June 2008

Eye Askant

Governance and political campaigns from a marketing perspective.

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"Villanueva said he is confident, considering the millions who attended his Makati City rally, that he will win the elections, adding that 'this is why we do not believe in the surveys of the two companies that are usually commissioned by political parties here — because the more than three million human bodies can indicate the real results'."

Sol Jose Vanzi Philippine Headline News Online 2004

Stubborn Naiveté.

If there was a quality that distinguished the Villanueva camp during the manic months immediately before the election, it was naiveté, a stubborn sort.

Like all advertising professionals, I will swear by research, and, will swear to the integrity of the research companies. I understand belief in the instrument is a faith difficult to ask of the lay, but marketing and advertising companies use surveys and know them to be reliable dipsticks. TNS Trends, a large multinational, is the company that does the fieldwork for both SWS and Pulse Asia, and Mercy Abad, erstwhile head, is beyond reproach.

I had great difficulty with Bangon’s rejection of the tools of communications. It repeatedly questioned the surveys, refused to do research.

There was much to learn from research: from zero, Villanueva as president was an idea that grew  more and more acceptable day by day.

There was very little time and research could have provided valuable information. Initially, support was private and personal. What were the specific triggers that sparked the sudden rise in open and unashamed support? Could they be mined to accelerate the climb in rankings? Was the fear of a non-Catholic president a surmountable obstacle? Should he concentrate on wooing Christians, a fractious bloc that proved to be either fervid in support or downright hostile?

While his stock may have been rising swiftly, Villanueva was last in the field of candidates in every survey. Unfortunately, instead of learning from research, they met each survey release with skepticism. There were no changes in strategies or tactics, or at least none apparent to the ad agency. While any mass communications student would have prescribed advertising for a product that needed to address an awareness problem, Bangon was focusing on rallies and provincial sorties.

Especially bristling to the Villanueva camp was the result of the exit polls of the Social Weather Station: "Among the Jesus is Lord followers (0.7% of sampled voters), 44% were for Villanueva, 24% for GMA and 23% for FPJ."

Lest the point is missed, allow me to restate : Not even half of Bro. Eddie Villanueva's flock voted for him.

A Distorted Picture

Candidates are normally surrounded by supporters, and a roomful of avid listeners, day after day, can distort one's sense of reality. The crowd becomes a cordon sanitaire, keeping out truth and sobriety. This is more true with candidates like Villanueva, Bishop Abante, Velarde: the religious voter, simply stated, is a zealous lot. Candidates would do well to hire what I call "Step-backers", people who can keep an eye askant, who can "step back" every so often, watch the campaign with big picture clarity, and, his honesty commissioned, tell the candidate what the roomful of supporters won't.

"But the rallies were mammoth!"

A Villanueva political rally was an experience unlike any other. A throbbing yellow sea of supporters from all classes, singing, dancing, shouting, arms raised, eyes shut, with the fervor of prayer. It was the same everywhere it was staged.

The question is oft-repeated: Why did Bro. Eddie win DZRH and similar radio polls? Why were their rallies incredibly large? And yet lose miserably at the polls?

Simple. Degree of enthusiasm.

Villanueva voters are especially enthusiastic, the sort politicians dream about.

They will excitedly join every single radio poll. Instead of expecting campaign funds, they will bankroll neighborhood operations, print posters and handouts, buy T-shirts and buttons. They will gather kith and kin and trudge kilometers to attend rallies. In contrast, supporters of other candidates will stay home and think it inconvenient and even silly to go to one.

The support of Villanueva is in blocks of people, families and entire fellowships. His support is not a general dispersed one, like that of a Poe supporter, but more like a Muslim vote: blocks of people like-minded, living in proximity, attending church together. Hold a rally in an area of strength 'and they will come', a multitude strong in faith, disciplined and sturdy, lasting well into the night -- a dramatic spectacle. It is easy for a candidate to get inebriated by the love and adulation, and believe in his invincibility and impending political triumph.

Mercy Abad offers a piece of advice to candidates: “No matter how large the rally, there are always more people who did not attend.”


The Curious Crowds of Bro. Eddie.

Insider perspective on the presidential campaign of the evangelist. Selected chapters.

Author created this Villanueva ad, the last in a campaign of several spots, and ran it during the last days of the campaign.


About the Professor

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


In a pensive mood during the shoot of the television commercials, one of the Comfort Women who threw their support behind Bro. Eddie Villanueva.

Click to watch the TV campaign.