Celebrity power and politics: A connection

MANILA, Philippines - In a country where politics and showbiz are intertwined and where personalities easily shift between the two realms, it is common to confuse credibility with popularity and genuine endorsement with mere advertisement.

Art Garcia, a political consultant who specializes in electoral campaigns, walks Rappler through the basics of celebrity political endorsements.

Choosing the ‘hero’

An effective electoral campaign would have teams concentrated on specific regions. These teams are aimed at "selling" the candidate to the public; packaging them in such a way that would cater to the varying sectors they wish to reach out to.

The first step is determining which sector, demographic, or region to focus on.

“Choosing the ‘face of the campaign’ is dependent on which crowd the candidate is aimed at wooing,” says Garcia.

“The most basic factor to consider is how recognizable the celebrity is to the chosen crowd,” he adds. “Is the celebrity popular in a particular region? Is he or she influential in certain religious groups or sects?  What image does he or she possess in the industry?”

How people relate to the endorser is a key factor, and more often than not, voters relate with candidates on a personal level.

Actors or actresses who play heroic roles, for example, are effective in persuading the masses. An endorser’s “hero image” may easily be associated with the candidate, seeing as public officials and leaders are at times viewed as “saviors” by the masses.

In the 2013 mid-term elections, Senatorial candidate Sonny Angara, for instance, was joined by actor Coco Martin, the main protagonist of a local television series.

Young celebrities Sarah Geronimo and Julia Montes are also part of Angara's campaign, in line with his platform centered on the youth.

Watch Coco Martin's campaign video here:

Garcia also mentions how effective "love team" endorsers are in stimulating the public's penchant for chismis or gossip. Often times, a candidate's personal life may also make or break the campaign, as may be seen in the hype that surrounded the relationship issues of re-electionist Chiz Escudero and actress Heart Evangelista.

Closing the deal

In most cases, an endorsement deal is settled with a contract, where the parties agree to an "honorarium" or payment. In other instances, celebrities may choose to volunteer and endorse for free or pro bono.

A contract’s scope and limitations may vary depending on the party’s agreed terms, but paid endorsements generally set a specified number of commercials the celebrity appears in. Most times, they are also tasked to accompany the candidate during campaign tours.

“The more exclusive, the bigger the payment,” explains Garcia.

“Connections, however, help lessen the fees,” he adds. “Sometimes, a candidate may have connections or relatives in the industry who are willing to help out.”

Backtracking to the 2007 elections, actress Kris Aquino campaigned for her brother Noynoy Aquino. However, surveys reported a negative outcome on his popularity.

The team, however, found better results with endorsements by Cory Aquino, Noynoy Aquino’s mother and former Philippine president. These endorsements depicted the then senatorial candidate as a son — a role easily relatable in the Philippines' family-oriented culture. 

For the 2013 elections, Kris Aquino supported the team PNoy senatorial candidates, with members of the Liberal Party confident about her endorsement.

Likewise, Grace Poe found support in her mother Susan Roces, and industry friends Lily Monteverde, Albert Martinez, Liezl Martinez, Tirso Cruz III, and Freddie Webb.

Watch Grace Poe's campaign video here:

Social media: The critical eye

For socially- and politically-conscious individuals, celebrity endorsements are a reason to criticize the candidate. A common argument against the process is the possibility of reducing the campaigns to mere popularity contests.

Garcia notes, however, that technology gives the public more room to scrutinize the candidates.

“People may see popularity as the driving factor, but with the advent of social media and more avenues for discussion, people are slowly becoming more critical,” he says.

Last-minute endorsements by prominent television personalities Willie Revillame, Vice Ganda, Iza Calzado, and Jim Paredes also stirred discussion in social media.

Vice Ganda and Jim Paredes used their Twitter accounts to announce their bets.

But the fact remains that the number of individuals with access to these discussions is miniscule compared to the number of citizens who solely base their votes on television and radio.

“More often than not, an endorser’s value is determined by his or her closeness to the masses,” Garcia adds.

Alternatives

Variations of the typical celebrity endorsement have emerged in the recent election periods, mainly focused on maximizing a candidate's network, whether it be in the entertainment industry or in the political realm.

For example, the 2013 elections saw President Noynoy Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay straightforwardly proclaiming support for the Liberal Party (LP) and United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidates respectively.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago also voiced out support for Sonny Angara, which the senatorial candidate believed was a great boost to his campaign.

“In a sense, educated voters may consider politician endorsers as more credible than celebrity endorsers," says Garcial

Similar to how the earlier discussed “hero image” is imbibed by the candidate, the “credibility” of the politician endorser is also reflected on the campaign.

Watch the Team PNoy campaign ad here:

Watch Vice President Jejomar Binay's address in the UNA proclamation rally here:

Jack Enrile's "Giling Giling" jingle also featured politician Jinggoy Estrada alongside veteran actor Tirso Cruz III:

From politician to instant star

While it has become commonplace for celebrities to use fame as an entry point to politics, our political consultant also mentions how some politicians interestingly jump from politics to show business.

"At times, candidates make themselves into celebrities. They use television guestings and appearances to their advantage," said Garcia.

Before the campaign period, for example, a local drama show "Maalaala Mo Kaya" depicted the life stories of senatorial candidates Grace Poe and Alan Peter Cayetano. Similarly, two weeks before the 2013 elections, the show televised the life of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, whose son and namesake is running for senator.

This episodes received mixed reaction from the public, some questioning its legality.

Vote smart

The truth remains that when showbiz and politics come together during election period, they form a strong alliance of influence, which is often invisible to the passive, uncritical eye.

It is important to note that celebrity endorsers only serve to make candidates visible. Performance and principle boil down to the candidates themselves. - Rappler.com

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