January 2009

Eye Askant

Governance and political campaigns from a marketing perspective.

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That there is disappointment with our governments is something to be happy about: while, with eyes askant, we say that nothing good can be expected from politicians, walang mahihita, and that nothing really changes, our collective hearts have not hardened beyond repair, have not learned not to hope.

Our jadedness, it appears, has a seasonality; it ebbs when the election storm clouds appear. We elect governments into office with fervor and hoopla, reveling in the power to do so, and then we sigh as we watch them descend, with tortoisian certainty, into unpopularity. We watch as they appear to be overwhelmed by the system, repeating mistakes of the past, donning the clothes, insincere smiles and bloat of traditional politicians. Corruption? Everyday office attire.

The Aquino government though got brusquely shoved down the bumpy slide into SWS low satisfaction ratings with the Mendiola Massacre. In contrast, the Estrada government's decline was more a free-fall than a slide. While Ramos, if it weren't for the Asian Crisis, would have been that rare head of state to end a term loved by the people.



In fairness, the disappointment with Aquino was to be expected. She was our Obama: countrywide and dramatic transformation was a minimum expectation. We all honked car horns that fateful day after the dictatorship was torn off the land by helicopter like a long-standing decayed molar. Tears were shed as hearts runneth over with hope. (In fact, Obama has it easy: Aquino had a suspicious military mindset to dismantle, an entire political and economic structure to demolish and rebuild, a secessionist movement in the South and a communist insurgency to placate. And she was stymied at the onset by drained government coffers and gargantuan debts).

Despite great disappointments, we never learn. And it is a blessing that we never learn. Arteriosclerosis of the veins that provide hope would be the death of the national corpus.


Perception is Reality

It is a worldview I often teach to students, advertising agency staff and to people I counsel, for it is a principle well worth carrying into careers and industries and relationships. It is an important precept in communications, in the governance of people and nations, in business and stocks, and when dealing with friends and relatives. Perception is reality, and though perception is seldom reality, how the outside world perceives us and what we do has dramatic repercussions on the relationship. Simply stated, though we may be faultless, there is a fault to fix.

Perhaps there is nothing that underscores the point better than to state that the Perception is Reality principle is biblical. When asked whether eating food sacrificed to idols is a sin, Paul answered that it is, by itself, not a sin. “We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one... but not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled... Be careful (then) that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak... So this weak brother... is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.”

"You mean I have to be concerned about what people think even if I have done no wrong?", so reacted an aghast vice president of Adformatix, the advertising agency I headed for two decades. For one to pay no regard to an accusation because it is untrue is foolhardy and politically naive. A public servant may be totally innocent of a crime he is accused of, but perception has life: the accusation is real, with form and weight and mass and influence, on career and performance and personal reputation.


"But how could I have stolen money? I wasn't even in government yet!"

Facts seldom matter, which is a fact of life in the public relations field. Cries of innocence and alibis, however valid, cannot outweigh intrinsic bias. While one may be blessed by innocence, an accusation must be accorded almost the same concern as if there were guilt. "The principle of "Caesar's wife" is absolutely vital for any government seeking to uphold public rectitude... if questions of conduct lead to the case being referred to the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards, in no circumstances may the minister remain in office. That may seem hard if the accusations come to nothing, but governments must accept that the appearance of corruption can be as damaging as the reality, and that the insistence on quite irrelevant legal principles is apt only to increase cynicism and disenchantment among the people it is meant to reassure."

  1. The London Independent Philip Hensher 2001


The average Filipino public servant will probably not adhere to the same severe code, but he can choose to manage perception better. And management of perception begins with acceptance that a government post is tainted with original sin.


Government's Original Sin.

The thesis is simple: Governments (or governors), by default, have perceptions to fix. Administrations are born with original sin, branded corrupt from day one. Sociologists call it Implicit Prejudice, or bias that emerges from unconscious beliefs.

Call it unfair, but accept it. It is the result of Generational Sins of previous public administrators.

“Most fair-minded people strive to judge others according to their merits, but our research shows how often people instead judge according to unconscious stereotypes and attitudes, or 'implicit prejudice.' What makes implicit prejudice so common and persistent is that it is rooted in the fundamental mechanics of thought. Early on, we learn to associate things that commonly go together and expect them to inevitably coexist: thunder and rain, for instance, or gray hair and old age.

