Marketing in times of elections (Part 1 of 2)

I am not the expert in electoral campaign management so I write as a simple Filipino marketer with a bit of interest on how people think and might behave during election time.  While there are many factors that influence people’s decision-making in the polls (ranging from relevant issues and heartfelt activism to vote-buying, blind loyalty, or pure apathy), I’d like to look into the context of the Philippines’ forthcoming elections and how the Filipinos might vote, or in marketing terms, what might make people “buy a product”, in this case, a candidate or a campaign platform.

A marketer would perhaps look into a consumer’s buying decision behavior– is it high involvement or low involvement? Is deciding who our next leaders will be, something low involvement just like how a seasoned housewife will choose laundry soap, or as complicated (or high involvement with much research and consultation done) as in the case of a young technopreneur choosing his next gadget?  While the answer may seem obvious, a study conducted by market research guru Dr. Ned Roberto several years back revealed that voting in the Philippines is actually low involvement -- with the common Filipino treating the voting exercise as simply “isang araw sa bawa’t apat na taon sa buhay ko, na wala namang nangyayari”(paraphrased and translated as “a mere one day exercise every four years that yields nothing in my life.”) 

In marketing parlance, a low involvement product is a commodity – in the minds of the consumer, these products are all the same and therefore, a “top of mind” product propelled by massive advertising and awareness campaigns can make that commodity the leader.  If you recall the last presidential elections, a candidate was ranking high in surveys during the initial campaign period with his intensive use of radio and TV (only to be thwarted later on when other information changed the people’s perception). 

But is it all about top of mind awareness?  What about product association and likability?  I once interviewed a company driver who drove me from a client’s premises to an airport up North.  I asked him how a previous governor fared during the previous term and why this governor was not re-elected despite the outstanding efforts done against corruption in their region.  He was diplomatic enough to say that the previous governor was “okay” but what was not okay was that the locals needed to get an appointment to see the previous governor whereas the incumbent governor would always see anyone who dropped by the municipal office, even without appointment.

In the hierarchy of effects in marketing, not only should a prospect be made aware of a product (through the advertising and PR functions), the product (and the awareness effort) should produce a positive association that makes it likeable and then preferred (and therefore “purchased” and “re-purchased”) over others. 

I was much enlightened by someone who once shared with me that the issue of vote-buying is not so much the amount of money or the actual exchange of money that is the heart of the matter more than what the exchange represents – to the minds of some Filipinos, their votes are not being bought -- they are being given attention, and this is something they value and like. 

A study on vote-buying by Prof. Frederic Charles Schaffer of MIT noted: “To the recipients, then, the act of accepting an offer may hold a variety of meanings. It might constitute making a contract, securing amends, receiving a gift, accepting an auction bid, recognizing power, compromising one’s principles, acknowledging goodwill, or more. In accepting or rejecting offers, or in changing or not changing their electoral behavior, recipients may be acting, among other things, out of fear, duty, indignity, gratitude, righteousness, or calculated self-interest.

He added that the success of such an “offer” may depend on the influence of the giver and how well he is able to communicate the reason behind the offer.  “All other things being equal, we might conjecture, a voter who views an offer as an expression of caring or benevolence will be more likely to vote for the designated candidate than a voter who views the same offer as amends for previous wrongs, or a voter who sees the offer as an attack on her dignity.”

Is this what it is like for some Filipino voters?  How then should a candidate’s image and association be shaped and how is this being communicated to and understood by the electorate?

(To be continued)

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About the Author

Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Behavioral Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. (  For inquiries, please email

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