Asia-Pacific, Philippines, Politics

The Evolution of Philippine Political Advertising

Being a person of authority is a relatively huge obligation, let alone if you are running a country.

Political Advertising and Public Service

It is obvious that a small developing country like the Philippines is faced with turmoil and turbulence in terms of biased justice and double standards as well as fluctuating economy which results in generations after generations of Filipino diaspora that not only brings enough funds through Overseas Filipino Workers’ (OFW) taxes but drains the country of one of the world’s polite, patient, knowledgeable, and professionally submissive workforce.

If this requires strong will power and leadership to turn things around for the better, and there is existing corruption within the governance and the system, why do people keep on running for political positions when they know doing so puts their lives and reputation at risk? The usual answer? Public service. An honest one would tell you it is not all public service but more so, prestige, and who-knows-what-else in terms of individual economy.

The Run for Attention

The political run in the Philippines has two phases, at least in the eyes of citizens without political background. First, the campaign advertisement, second the after election fiasco. Fiasco because as long as the people in my generation could remember, there is always an issue on the legitimacy of the number of votes. This still exists even after two elections in the country that underwent technically advanced voting with the Commission On Elections’ (COMELEC) approved counting machines, the PCOS, from the usual manual counting that took weeks.

However, what is interesting is despite the number of applications for political posts turned in every year, and out of the hundreds that get qualified, the rally now plays on one of the most critical elements during the pre-election period: advertisements.

Evolution of Political Advertising

15 years ago when personal computers were not so prevalent, what was most popular was below-the-line advertising through flyers and posters. You can be guaranteed that a typical early morning in pre election Philippines is greeted with loud music being played from one of the candidates’ vans and suddenly people in vests with printed photos and names of the party they represent would alight the vehicle and roam the streets giving away flyers.

The most usual format of these flyers would be first name-“alias” -last name. It was funny this got trendy that even the newbies who did not have nicknames started using theirs when the point was that the people who printed their aliases were the ones popular in the neighborhood using those nicknames. The lesson? People mimic what they think is common. It was always the what. A cynical would be disappointed especially when they would demand for politicians who can represent their curious why’s.

Then came the posters that suddenly turn the neighborhood walls into a paper collage of poster on top of poster piling up so thick that could potentially turn the whole block into a paper mache. Post election? Loads of scrapings. You cannot blame homeowners when they started painting reminders such as post no bill.


An interesting point in the evolution of campaign materials back in the early 2000’s when these political advertisement started crawling from the streets to inside the homes through television and radio campaigns. Suddenly, we are seeing commercials of potential candidates being aired using catchy tunes and popular celebrities as endorsers several times a day everyday until they are allowed to. The usual reaction? This candidate must be rich. The political jaded would express concern on how these candidates would make up for the money they spent. And most people in the country knows that airing time in the Philippines is diamond — the hypothesis? Corruption.

This practice became intensely widespread. People started singing campaign jingles and talking about commercials comparing each candidate’s selling point and creativity. Of course, celebrity endorsements played a huge impact on the number of votes thus, the endorsements also became rampant. Nonetheless, it is still unclear back then if the celebrities endorsed the candidates due to their ability to lead and their belief in their platform or it was merely a job. The COMELEC regulated this act by allowing 120 minutes of airtime across media platforms nationwide for each candidate. To rid themselves the issue of being tagged as a millionaire, the ending of the candidates’ TV commercials would be a disclaimer that says paid for by friends of (candidate). This was amended this year by allowing the candidates 120 minutes of airing per station. This continued on for years until today.

Political Advertising on Social Networks

On the advent of social media, which most Baby Boomers deem to be developed for Generation X and younger, it took several years before political agenda seeped through social media’s online fibers. Statistics show that people spend ample amount of time online that can potentially make a huge leap in the popularity of a candidate especially social media advertising is free advertisement.

What is also interesting in this platform is the supporters’ own free will to endorse their bets through creation of fan pages which gather thousands of unrelated followers. Of course, being critical will tell you that shares, likes, and follows on social media cannot translate to votes. Especially, social media like Facebook do the maths. They show you posts related to posts you have previously shared, liked, or posted. Biased? Yes. A good platform? Could be. But the potential of this type of publicity to tarnish a candidate’s reputation is also tremendous. Cynics can consider the social network a catalyst for black propaganda. What is also critical is whatever this platform churns out is definitely uncontrollable.

Slushy Cups

Moreover, another trend that caught people’s attention is the existence of 711 cups with prints of the photos of the Presidentiables on them. Yes. The 711 cups used when you buy the store’s drink, Slurpee. And the proposition? The number of bought cups can be used as an unofficial poll to determine who among the Presidential candidates would win the elections. The advertisers were so sure as it helped predict at least three US Presidential wins from Obama backwards. Currently, the stores have the tally and the unofficial results were already published on social media.

Regardless the number of cups that have been sold out and how good the plight of the other forms of advertisements are for each of the candidates, no one should be cheering just yet.

What is sure if we run through the transformation of political advertising in the Philippines is this: politicians will take advantage of whatever can reach more voters at a reasonable cost. When they moved from flyering and posting to the airwaves they did the country a favor in terms of less garbage and cleaning up.

At least the few “can afford” candidates reduced the percentage of pieces of paper used for that purpose. Another thing is that they allowed the kids and non voters to enjoy the jingles they composed on TV commercials and gave Communication students a fair supply of TVC they can analyze.

On a serious note, the evolution of political campaigning has allowed a greater reach for a diversified type of voters and had created awareness regarding what is essential but given that social media has no gatekeepers, it also allowed for the spread of fallacious discourses and shallow analyzed phenomena which produced overnight political analysts and misinformed youth.

Unofficial Polls

We can then consider the use of social media and the unlikely predicted 711 cups serve two folds: advertisement and survey. What must be remembered is that none of the surveys done can actually predict accurately who will win considering the insufficient representation of the voters population. Simply, to make the “surveys” acceptable, one must take note of the proportion of the statistics of social media users, media coverage reach, and cup buyers as opposed to the number of registered and legit voters and those who are willing to actually vote.

So when you read somewhere that someone is leading, don’t cheer just yet. Just like in any legit stats, the sample must be valid.

About Patricia Abrihan

Patricia has always been inspired by the witty yet innocent voice of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that she believes that writing is able to revolutionize ideas of society. She is a former college instructor from the Philippines and is currently a freelance writer and blogger managing her portfolio. She is open to collaboration and also loves reading and watching movies.

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