The biggest campaign spender can also be the worst possible plunderer
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-01-14

During the presidential election of 1965 the country witnessed what up to then was the biggest campaign spending. The President Diosdado Macapagal versus challenger Ferdinand Marcos presidential battle saw a flood of money that was spent on media advertising, the greasing of opinion makers, events staging (which included bio movie and book launches) and the enticing of ground level political ward leaders.

It came as no surprise that the winner of that election turned out to be the inspiration of sorts of current plunderers. The heights to which Marcos brought kleptocracy no doubt emboldened all those who revered his legacy and followed in his footsteps to infamy.

In this current presidential campaign, we are seeing unusually heavy advertising spending even before the official campaign period had started. In 2009, a news report stated that top ad spender Senator Manny Villar was already spending over P200 million in television advertising. By securing the log of actual placements from a professional monitoring firm, they are able to estimate the TV advertising cost by multiplying ad frequency with published TV network spot rate.

In the top two nationwide TV networks, ABS-CBN and GMA Network, the cost of a 30-second spot is easily P400,000. On television, you will not be noticed if you run less than two spots during primetime so that will already be incurring a cost of P800,000 per night or P48 million for one month’s sustained advertising on the top two networks.

Now the biggest source of political information, television advertising cannot be avoided by anyone seriously vying to become president. Since the 1960s, television advertising had become an indispensable tool in US political battles. This was the result of the popularity of television (reach) and the rich and immense capabilities (optimum message) of the medium to project the candidate in the most favorable light.

As the US evolved into what has been termed as an over-communicated society, people were less inclined to follow the news and opted to watch more entertainment programs. Thus, to reach more voters, candidates chose to place ads within top rating programs. It became more advantageous for a candidate to place a 30-second message in a sitcom rating 28% than to be a guest in a 30-minute talk show rating a mere 3%.
Because of TV advertising, candidates with little access to media are allowed to promote themselves and generate public awareness. In a situation where certain candidates do not merit news coverage, they can still sell themselves if they can raise the ad money to buy expensive commercial time.

There are many issues that have been raised though against political advertising. One is that it is expensive. The high cost tends to limit those who can realistically run for public office to just the wealthy candidates. Favoring the elite, the status quo is preserved. The chances of the underclass to participate in political affairs are lessened.

Another issue is that political advertising is purchased airtime or space where the buyer can say anything superlative about himself even if this isn’t true. After having been a marketing and advertising professional for over 30 years, your Chair Wrecker will attest that there is more truth in brand advertising than in political advertising. Brand advertising here is screened by an ad industry body that verifies if product claims are true. There is no such regulating body for political advertising.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada was sold with the line ERAP PARA SA MAHIRAP (Erap for the poor) but the poor only got poorer during his regrettable regime. In 2004, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sold as OUR LAST BEST HOPE but she drove our people to their deepest point of despair and hopelessness.

In political advertising, Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile and Gringo Honasan can project themselves as defenders of democracy. Senator Lito Lapid can claim that he is a genius. Senator Loren Legarda can boast that she is loyal to her cause and the opposite of hypocrite. Senator Manny Villar, who made billions selling houses to the poor, can claim that he will be their savior from poverty.

There is also the criticism that political advertising, especially the way it is conducted here, somewhat tends to trivialize the issues instead of widen the electorate’s appreciation of the issues that affect their lives. Instead of bridging the Information Gap, political advertising can mislead the mind of the benighted.

It would be good if media will launch the equivalent of CNN’s Truth Meter which judges the claim and assertion of every candidate as to whether this is true, a half truth or an outright lie. That way, Filipinos can be guided accordingly. They’ll know who the lying serpent is and thus be spared later on from having to repent for electing evil.

Filipinos should check out who the outrageous big ad spenders are. Anyone spending over P1 billion just for ads alone makes a good suspect to becoming the worst possible plunderer. Who else but a plunderer will spend over P1 billion of his own money just to land a P45,000 a month job?

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