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Political marketing lessons from the 2022 presidential race

LANDSLIDE VICTOR Bongbong Marcos —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

The 2022 Philippine presidential election is the most divisive national election in recent years. It was fueled by vicious mudslinging on top of clarity of message platforms being drowned by Facebook memes and icons; bedazzling TikTok videos; Instagram images and one-liners that infuriate or make one happy depending on whose side one is with. Not to mention the heated discussions exchanged in private Viber chat groups and text messages—all these pretty much described the campaign period.

Under scrutiny among the Philippines’ world trading partners are the Filipinos’ political maturity and respect for law and order, a key element of a nation’s stability and opportunity for gainful business. Regardless of outcome, the Filipino electorate and spectrum of income classes and generations must think beyond themselves and their opinion and accept the results of the election.

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In this race to Malacanang, these are some of the political marketing lessons that could be derived:

Emphasize the message platform foremost above the personality.  After all, the latter shall become synonymous to the former. An intrusive, relevant, clear and concise message platform with reduced gimmickry triggers interest and stickiness among the electorate. The messaging of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM) remained focused and consistent on nationalism and unity as the initial step to recover from the pandemic. At the miting de avance held in Parañaque last May 7 and at the Philippine Arena Uniteam announcement rally back in Feb. 8, BBM called for Filipinos to unite, while the Philippine flag, a major branding symbol, took prominent center stage at both major rallies.

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Leni Robredo began with a laylayan and lugaw campaign and ended with a new campaign, “gobyernong tapat, angat buhay lahat” (honest government uplifts everyone). The original message was not sustained, changing a couple of times midway. Evidently, changes hinged on what strategists thought called for better creative execution. What is quite consistent, though, from the early onset is the branding of Robredo as a personality that inspires altruism and volunteerism and the color pink. In the last three weeks of the campaign period, the Robredo branding team belatedly unveiled another makeover of its pink rose symbol incorporating the Philippine flag with three stars and a sun. Unfortunately, the significance of the Philippine flag took a backseat at the miting de avance rally populated by crowd-drawing artists.

Recognize the strategic value of market research results rather than malign them. Instead of harboring suspicion against legitimately conducted presidential surveys and wasting time and effort debunking and mudslinging professional surveys, competent and professional strategists of aspirants must recognize this as an opportunity to objectively assess the reason behind the outcome. The role of a professional and insightful marketing and branding strategist is to develop brand strategies to address the dredged insights and reported shortcomings that prevent achieving empathy with the desired electorate of their candidate/s.

Very recently, MORES, the Marketing & Opinion Research Society of the Philippines, a professional organization of market researchers and marketing and opinion polling agencies stood by the reported results of both the SWS and Pulse Asia, where both agencies have consistently adhered to scientific methods in obtaining research data surrounding the 2022 presidential survey. Both surveys reported a nearly 1:2 win in favor of Uniteam’s presidential and vice president aspirants.

CROWD FAVORITE Leni Robredo

CROWD FAVORITE Leni Robredo

Legitimate presidential surveys follow a scientific method where random selection of respondents is necessary and the criteria of a registered voter are met.

There is no room for arrogance and entitlement when it comes to objectivity and strategy. Heartwarming versus hateful, vicious images are far more engaging. The recent presidential campaign has triggered countless vicious imagery on social media. Often, it is the endearing images and heartwarming video cuts on Youtube channels of presidential aspirants that are likely to engage and convert the skeptic, cynical nonvoter and undecided as these good-for-the-heart videos become interesting conversation pieces. This was the executional strategy that brought the first young black American family to the White House in 2008 despite all mudslinging, racism, underhandedness, etc. Casual images of Barack Obama with wife, Michelle and their daughters, Sasha and Malia in endearing photos engaged even the skeptic and cynical nonvoters. The 2008 US election attracted the most number of new voters among the youth.

Execution is the other half of strategy. While strategy provides substance, a well-crafted execution can help convert undecided voters. The recent miting de avance became a showdown of the two leading presidential aspirants and their team. Robredo’s final rally was a sight to behold with amazing drone shots. The crowd-drawing power was not limited to the cult-like brand personality of Leni Robredo but more so, the crowd-drawing power of the many entertainers whose fans cut across all age spectrums from Vice Ganda to Coco Martin, Angel Locsin, Eli Buendia, Yeng Constantino, Anne Curtis, Moira, Gary V, Regine and Ogie Alcasid, and even the very popular boy band, Ben&Ben, who provided the miting de avance’s finale.

BBM’s miting de avance was way too traditional, looked and felt amateurish—clearly a throwback in directorial and production circa 1990s. It paled in comparison with Robredo’s final rally with perfect production and curated post images. One wonders if serious thought and effort had gone into the final activity. The saving grace was the Philippine flag that stood high and mighty center stage, reminding the electorate that the vote to be cast was for the betterment of the country and the Filipino race.

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While the artist entertainers that included Willie Revillame, Toni Gonzaga, Andrew E, Pops Fernandez, Budakel, DJ Loonyo have their own fan base, the guest artists combined were way too homogenous, empathetic only to one socio-income group and demographic age.

Clearly, it was forgotten that the miting de avance was an important closing event that summarizes the images and messaging a brand wants to leave in the minds of the consumers. It was substance and adherence to the clarity of messaging of unity and nationalism that saved BBM’s miting de avance and the legitimate voter turnout. BBM (As of press time, he is the presumptive victor of the presidential contest) now must assertively reach out to the new generation and mid- to upper-income, whose influence is not to be disregarded—groups which his miting de avance failed to embrace in their audience turnout.

Moving forward

It is up to the Philippine electorate to realize and accept the outcome of the presidential election. There is a saying that one must see the forest beyond the trees. Globalization takes precedence and the Philippines’ trading partners around the world are on a look-see mode, watching if the citizenry will respect the voice of the electorate and the laws of the land. —contributed INQThe author is chief brand strategist of MKS Marketing Consulting and is an alumna of Oxford University’s SAID Graduate School of Business Strategic Leadership and Strategic Marketing Executive Education Program and Stanford Graduate School of Business Strategic Marketing Executive Education. She is a member of the Global Strategic Consulting Network. Feedback at [email protected]

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