LP vows to shake up Noynoy campaign
MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - In response to disappointing survey results, the Liberal Party (LP) has vowed to shake up the election campaign of presidential frontrunner Senator Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III.
Liberal Party (LP) spokesman Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III acknowledged on Wednesday that the so-called "Cory Magic" that catapulted Aquino as the favorite to win the presidential race may already be wearing off.
"I would acknowledge that. But the symbolism of what Cory stood for is what Noynoy stands for," Tañada told House reporters when asked to comment on the new Pulse Asia survey showing Senator Manuel Villar finally catching up with Aquino a week before the start of the official campaign period for national posts.
As of January 22-26, the two were statistically tied, with 37% choosing Aquino as their preference for president and 35% for Villar. The survey has a plus/minus margin of error of 2%, which means Aquino's ratings may be the same as Villar's.
The death last August 1 of Aquino's mother, President Corazon Aquino, generated a clamor for her only son to run for president and continue her legacy of a relatively clean government. Then LP standard-bearer Senator Manuel Roxas II later gave way to Aquino.
Aquino was leading other presidential aspirants by more than 20 percentage points last November 2009. But Aquino's rating dropped 8 percentage points since the last Pulse Asia survey in December while Villar's rating improved by 12 percentage points.
Across socio-demographic groups, Aquino led among Class D voters (40%) and voters aged 55-64 (38%) and 65 and up (42%). On the other hand, Villar is leading voter preferences among Class E voters (39%) and those aged 25-34 (42%).
'Wait for Noynoy Magic'
Tañada admitted they are concerned about the results of the new survey. However, the LP is not giving up.
"We are concerned with the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey. We can say that there's going to be a very interesting elections in May," Tañada said.
The head of Aquino's advertising campaign, Yolanda Ong of ad agency Campaigns and Grey, said the results were a wake-up call for changes in strategy.
"Cory magic will turn to 'Noy magic. This is a much needed wake-up call. Watch how 'Noy recovers," Ong told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.
Tañada said it's time to harp on what Aquino intends to do if he wins the presidency.
"Maybe we would now focus more on what Noynoy intends to do for the country. Kelangan mas maging malinaw kung ano pa ang gustong iparating ni Senator Noynoy sa ating kababayan, kung anong klaseng gobyerno ang kanyang pamumunuan. Baka yun ang kailangan i-define," Tañada said.
"Para maintindahin ng taong bayan na meron talagang hinahawakang programa para sa susunod na administrasyon," he added.
The latest Pulse Asia survey showed an increase of 5 percentage points among voters who prefer a candidate who "can do something, is doing something, will do something" for them.
The Villar camp has projected its candidate as someone who has been an entrepreneur, a chief executive officer, House Speaker, and Senate president. His ads also show him as someone who has helped overseas workers, scholars, and built homes for the middle class.
Kris-Boy Abunda ads
Tañada revealed Aquino's previous campaign ads were handled and conceptualized by the senator’s youngest sister, Kris Aquino, and her friend, Boy Abunda. He added that aside from advertising, Kris is also involved in raising campaign funds for the senator.
Aquino has had several campaign ads, including the "Hindi Ka Nag-Iisa" music video showing scores of celebrities endorsing Aquino, and another where Aquino vows that he would not steal. The latest Noynoy ad features Kris' son, baby James, and had Aquino doing a rap.
Tañada said the first ad resonated well while the effects of the latest ad remains to be seen. He added, however, that it was time "to go beyond these ads."
The LP spokesman said Kris' inputs on Aquino's campaign will still be welcome despite the shift in the advertising strategy. Currently, all of Aquino's advertisements are subject to the approval by the LP before these are released to the public.
Aquino's ads haven't had a strong impact, too. Aside from failing to match the frequency of Villar's ads, Tañada admitted that Villar's ads resonated more with the voters.
"Why is Senator Villar going up and Senator Aquino going down. We can say it's the frequency of Senator Villar's ads. That's one. Secondly, it's time to also reassess the messaging of Senator Noy. Maybe it's not resonating. We have to look also if there is a need to adjust our campaign strategy," he said.
"Frequency is one problem. Secondly, maybe the message is not as clear that is why people are not reacting. The challenge to use is to come out with sharper message," Tañada added.
Ong refused to comment on the supposed failure of Aquino's ads. She said they were done by Kris Aquino and Abunda.
Tañada admitted they cannot match the campaign war chest of Villar.
"The war chest of Senator Villar is really a big advantage. Sa amin, we have to work with what we have. The reason why we cannot go all out before the campaign starts is because we cannot rely on possible resources that may come in the middle of the campaign," he said.
Aquino downplays survey results
On Wednesday, Sen. Aquino downplayed the results of the latest Pulse Asia survey.
In a statement, Aquino said he was not surprised by the survey results since his rivals in the presidential race had a long head start in the campaign.
"While I diligently perform my functions as a legislator, the others are practically campaigning full-time, neglecting their mandate with those who entrusted them with their votes," he said.
