Marketing Lessons from the 2013 Philippine Elections

Election season always provides good insight on what works and what doesn’t work in marketing. Politicians are marketing two things when they run for office: their agenda, and themselves. The recently concluded Philippine midterm election is a very good case study – we’ve seen rather popular candidates fall and unexpected dark horses lead the race.

Use Social Media Presence to Your Advantage

Let’s start with the most obvious example: senator-elect Nancy Binay and her unexpected lead. She was the subject of heavy scrutiny and much ridicule online because she has no previous experience in public governance, and only “20 years of on-the-job training experience” on her resume. Social media users were quick to talk about her through wall posts, links and comments. They also spread memes poking at everything from her political lineage being her only leverage, to her lack of experience, to her skin color. Yet at the end of polling, she came out in fifth place and was one of the first senators to be proclaimed. What happened?

Binay’s consistent negative social media presence should have worked against her, but these factors worked in her campaign’s favor:

 1. Only one-third of the Philippine population has Internet access, leaving the vast majority to decide when they hear about her platform in person or through other offline means;

2. Only 80% of the people with Internet access has social media accounts, and not all of them read or share about Binay;

3. Her consistent social media presence actually generates more intrigue and curiosity from readers who are not familiar with her, making the audience want to know more and making her name resonate on the Internet and offline, in the real world.


While she remained silent on television throughout the campaign season, she now uses this social media buzz to introduce herself and discuss her platform every time she does interviews. She addresses every meme and every scrutiny she received on social media, and answers the questions posted by a vast majority of social media users nationwide. What started as a viral campaign against her turned out to be one of the best ways to introduce herself and her platform to the public. The main takeaway here is to let viral campaigns take its natural course, and strike with other marketing strategies while the social media buzz is hot.

Build Your Reputation Around Your Audience

The race between former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada and incumbent Manila mayor Alfredo Lim was one that made waves throughout the election season. Erap’s win against Lim was not surprising, because from the very beginning, he knew and understood something better than Lim did: he knew his audience.

2-Erap-campaigning-2013How did he go from convicted plunderer to the new mayor of the nation’s capital? Erap built on his slogan “Erap Para sa Mahirap” and continued to target the masses throughout his campaign. He also played up his being a Manileño, someone who was born in Tondo and who intends to improve the state of Manila to keep up with neighboring cities and municipalities. He promised the concrete changes his constituents wanted to hear – a long-term urban renewal project, lower criminality, and increased city revenue. He knew that his audience consisted of the Filipino masses, and he built his reputation on it all the way to winning the mayoral spot.

The main takeaway from his campaign is to know your audience and build your brand and your entire marketing campaign around them. Listen to the audience’s needs, and address each properly while speaking in their vernacular.

Communication and Messaging can Make or Break You

Content is at the heart of marketing campaigns today, and this is no different in the elections – what, when, and how you say something matters. You may be the best in your industry, but if you do not know how to package your brand properly, you will not stand a chance against your competition.

risa-hontiverosThe best example of this is Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel. Regarded as one of the most brilliant senatorial hopefuls during the campaign, Risa lost the race, ranking 17th in the race that only accommodated 12 in the senate. She had very strong social media presence, was present in a total of ten debates, and had a consistent message: she will take on issues like corruption, women’s rights, poverty and discrimination.

What went wrong with her campaign?

1. She did not have a fresh message. Everyone already knows she can handle the issues mentioned earlier. The public wants to know what else she can offer, and if she cares about issues other than the ones close to her heart.

2. She became a media darling, being present on television, participating in political debates, and being consistently active on her website and on social media. She effectively reached the minority, but she lacked direct communication with the majority of voters who have no access to these. (In contrast, Nancy Binay claims her winning strategy was going to the masses – doing the provincial sorties first and answering the people’s questions before doing the television spots and the debates.)

3. Her packaging only focused on one trait, and that was her being an activist. Hontiveros’ team failed to remember one basic marketing principle: people buy into other people and ideas they can relate to. They needed to see another side of Hontiveros, not just the activist, but also a wife, a mother, a daughter, anything they can relate to.

The takeaways from Hontiveros’ case are:

– Always have a fresh message, or find a new way of presenting your old message to make it interesting;

– Direct marketing is still one of the easiest and most important ways of getting your message across; and

– You need to highlight all your strengths instead of banking on just one.

There are countless more lessons to be learned from the recently-concluded elections, but these three most talked-about campaigns and politicians offer the most insight. What makes these lessons resonate even more in the online marketing community is that the Internet played a big role in the success or failure of the campaigns discussed here. Let these examples be your guide to what works and what you should improve when creating your next marketing campaign.

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