The imperatives for the top 5 presidential candidates
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-02-11

In case you didn’t notice, the presidential race has been on since mid-2007 after the group of presidential wannabes tried to oust then Senate President Manny Villar over what they justified as the leveling of the playing field.

Last Tuesday — the presidential race is finally, officially on.

This presidential election may have already chalked the biggest election related media spending in Philippine history. Ironically, perhaps also a Philippine first, the pre-official phase of the adspend may end up dwarfing the official phase adspend.

Billionaire Manny Villar is undoubtedly the biggest campaign media spender. The AGB-Nielsen report placed Villar’s over P500 million media advertising in the fourth quarter of 2009 as the 14th biggest — even outspending many heavy consumer brand advertisers. Pulse Asia’s Dr. Ronald Holmes agrees with the observations of many that Villar’s recent surge in ratings is attributable to his extraordinary television spending.

That is not to say though that Villar advertising is not well-crafted. Heavy ad bombardment alone cannot account for stimulating an increase in sales. One has to deliver the right message. By right message, we mean saying the right thing to the right target audience.

But this is not to say that what is considered the right message to the right audience is the truth. Good advertising cannot sustain an inferior product whereas a superior product can rise higher than the capabilities of its mediocre or even sub-standard advertising. This is up now for Villar’s rivals to prove in the Court of Public Opinion.

The big challenge now for the Villar media team is how to keep their candidate competitive — now that there is a 120 minute limit to TV advertising for the entire duration of the campaign. In a recent tracking report of Villar’s TV advertising for the period January 1-9, 2010, Villar utilized over 260 minutes of TV spots.

If Villar’s January rating surge was delivered by an average of 300 minutes of TV spots per month since November 2009, imagine the erosion of that support when it goes down to an average of 30 to 40 minutes a month when the 120 allowable minutes are averaged to cover the February 9 to May 7 advertising period. TV easily accounts for 60% of the awareness, impression and recall of candidates.

Unless presidential candidates Joseph Estrada, Gilbert Teodoro and Dick Gordon do something dramatic to place themselves as a competitive third placer by the end of March, the presidential race will narrow to a choice between Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar. Estrada has been a consistent third placer in the surveys but his ratings are not within striking distance of the top two. To be a competitive third placer, a candidate must be no more than 3 points behind the second placer.

If the present trend continues, the 2010 race may just go the route of the 2004 which basically narrowed to a choice between Fernando Poe Jr. and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In fact, based on the most recent SWS and Pulse Asia January surveys — the 2004 third and fourth placers were rating much better than the current third and fourth placers.

Because of the poor ratings of Estrada, Teodoro and Gordon, we see the top two placers, Aquino and Villar, with very high ratings in the January SWS and Pulse Asia polls — 42% for Aquino, 35% for Villar in the SWS and 37% for Aquino and 35% for Villar in Pulse Asia. Compare that with the 38% total of Estrada in 1998 which was a double digit landslide victory over second placer Joe de Venecia.

For Estrada, Teodoro and Gordon to rise dramatically by the end of March, they must take the votes from either Aquino or Villar. It seems pointless for Teodoro and Gordon to attempt to get the votes of Estrada. It is small and is diminishing. Also, Teodoro and Gordon do not appeal to Estrada diehards, the masses.

For Estrada, it is pointless to go after the votes of Teodoro and Gordon. Aside from these being small, their supporters do not seem to be type who will go for Estrada. Estrada has no way to go, just like Teodoro and Gordon, but to try to get votes from either Aquino or Villar. In which case, they will have to decide which of the two race leaders is easier to get votes from.

For Aquino, his game plan will be to try to recover lost ground and establish a more comfortable margin between him and Villar. A margin of 5%, or 2 million votes, will be immense. Voting turnout is expected to be around 40 million.

For Villar, he must increase where he currently leads Aquino, in the Class E where his projection of dating mahirap (once poor) and mapagbigay (generous) seemed to have registered. Villar’s biggest obstacle will be to negate the expected attacks that are now being directed against him over the C-5 controversy and serious questions about his character — like tumatakbo, duwag, di tapat (runs from a fight, coward, untruthful) — and integrity (abuse of power for personal gain).

With their primary communications tool — TV ads — now limited to only 120 minutes for the entire campaign, the camp of my Kumpadre Manny Villar will have to be very creative in sustaining his image and deflecting the expected attacks.

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