The opposition senator also noted that Villar seemed to have forged an alliance with President Arroyo. He said even the President's own deputy spokesman, Gary Olivar, praised Villar for shunning a "negative campaigning style.”
"By the day, it is becoming clear that an unholy alliance is developing between this administration and my opponent. No wonder the Palace spokesman couldn’t restrain himself in expressing his gratitude to one of my opponents for keeping quiet on the many issues confronting this administration," Aquino said.
Olivar earlier denied rumors that Malacañang was secretly backing Villar despite fielding its own candidate, Lakas-Kampi standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro, in the presidential election.
“I think the reason some people say that is because he (Villar) has not been running his campaign purely on the basis of attacking the President—which I can’t say, unfortunately, of the other opposition candidates,” Olivar said.
Olivar added, however, that Villar's increase in ratings in the presidential surveys could be the people's own reaction to candidates who continue to criticize the President.
Villar ads cost P543-M in 3 months
Liberal Party director-general Chito Gascon, meanwhile, attributed Villar's increase in ratings to his massive campaign spending. He said data from AC Nielsen showed that Villar's camp spent as much as P70.43 million on ads in January, compared to P29.53 million for Gilbert Teodoro and P7.82 million for Aquino.
AC Nielsen also noted that Villar spent as much as P543 million in ads from October to December 2009, which put him as the only individual in the country's top 20 advertising subject for the last quarter.
"It is clear that all-out TV advertising as a marketing gimmick has had an effect. We can also say that the latest survey is not yet reflective of how people will vote in the May 10 elections," he said.
Aside from spending for the ad placements on TV, Villar has reportedly engaged the services of several top advertising firms in the country including TBWA Santiago Mangada Puno, the third biggest in the local industry. Villar tapped TBWA/SMP in the 2007 elections.
Sustained advertising packages conceptualized and/or implemented by the top advertising firms are usually worth tens of millions of pesos. Since 2008, Villar's TV ads have been numerous and varied. As the 2010 elections draw nearer, Villar has been airing a new TV ad almost every month. His ads have also featured top entertainment personalities, including King of Comedy Dolphy Quizon. Popular noontime host Willie Revillame and boxing icon Manny Pacquiao have also endorsed Villar.
Pulse Asia president Prof. Ronald Holmes attributed Villar's gain of 12 percentage points to his "more sustained" marketing campaign.
In an interview on ANC's Dateline Philippines on Wednesday, Holmes said this fact has been recognized by other presidential candidates. He said some camps have complained about the 6 to 1 ratio of political ads in favor of Villar.
Holmes stressed that this sustained campaign to get Villar known has had a big impact on the public's perception of Villar.
'Sending the message is biggest challenge'
Sen. Aquino said the biggest challenge of his presidential campaign is how to send his message out of a clean, decent, transparent and accountable government to the voting public. He said his party will be putting out more ads in the coming days to address the concern.
The LP bet also said he expects the organizational strength of the party to be felt once the official campaign period starts this February.
Aquino said that when he first ran for congressman in 1998, he was also on the receiving end of criticisms. He said that despite efforts to derail his candidacy, he was still able to muster enough votes to win the congressional race.
He also reminded his supporters that he is still leading in the presidential surveys ever since he first declared his intention to run for president last year.
"I would like to assure everyone, especially our supporters, that as the formal campaign period starts, we will work harder to make sure that we remain on top of the fight and the hope of our people for a clean, competent and compassionate government through my tandem with Senator Mar Roxas will be fulfilled," he said.
Track record and vision
Meanwhile, Villar admitted that his rising survey ratings may be due to his infomercials, but claimed that it was not because he has more political ads than the other presidential aspirants.
He alleged that people remember his ads more because these are backed by facts.
"Sa akin kasi, kapanipaniwala, totohanan eh. Sa advertisement natin, galing sa hirap, totoo talaga. Sinabi ko ang mga kakayahan ko, toto naman talaga din. Kita iyan sa infomercial kung ikaw ay gumagawa lang ng istroya o katotohanan ang sinasabi mo (It's because my infomercials are more believable and truthful. In my ads, I said I was poor, which is true. I laid down what are my capabilities, it's also true. People would know if you are just making up a story or telling the truth in infomercials)," Villar said.
Nacionalista Party (NP) senatorial candidate Adel Tamano said the Pulse Asia survey shows that voters are looking for the candidates with track record, and not just a vision.
Villar's allies have always criticized Aquino for his limited experience. Aquino has not held a major leadership position in the private and public sector, unlike Villar.
"It was just a matter of time. I have always believed that once the public started to really scrutinize the presidential candidates--considering their personal achievements, qualities and abilities--that Senator Villar's number would keep improving and Noynoy's lead would decrease. This is going to be a watershed election where we will see a critical and thinking electorate going beyond popularity and hype and choosing leaders based on track record and qualifications," Tamano said. -- with reports from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News