  1. Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman, Dolly Chugh Harvard Business Review 2003

Like politicians and corruption.

“But, of course, our associations only reflect approximations of the truth; they are rarely applicable to every encounter. Rain doesn’t always accompany thunder, and the young can also go gray. Nonetheless, because we automatically make such associations to help us organize our world, we grow to trust them, and they can blind us to those instances in which the associations are not accurate—when they don’t align with our expectations”.

In the same manner, there are incorruptible politicians.

If the last line struck the reader as an oxymoron, then the point is indeed made: implicit prejudice is stronger than one's ability to allow the existence of an incorruptible public servant.

Banaji, Bazerman and Chugh explain: "Because implicit prejudice arises from the ordinary and unconscious tendency to make associations, it is distinct from conscious forms of prejudice, such as overt racism or sexism. This distinction explains why people who are free from conscious prejudice may still harbor biases and act accordingly. Exposed to images that juxtapose black men and violence, portray women as sex objects, imply that the physically disabled are mentally weak and the poor are lazy, even the most consciously unbiased person is bound to make biased associations."


Ambitious and Ambiguous Obama

With the economic imbroglio America is in, Obama's government will be demanded the moon and half the firmament, not to mention jobs, cheaper gasoline, and an end to the Iraq war.

But I am ready to wager a professor's paycheck that the Obama presidency, judging by the way they managed the campaign, will be less of a disappointment. His campaign was distinguished by efficiency and decisiveness. The direction, the campaign strategy, the nuances and color and tone were decided early in the campaign and decided with the candidate in full view.

But there will be disappointment. Firstly, because the promise was large and ambitious. To be ambitious, it was ambiguous by design. The "consumer's" takeout of the campaign was not about the economy or Iraq, but of change. There was no topic bigger than the proposition of change. An American Catholic, patiently waiting in line to vote early, was asked why he was choosing a man who was pro-choice and pro-gay. He replied, "there are bigger issues." (I can imagine the folks at the Obama advertising agency exuberantly giving each other high-fives after seeing that clip).

Clinton failed because she was too embarrassed to go the whole hog on the positioning that had the most potential. The woman lost because she disrobed her woman-ness. Her advertising campaign promoted her like any other candidate, in the trenches, in talking head commercials, throwing dirt and answering accusations ad after ad, appealing to reason rather than to the heart.

The first woman presidential candidate chose to be considered as the candidate with experience, tough, voluble and equipped with facts and figures and know-how and very like a man, at times with gritted teeth and staring outward. She could have been presented as the efficient "let's-get-the-job-done" woman we all know, or the strong and wise mother for a hurting nation. Obama was, from start to finish, bright and young, charismatic and rhetorical -- and black. Never mind that he wasn't, in Jessie Jackson's words, "black enough" in priorities, principles and genes. In short, he was change in the flesh, "Change You Can Believe In". What Obama did with skin color, Clinton couldn't with gender.

Even if the spectacular set of problems he faces miraculously disappears overnight, Obama will still disappoint. The factor is time: four years is too short to use the concept of hegemony, to create the culture of common sense values to win consent and consensus. But that is subject for another article.


One Loved Filipino President

Getting a president elected is easy, selling government is the difficult part.

Magsaysay was sold well. We thank Col.Edward G. Lansdale, former advertising agency copywriter and account executive and the Central Intelligence Agency's master manipulator, (Time Magazine's description, not mine), for the well-wrought packaging: "My Guy" was "America's Boy", "manufactured, packaged and delivered."

Recently released secret documents prove this. Lansdale wrote: "it quickly became apparent that we would have to make the Philippine leadership against the Communists a military one in the person of the Secretary of National Defense (Magsaysay), and since the senior military officers in their armed forces didn’t seem to have this little X factor of leadership that would make men willingly go along with them, why, we have to make a civilian Secretary in effect a military leader for his armed forces…"

"Lansdale is described as having engineered Magsaysay’s election to the presidency in 1953. Quirino, who was seen as being soft on the communist threat, lost his re-election bid owing partly to a corruption issue that would be considered trivial in today’s standards: about a supposedly gold-plated spittoon inside the presidential bedroom. The much-publicized issue was a psywar gimmick crafted... by Lansdale himself."

  1. Bobby Tuazon, Bulatlat, based on the collected papers of Lansdale Archive File No. 87-0346-DOD-033, declassified in 1992 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)


Whether Magsaysay could have lived up to the packaging and promise had he lived long enough is fairly easy to answer. With a Cold War propaganda team behind him, every move would have been the fruit of discussions and he would probably have gone down in history as the best president we ever had.


Magsaysay -- how much is of him is CIA gift wrapping?

As any Filipino sexagenarian will attest, Magsaysay was well-loved. Stories abound about the unassuming and kindly man and his surprise visits to government offices and military outposts. While extensive research is required to be able to tell wrapping from product, several things are certain. Even as Defense Secretary, Magsaysay was very accommodating to US desires, allowing them to plan the war against the Hukbalahap. Lansdale was a close friend and ally. To quote Bobby Tuazon, "Lansdale and Magsaysay, instantly became buddies and the war against the Huk guerillas in the early 1950s brought them together in many military operations."

In Lansdale's words, “we would sometimes go in liaison aircraft, sometimes jump in the car and drive places. If we went in the liaison aircraft, L-5s, we would land in a corn patch or on a road and then go out on the road and bum rides in trucks, and so forth. I used to carry a razor and a toothbrush in my pocket because I never knew when I was going to get home again."

It is relevant to remember that this was the Cold War, and Magsaysay's advertising agency was the Agency, which had no qualms about using dirty tricks. Author Sterling Seagrave says Lansdale "was on secret missions with a hand-picked team of Filipino assassins, assassinating leftists, liberals and progressives." Though the author does not condone the manner in which it was done, public perception of the Defense Secretary and later President was managed adroitly.


The Lessons of History

The lengthy trip down 'bad memory lane' is not a digression but history lessons for public servants and future presidents. And they are clear and simple: Firstly, perception is reality, really; secondly, the facts don't matter as much as the perception of the facts; thirdly, the creation and management of perception require careful concern and attention; fourthly, public servants need a dedicated staff, skilled, not just in public relations and advertising, but in the science of creating consent and consensus; and, fifthly, a deep understanding of the 'consumer'.

A blog entry of Howie Severino of the Probe Team provides us an excellent example:

"Alas, while we Filipinos are obsessed with apparitions and supernatural explanations for what happens around us (understanding the consumer), we tend to be less interested in facts and the natural causes of events (facts don't matter)... But it could also make us more gullible. Witness how easy it was for the CIA to scare away combat-hardened Huk guerrillas in the 1950s by puncturing holes in the necks of slain Huk comrades and hanging them upside down from trees. With their blood dripping to the ground, the dead passed for victims of aswang, dreaded by otherwise brave warriors (going beyond advertising and public relations)."


Is it Old-fashioned Propaganda?

The word 'propaganda' drips with malice. I prefer other terms. But the Science of Creation of Consent and Consensus really involves old methods (advertising and public relations) and new (new media and branded content). The philosophies behind it come from the nineteenth century (Theory of Hegemony, Antonio Gramsci) and the twentieth century (Integrated Marketing Communications, Don Schultz). Propaganda, given how people react to the word today, I would rather define as spin unveiled or obvious disinformation.

I remind my copywriting and integrated marketing communications students, far too frequently, I am told, that we must always have a healthy respect for the vast influence of the instrument. It can make feeding cow's milk to infants the norm (Promil), resurrect old model pickups into market leaders (Nissan), install and topple governments, sell the Brooklyn Bridge and maybe even reverse the earth's rotation. The Central Intelligence Agency is arguably the most skilled and resourceful institution in the science of perception management and domestic propaganda. CIA Director William Colby admitted, rather proudly, that "Lansdale helped and perhaps created the best president the Philippines ever had."


Today's Politician is Especially Disabled.

For all his faults, Lansdale knew how to use media. While two Filipino composers, Antonio Buenaventura and Teo Baylen lay claim to creating the Magsaysay March, some sources, including the New York Times and the JSTOR Archives, attribute the song to Lansdale. He knew the clout of a good newspaper article: "he tried to influence Washington by persuading American journalists to write pieces like 'Ramon Magsaysay: Our Best Friend in Asia,'" wrote James Gibney in the New York Times in 2006.

