assessment of the
election environment; 3) identification of a key message that will
stick with the voters; 4) running the campaign like a private company
where the candidate must not act as campaign manager to ensure
distance and objectivity in making decisions; and ideally, 5)
preparation of a comprehensive campaign plan. Furthermore, Ms. Ong
reiterated that these elements are ideal for campaigning in “ordinary
circumstances,” but she shared that she has yet to see these elements
put into practice.

Meanwhile, Cong. Chong, Mr. Laquindanum and Mr. Baraan shared stories
about campaigning in “extraordinary circumstances.” Cong. Chong
narrated his experience in destroying the clout of a political dynasty
in his province. Being a newcomer in running his own campaign, he had
struggles in managing his measly resources at the same time dealing
with psychological pressures from his opponents. As part of his
winning strategy, he devised ways to effectively communicate his
message to the electorate about ending corruption in their province.
He went as far as producing low budgeted Audio-Visual Presentations
(AVPs) and showing them to the voters in the hope of implanting his
message into their minds.

Cong. Chong’s story is similar to Governor Panlilio's. Aside from
being inexperienced in politics, Gov. Panlilio did not have resources.
“Even his team did not have experience in running a political
campaign,” added Mr. Laquindanum. In the campaigns, Gov. Panlilio'’s
known integrity, track record in the social apostolate, and mass
appeal were highlighted to differentiate him from his opponents,
making him an alternative to traditional politics.

With the idea of differentiating a candidate from the other hopefuls,
Mr. Baraan stressed that this is very important. He said it is always
useful to contrast a candidate and make him distinct so that people
will have a clear choice of who to vote for. Aside from
differentiating a candidate, it is also important that the candidate
be guided by concrete information so that he can have an objective
view of how he is doing in the campaign. Mr. Baraan agreed with Dr.
Jung about the importance of surveys in campaigning. Cong. Chong and
Mr. Laquindanum also recognized the significance of using surveys in
informed decision-making during elections.

Drawing from the Pampanga experience in the previous election,
heightened debate ensued on whether an ethical and moral campaign is
possible in the Philippines. Although the issue was unresolved, the
debate occasioned an interesting exchange of ideas and insights.

The last topic was focused on the assessment of Philippine campaigns
entitled, Philippine Campaigns: Moving Forward or Staying Traditional.
Ms. Miriam Grace Go continued to moderate the discussion and Atty.
Florencio '“Butch”' Abad of the Liberal Party, Mr. Francis Manglapus
of LAKAS-CM,D and Ms. Malou Tiquia, founder and General Manager of
Publicus were the panelists.

In his assessment, Atty. Abad argued that Philippine campaigns are not
entirely moving forward because there is a big difference in terms of
local and national election campaigning. Atty. Abad considers local
elections as traditional because it remains patronage-based. On the
other hand, national elections are different because people think in
terms of issues and the arena of battle is in the air, the battle
using political ads on TV. He said, in terms of air war, Philippine
campaigns are moving forward. But he is unsure if this is healthy
because, in the end, stability, consistency and predictability are
what the country needs.

On the other hand, Mr. Manglapus argued that the state of Philippine
campaigns still remains traditional. He proposed that, to move
forward, structural changes in terms of electoral and party reforms
should be instituted. The key is making drastic reforms to move
forward. He added that, to make this happen, simplification of the
electoral process is required and there should be enough space given
to the discussion of important issues. Elections should not rely on
gimmickry and public relations people, he concluded.

In terms of the new emerging modes of campaigning (e.g. surveys,
political websites, surveys, GIS, SMS, FGDs, AVPs, Ringtones, Blogs,
Youtube, TV debates, etc.), Ms. Tiquia argued that Philippine
campaigns have moved forward. What remains traditional, according to
her, is the electoral system. For instance, she said, the Comelec
cannot even provide sufficient data for campaign planning purposes.
She also added that what remains traditional is the counting and
proclamation process. At the latter part of her presentation, Ms.
Tiquia challenged campaigners to identify the demographics of ad
reception. Campaigners must be able to tap and connect with the
younger generation, the sector of the population who usually do not
care about politics.

The latter part of the discussion highlighted issues on instituting
electoral reform, automating the elections and passing bills on
campaign financing.

Dr. Edna Co, faculty member of the Ateneo School of Government, and
Mr. Klaus Preschle recognized the success of the event and thanked the
participants in their Closing Remarks.

The morning activity was attended by 140 guests from political
parties, media, campaigners/ political strategists, non-government
organizations, academe, international donors and embassies; while the
afternoon activity was attended by 90 representatives of political
parties, political institutes and political advertisement/consultancy
firms.

No comments: