GMA supporters outspent rivals in the battle of the ads, but did they win it?

Our latest report is on the political ads that were published in major Manila newspapers since the “Gloriagate” political crisis began in June. We asked one of our contributors to go through the pages of the major dailies from June 1 to September 15 this year and note down the ads that had been published.

His findings: Supporters of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spent more than P22 million in advertisements for that period. Her rivals, on the other hand, shelled out less than P2 million.

But was this money well spent? Public-relations and advertising experts on both sides of the political divide agree that it is unlikely the ads — whether they were from the opposition or from the government — changed many people’s minds. They were mainly a show of strength.

Experts interviewed for the report said that the pro-Arroyo ads were apparently orchestrated, well-funded and clearly not spontaneous. The anti-GMA ads, on the other hand, were spotty, not very coherent and contained “too much pontification,” which tended to turn people off. Government institutions and associations, such as the League of Municipalities, League of Cities and League of Provinces, were the biggest ad spender, followed by the “600 independent women of civil society.”

Even Reli German, who is a communications consultant of Malacañang, says that most of the pro-Arroyo ads were a waste of money as they did not convince anyone. Yoly Ong of Campaigns & Grey, meanwhile, sad that the administration’s advertising blitz only served to reinforce the notion that GMA is “unpopular and unloved.”

SUPPORTERS of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo spent more than P22 million in advertisements in major Manila dailies in the period of just three-and-a-half months since the “Gloriagate” crisis began.

But was it money well spent? Public-relations and advertising experts on both sides of the political divide agree that it is unlikely the ads changed many people’s minds. They were mainly a show of strength.

Yoly Ong, group chairperson of the ad agency Campaigns & Grey, said that the barrage of pro-Arroyo ads had “Malacañang written all over it.”

But Reli German, a member of the president’s ad hoc communications group, explained that while some of the government groups may have felt the need to express support for the beleaguered head of state, the administration did not orchestrate the advertising barrage.

Political Ads (June 1-September 15, 2005)

NO. OF PAGES 150 (86%) 11 (6%) 13 (7%) 174
COST IN PESOS 22.6M 1.6M 1.9M 26.2M

Note: Percentages do not add up to 100 percent due to rounding off.

Forty percent of the ads, which carried various messages of support for the president, came out in July, from the time of the resignation of the “Hyatt 10” members of the Arroyo Cabinet to the President’s State of the Nation Address. The other peak ad period was the first half of September, in the heat of the impeachment debate in the House of Representatives.

In the end, not only did the administration trounce the opposition in the House, it also thrashed its rivals in the battle of the ads. During the three-and-a-half month period surveyed for this report — June 1 to September 15 — the opposition spent only P2 million on ads in the three biggest national dailies, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Philippine Star and the Manila Bulletin.

In effect, the President’s opponents shelled out less than P10 for every P100 of ad money paid out by the Arroyo camp. But did the Palace get the needed bang for the buck?

Ong, who is a veteran and multi-awarded advertising executive, had no doubt: it did not. “If we judge the ad using an advertiser’s objective, which is to influence minds, ” she said, “then the ads failed.”

She also observed that the pro-Arroyo ads were apparently orchestrated, well-funded and clearly not spontaneous. The anti-GMA ads, on the other hand, were spotty, not very coherent and contained “too much pontification,” which tended to turn people off.

Ong said she made her observations purely from “a professional communicator’s” viewpoint. She said neither she nor her ad agency was involved in the creation or placement of any of the ads.

German, a public relations guru who has taken part in presidential campaigns since the 1960s, conceded that some of the pro-GMA ads paid for by either government institutions or associations may have done “more harm than good.” Like Ong, German’s company was not involved in composing or placing those ads.

One of the more “harmful” ads was the one that appeared in the Inquirer and Star on August 25. It showed three photos of the president smiling with Armando C. Sanchez, the Batangas governor who has been accused of involvement in jueteng. The ad expressed support for Arroyo from the “government leaders” of Batangas. Palace sources say that the President and her supporters were not pleased with the ad, as it showed her alongside an alleged jueteng lord at a time when the impeachment debate was raging in the House.

Distribution of Political Ads by Newspaper

Philippine Daily Inquirer 330 41 45
Philippine Star 270 36 33
Manila Bulletin 275 23 22

Media sources say that former Bulacan Rep. Wilfredo Villarama, a known Arroyo supporter, was the one charged by the Palace to orchestrate the barrage of pro-government ads. They say the president herself asked Villarama to ensure multiple advertisements were published.

But Villarama denied this, saying “Hindi natin kaya ‘yon (I can’t do that). I have no role in government. I don’t see how I can be given that kind of an order.”

The sheer number of pro-GMA ads, however, is one indication that they cannot all be attributed to spontaneity. From June to mid-September, approximately 174 ad pages, costing about P26 million pesos, were bought from the three major Manila dailies by various groups and individuals. Of these, 86 percent were pro-Arroyo, six percent were neutral, and seven percent were anti-GMA. This report classified as “anti” those ads that were placed by groups that called themselves “pro-truth.”

The ad that made the most impact, according to those interviewed for this article, was the one that graced the center spreads of all three newspapers on September 8. The ad contained the names and signatures of those whom political commentator Manuel L. Quezon III called “the nation’s social betters.”

The cost of placing this ad for just one day already totals more than half of what the anti-Arroyo groups spent from June to mid-September. Altogether, from August 16 to September 13, the group responsible for the ads paid for a total of 20 ad pages worth more than P3 million.

The ad placements were signed by the “600 top independent women in civil society,” “business leaders and movers of the economy” and “concerned women of civil society.” In all, they accounted for 12 percent of all the political ads for this period, making the group the top advertiser, outspending even all the advertisers who did not identify themselves.

The message of the ads was simply: “We prefer GMA to chaos.” After the vote on impeachment, the same groups issued a new ad with the message, “The House impeachment (sic) was transparent, fair and viewed over nationwide TV…The nation must move on.”

Evelyn Kilayko, former chair of the Concerned Women of the Philippines and a prominent figure of Manila society who took part in Edsa 1 and 2, is the group’s leader, although she prefers to be called its “recruiter.” She recounted that she and her friends thought of coming out with all the ads because they felt that their efforts were being ignored by the media.

This was why, after distributing their signed statements at the House of Representatives, they decided to “put our money where our mouths are” and bought ad space. They would have wanted to publish more ads but they ran out of money. She also pointed out that the opposition did not really need to buy ad space because the media was on their side.

Kilayko, who described herself as “a full-time concerned person,” said her group drafted the ads, collected the signatures and raised the money independently of Malacañang. “It would be an insult to us, after calling ourselves top independent-not to mention strong-willed-women, if we can be influenced by Malacañang,” she said.

She admitted, however, that she knew the President personally, although they had not spoken to each other for some time until after the first ads came out in August and Mrs. Arroyo called her to say thank you.

Quezon and BusinessWorld columnist Dean de la Paz have insinuated that at least a few of the signatories in the group led by Kilayko were not as willing to affix their signatures as the others. Neither columnist, however, named names. Kilayko countered that she has not received any complaints from any of the signatories, and suggested that journalists write about more important matters, instead of “snooping on women who love our country and who only want peace and unity.”

While Kilayko’s group was the biggest single spender among all the advertisers, the government institutions and associations collectively — among them, the League of Cities, League of Municipalities and League of Provinces — spent much more on pro-Arroyo ads.

German praised the Kilayko ads, as no one, he said, will “question the reputation or integrity of these ladies.” But he said the government ads were self-serving and only raised questions about who was paying for them.

He cited as an example the ad published in all three newspapers in English and Tagalog before the President left for the United Nations summit in New York in mid-September. The ad contained the text of the President’s letter to “my fellow civil servants.” Her exhortation: “Help me be a good and just President.”

German pointed out that the letter could have made it to the front pages if it had been released through the Office of the Press Secretary. He did not see the sense of publishing it as an ad.

The opposition, on the other hand, was drowned out in the advertising blitz. To begin with, its ads were far fewer, and most of them were also smaller — three-fourths page in size or even tinier. One of the few groups that came out with full-page anti-Arroyo ads was a group of concerned Ateneo de Manila administrators, faculty members, staff and students. They decided to publish two full-page ads because, like Kilayko’s group, they felt the need to “put our money where our mouths are.”

The first ad, which asked the president to “step down,” appeared in July; while the second ad, which emphasized that the group would “exhaust all constitutional means to let the truth emerge,” came out in September. Chona Lin, a faculty member and one of those who drafted the second ad, says that they could only afford to advertise in one newspaper with the little money they had.

Lin explains that the leadership of the Ateneo de Manila University, unlike the De La Salle brothers, did not wish to issue an official statement, so she and her colleagues decided to come out with a statement themselves. A Jesuit priest described the Society of Jesus as “a house divided” when it came to calls for GMA’s resignation, and said that the official position of the religious order was to support the bishops’ neutral stand.

A few ads that could not be readily classified as pro- or anti-Arroyo were also published. Some of these were similar to some of the pro-GMA ads that mentioned the political crisis to call attention to their own agenda. One of these ads was the Department of Education’s ad, which had “Quality education must be a Path out of this Crisis” as its most prominent line, but no hint as to how education might resolve the current crisis.

On July 24, GMA 7 network also placed an ad in all three newspapers entitled, “Panalangin para sa bayan” (Prayer for the nation), which seemed to be truly neutral except for the acronym the TV station shares with the president. The Catholic Mass Media Association, for its part, issued the ad “Hope Sells,” which urged the media to “use its power to give us hope.”

Advertisers buy ad space because they have an objective. Representatives of both camps have said that they felt the need to “put our money where our mouths are.” But any advertiser’s objective would more precisely be, as Ong says, to “seek to influence minds.”

German said that the top independent women’s ads attracted “those on the periphery of making a decision,” while the government ads were probably just a show of loyalty and did not convince anyone.

Ong, on the other hand, asserted that the women’s ads were not effective because all they did, she said, was “succeed in promoting indifference” and reinforce the notion that GMA is “unpopular and unloved.”

Mercedes Soberano-Kau, a brand manager, wondered about the ads’ target market. She asked, “If the advertisers wanted to influence the masses, why are they advertising in the broadsheets?” It is more likely, according to Kau, that advertisers sought to reach the middle class and opinion makers, or just settled for the medium they could afford. Kau added that it would be difficult to attribute a change in public opinion — or lack of it — to any of the ads.

Forty percent of the ads appeared in newspapers in July, when the so-called Hyatt 10 resigned and calls for the resignation of the President began to mount. September, however, with just 15 days covered by the study, accounted for 32 percent of all the ads.

In fact, the week of September 4-10 saw the publication of 40 pages of ads, or 23 percent of the total number of ads. Most of these were pro-Arroyo ads, with less than two pages of anti-GMA ads. It was also during this week that the most ad pages were published on a single day: 14 pages on September 6, the day before the House of Representatives voted 158-51 to adopt the report of the Committee on Justice. All were pro-Arroyo.

The two most intriguing ads appeared as half-page placements in the Inquirer’s business section on September 5: one had a photo of a gavel, the other had a photo of an old woman. There was no hint as to who might have paid for the ads. Both carried the same two sentences, one of which was, “Salamat, nanaig ang batas sa impeachment” (Thank you, the law has prevailed with regard to impeachment). The House vote, however, was one day away.

On the same day, September 5, the Black & White Movement published one of its two anti-GMA ads. It asked that the House of Representatives “send the impeachment complaint to the Senate…”

Advertisers placed 41 percent of their ads in the Inquirer, while the Star had 36 percent and the Bulletin, 23 percent.

Verifying the identities of those who paid for specific ads should be easy because the newspapers keep records-except that it is part of their policy not to reveal these names unless there is a court order. The Star, however, does not have the names of all those who paid because they do not require all advertisers to sign contracts.

The fact that anti-GMA ads appeared mostly in Inquirer, which published 70 percent of all the opposition ads, accounts for about half of the P3-million difference between the Inquirer and the Star’s sales. Felipe Olarte, the Inquirer’s vice president for advertising, was not aware that the Inquirer published the most anti-GMA ads. As he said, “Pera ‘yan” (That’s money).

Ads were considered for inclusion in this study if they “commented” on the “Gloriagate” political crisis. A total of 216 ads of varying sizes were included in the study. The approximate number of ad pages (174 pages) was computed and the estimated amount of money spent (P26.2 million pesos) was determined based on regular weekday rates.

Additional costs for weekend placements and premium positions like spreads were excluded; so were discounts for bulk advertising. Costs for producing the ads were also not considered. All of the ads examined were in black and white, and 92 percent of ads were found in the main section of the newspaper. There were 108 unique ads.