The Cold War is over, the Ugly Americans are gone (Major Colonel Edward G. Lansdale was inspiration for the celebrated book "Ugly American"; the fictional character being "Colonel Edwin Hillandale")

That ad agency from Langley, Virginia is gone. Media has changed dramatically since. What used to be simply radio, TV and print, with billboards and posters thrown in for good measure, is now a plethora of 'contact points', various sources of information to choose from, depending on the media consumption patterns of the target audience.

The audience has splintered. Nobody below 35 years of age picks up a newspaper. If that sounds like a hyperbole, well, it isn't. The column feeds political organizations provide newspapers aren't read by a huge chunk of the voting population -- the young, historically the vanguard class.

Individually, media venues are in steady decay. Radio has been in a decline globally and locally for decades. Television is suffering from a surfeit of offerings: with hundreds of cable channels available, the voter is harder to reach, as he surfs through channels unavailable to local politicians.

Micro-minutes, the time between actual tasks, the time we spend waiting for a bus or walking to the car, are important to an advertiser utilizing billboards, to the local politician who is using recoridas and plastering posters all over town. All age segments of the target market are bowed and unmindful of anything other than their cell phones. Smart and Globe owns the micro-minutes.

Today's politician is especially disabled. Unlike consumer brands, the manner by which politicians are publicized is inefficient, haphazard, prone to misunderstanding and malicious distortion.

Publicity in the news reduces him to soundbites, which oversimplifies what he wants to say (Justice Puno was reported by ABS-CBN as having said that he was definitely not running for president. the actual transcript has him more ambivalent). Public speeches are not appropriate venues to go deep into his advocacies and platform of government. And the 30-second technology of advertising restricts him to punchlines and jingles. See The Candidate
as a Brand.


The One-eyed Man is King.

Outside of the well-orchestrated Magsaysay presidency, no administration has managed perceptions well. Research and memory go only so far, but what they do offer is a sad reality: presidents disappoint inevitably. We could agree with the common judgment that we have not, as yet, been blessed with a good president, but reality is an irrelevant matter, for we are in the business of perceptions and the science of managing and maintaining perceptions.

My thesis? No administration has sold itself well. Though the Ramos administration might have finished better until it slammed into the Asian Crisis.



Government is an amateur advertiser,  clumsy in media, and though painfully aware that mangled perceptions can stymie work, they rely on antiquated systems and professional counsel that's out of the ark.

The government has a television channel that is surprisingly underutilized. When ad and media agencies make a list of TV stations, NBN4 is seldom included.

While the media landscape and media consumption have changed dramatically, the press secretaries and advisers all hark from the age when print was king. Malacañang residents are almost always not marketing savvy, so they place their trust in their aging counselors. And in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.


An Interregnum

Perhaps it is an interregnum in media experts. As the old relinquish their functions to sophisticated and younger men and women, changes and savvy will enter Malacañang. Perhaps then we will see better managed and better prepared declarations, proactive defense of positions, expertly crafted image and positioning of the president and of the administration, and adroit marketing the national vision.

 

Why governments disappoint.

“Not even a year after EDSA, they were slowly becoming disappointed.”

Eric Tañada

"It’s not the accuracy and abundance of information that should matter most — rather, it’s how that information is interpreted." 


  1. Kathleen M. Sutcliffe and Klaus Weber, Harvard Business Review

“The financial markets are the manifestation of the push and pull between reality and perception. Therefore, successful investing must start with market perception.”


  1. http://kanundrum.com



ARTICLES

"This tape is a letter from General Lansdale to his wife, Helen. It was recorded in 1951, and a copy was made in 1953. General Lansdale and his friends sing and give personal news. After the letter, General Lansdale has recorded two Philippine campaign songs: "Magsaysay Mambo," and "Magsaysay March," both in support of Magsaysay. The songs are sung both in English and in Tagalog."


  1. Register of the Edward Geary Lansdale Papers, 1910-1987

General Edward Geary Lansdale, 1910-1987. CIA Master Manipulator and propaganda specialist.



 




Prof. Vincent R. Pozon


Chairman, Estima, Inc.

Email: vrpozon@estimacontent.com

Office Address: Republic Glass Bldg., 196 Salcedo St.,Makati Philippines 1229


Corporate website: www.estimacontent.com

Advocacy website: www.universitv.net

Course Website:
http://sites.google.com/site/profvincentpozonclass/



 

In his 35 years in advertising, Professor Pozon has been been involved, in varying degrees, independently and as an agency man, with political campaigns.