Celebrities bring on the campaign glitter


By Carmela G. Lapena – Pinoys are crazy about celebrities. Politicians know it. This is probably why they tap stars to support their candidacy. Star power is believed to translate to much-needed votes. Now, with just months until the May polls, politicians are bringing out the big guns.

Celebrity connections

It may be recalled that when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo capitalized on her resemblance to Superstar Nora Aunor when she was running for vice president in 1998. She already had political pedigree but it was, arguably, the Nora Aunor connection that made the masses gravitate towards her.

These days, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has considerable advantage since his sister is TV host-actress Kris Aquino, whom the entertainment industry has crowned as “The Queen of All Media.” The presidentiable’s trendsetting sibling has even rallied her showbiz friends – Sharon Cuneta, Regine Velasquez, Ogie Alcasid, Dingdong Dantes, Marian Rivera, Boy Abunda, Ai-Ai Delas Alas, and Vilma Santos – to support her brother’s candidacy.

In fact, Ilocos Norte Representative Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos pointed out that the endorsement of “showbiz heavyweights” is an advantage for Aquino’s campaign and advised that Villar get celebrity endorsers as well to jazz up his campaign.

Thus, Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr., tapped Pinoy “Comedy King” Dolphy, to put in a good word for him. Comedians Willie Revillame and Michael V., as well as boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, are also rooting for Villar.

Perhaps using the same logic, Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro Jr., in a surprise move, picked TV host-actor Edu Manzano to be his vice presidential bet.

Then, of course, there’s former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada – who, for a time, was one of the most popular onscreen anti-heroes in Philippine cinema – making a political comeback much like he’d make a sequel to one of his past films. Asked if he’s baffled why his fellow actor and good friend Dolphy chose to endorse Villar, Estrada merely said, “Nagtatrabaho lamang s’ya (He’s just working).”

Well, if the comedian is indeed campaigning for Villar for a fee, just how much does he stand to earn?

Public relations specialist Reli German, who’s been credited for using the memorable Erap jokes in the past to work to his then-client’s advantage, said, “If the celebrity is truly supportive of the candidate, the talent fee could be as little as a [‘Thank You’] to P100,000.”

However, the price soars to P2 to P3 million, depending on the celebrity’s status, if the politician is bent on purchasing star power.

Real support from reel people

It remains to be seen, however, if all celebrities collecting talent fees for their campaign duties. Just like Oprah Winfrey who supported US President Barack Obama’s campaign, there are those who are simply “donating” their services for politicians they believe in.

Take for instance matinee idol Dingdong Dantes, an Aquino supporter. “I believe in (Noynoy Aquino’s) desire to help the Filipino youth,” he explained.

Music greats and siblings Joey Ayala and Cynthia Alexander have chosen to back environmentalist Nicanor Perlas in his bid for the presidency. “Si Nick lamang ang nakakaintindi ng tunay na pakikipag-ugnay sa kalikasan at tunay na pagbabago (Nick is the only one who understands true interrelatedness with nature and genuine change),” Ayala said.

Meanwhile, Pacquiao said of his namesake, “Nakikita ko na malaki ang magagawa ni Manny kung mauupo siya [bilang presidente] (I can see that Manny can do a lot if he becomes president,” he said.

People should be convinced that the celebrity will actually vote for the candidate. It can be effective, if the endorser has been identified by the viewer as supportive. If the viewer cannot identify the endorser as sincere, then it is likely that they also won’t support the candidates being endorsed.

Malou Tiquia – founder of Publicus Ltd., a political consultancy firm that provides campaign services to senatorial and local candidates – writes in “Don’t Do Ads Now,” writes: “Celebrities with high trust ratings will translate to a high preference in terms of voting.”

German does not discount that the right endorsement will have a positive effect, however it can be erratic.

In terms of quality and quantity, German said that the presence of many endorsers in a single ad will have a huge initial impact. [But] it wears off after a while. “[When] you have 10, 15, [to] 20 celebrities pushing for a candidate, viewers think, ‘Grabe, so many people want this candidate to win,’” said German.

However, German said one-on-one endorsement comes off as more sincere. He pointed out: “When there’s just one (endorser), there’s time to really say something about the candidate.”

Changing tactics

Meanwhile, candidates who cannot afford a celebrity endorsement are not necessarily disadvantaged. “It really all depends on personal appeal and awareness of the candidate. If the candidate is relatively unknown, a celebrity endorsement helps a lot. If he is already known, especially if the people are aware of the track record, there’s no need,” said German.

In an interview with GMANews.TV, Tiquia explained that celebrity endorsers increase awareness about a candidate initially. She cited the case of Senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, who was endorsed by actress Judy Anne Santos in 2004.

Arguably, Santos’ popularity encouraged more people to get to know Jamby and, ultimately, vote for her. But now that she’s running for president, Madrigal has decided to chuck the glitter.

Upon filing her certificate of candidacy last year, Madrigal said she will run as an independent candidate in 2010 without a running mate and senatorial slate to prove that she is not a traditional presidential aspirant but “a candidate of the people.”

Madrigal further stated that she would not be relying on any celebrity support because she knows the voters are intelligent and will not be swept up by such gimmicks.

Tiquia theorizes that there’s more to a campaign than endorsers anyway. “Ads must be placed strategically,” she said. Since the Fair Election Act limits airtime, the ads must be strategically positioned to achieve maximum impact.

In May, we’ll find out if Jamby’s solo zero-celebrity tactic works better than the veritable galaxy of celebrities employed by some of the other presidentiables.

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