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At Large
Villar’s ad spending

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:59:00 02/04/2010

Filed Under: Manny Villar, Benigno Aquino III, Elections, Eleksyon 2010

THE presidential race has really turned interesting now that the two top contenders?Noynoy Aquino and Manny Villar?are running ?neck and neck,? as newspaper headlines put it.

If we must view presidential contests as horse races, then indeed it would seem Aquino and Villar are hotly contesting the presidency, now that the former?s previously ?formidable? lead in public opinion surveys has been eroded to the point that the difference between him and Villar, in terms of public awareness and approval, is practically nil.

Some have asked why and how Villar was able to catch up in a matter of two or three months. And why his biggest leap in the ratings was registered during the time he was facing a Senate scrutiny and possible censure in the wake of the C-5 controversy, including a flap over some remarks made by one of his allies about ?insertions? involving a newly wed vice-presidential candidate.

I happen to think it was precisely this controversy, and the resulting media exposure that saw Villar on the front pages and leading the news broadcasts practically every day in the last month or so that boosted his ratings. As they say in show business, any publicity is good publicity as long as they spell your name right. No matter if the stories cast one in a bad light, or bring up the possibility of one?s involvement in large-scale graft and corruption.

In fact, by seemingly ganging up on Villar and trading barbed remarks with his supporters in the Senate, his opponents perhaps inadvertently cast the former Senate president as the victim, someone being unfairly persecuted for the sake of politics. The timing couldn?t have been worse.

Besides, the C-5 issue never struck me as a ?gut? issue. It was difficult to make heads or tails of the conflicting charges, and I don?t think the public feels as aggrieved over a road project as they would, say, mansions, mistresses or massacres.

* * *

BY AND large, people ascribe Villar?s surge in the polls to his tremendous ad spending, as the nearly ubiquitous TV and radio ads touting his humble background, his empathy with the poor and his promise to do for the rest of the country what he managed to do for himself and family, attest. This is borne out in the latest advertising spend study conducted by Nielsen.

Villar ranked No. 14 among the Top 20 national advertisers (in print and broadcast) tracked by Nielsen during the period October-December 2009. Villar was the only individual on the list, dominated by marketers of consumer products, and he outranked (and therefore outspent) even top advertisers like Monde Nissin Corp. (makers of biscuits), Herbs and Nature Corp. (which manufactures toiletry products), Mead Johnson (infant formula), Kraft Food (dairy products), Asia Brewery and San Miguel Brewery (both beer marketers).

In those three months alone, Villar spent P543 million, a far cry from the P83 million he spent in the previous year. The amount represents an increase of 551 percent in ad spending, the highest increase among the Top 20 advertisers.

* * *

TAKE note, this was Villar?s ad budget for October, November and December last year alone. And going by his sheer presence in the media today?including even ?free? media placements in news and feature articles, interviews and coverage?his advertising budget then is certainly puny compared to the amount he must be spending these days, and the budget he must have set aside for the months to come, when the race really heats up.

Though a major expense for every candidate, advertising is not the only area a candidate must spend money on. There are the usual campaign ?collaterals? like banners, stickers, leaflets and fans, caps and T-shirts. Then there?s the campaign ?machinery,? footing the bill for food, drinks, transportation and perhaps allowances for volunteers and poll watchers. And we can only guess at the amount that goes into ?black ops,? such as hiring propagandists, paying off local officials and ward bosses, and spending on such things as goons and guns.

Villar may be the biggest spender among the candidates?one rumor I heard was that he has allotted P2 billion to finance his run for president?but we all know all candidates are constrained to spend obscene amounts just to get our attention. And you still wonder why officials are compelled to steal?

Electoral reform must begin with this: an electorate that will not need to be bought or seduced or bedazzled, but will rather choose based on their own conscience and on an honest and earnest belief in a person?s fitness for office.

* * *

CHINESE New Year auspiciously coincides with Valentine?s Day this year, so what are we to make of this pairing? Will most people be lucky in love? Will 2010 be a year of passion and uh?performance?

Joseph Chau Kam Shing, notable geomancer and long-time collaborator with the Mandarin Oriental Manila in hosting the Chinese New Year celebrations, says that overall, this year will be a good year for the economy. In this Golden Tiger year, the lucky birth signs are Rabbit, Monkey, Snake, Pig and Ox. Note that ?Tigers? are not among the list, as this year, says Master Chau, ?is not a good year for Tiger people.?

But sorry, says Master Chau, as a feng shui expert, he doesn?t ?get involved in politics,? and so he refuses to answer the question foremost on everyone?s mind: Who will be president this year? For that, we may have to rely on more than lucky colors or elements.

For the Chinese New Year weekend, the Mandarin ushers in the New Year with festive celebrations on the eve, a room package for those wanting to take part in the revelry, a two-week painting exhibit by three diverse artists, and lauriat menus at Tin Hau.

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