[OPINION] How Serge Osmeña III Markets a Candidate

Former Senator Serge Osmeña III | IMG Source: Esquire Philippines

So, it’s election season again, and everyone on social media has his or her ideas on how to market their candidate. But if there’s one person that we can learn from on how to market a candidate, it’s former Senator Serge Osmeña III. 

Sen. Serge is something of a demigod among campaign strategists. He has been compared to James Carville, Karl Rove and David Axelrod, the strategists who respectively oversaw the elections of Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.

Serge’s record speaks for itself. He was the campaign manager of the 2007 Genuine Opposition coalition, which beat the admin 9-3. And he was an advisor to the successful 2013 campaigns of Grace Poe and Bam Aquino. 

Sen. Serge has not written any books on campaigning.  But he has given his insights in a few select interviews. In an interview with Rappler, Serge spoke of the “three levels” of voter discernment. 

  1. The Awareness Phase. The first of these is the “awareness phase” — “Do you know Serge? If you don’t know Serge, if they don’t know Serge, how can they vote for Serge?”
  1. The Endearment Phase. “Do I like Serge? Baka sabihin nila, ‘Oo kilala ko nga si Serge pero medyo mayabang.’ Ah wala ka na, tapos ka na. ‘Oh, okay si Serge mukhang mabait, mukhang simpatico naman, mukhang may alam.’ That’s the endearment side. Do I like Serge?”
  1. The final phase is Acceptance: “Why should I vote for Serge?” That’s the acceptance. What does he stand for? What’s his program? What’s his history, on various issues?”

Sen. Serge’s theory closely aligns with DLSU Political Science Professor Julio Teehankee’s distinction between image and issues: image is the “general characteristics” of the candidate, and issues are his or her specific positions on issues. In other words, you should focus on building a good image first, and then strengthen it with a handful of issues.  

In addition, a message should be genuine — Filipinos can sense a phony from a mile away, when the messaging doesn’t fit the candidate. This is why abrupt changes in advertising don’t work. 

What can each of the candidates learn from Serge? Well, Ka Leody de Guzman (and his running mate Walden Bello) have launched an impressively progressive platform.  But the question is, does the public know about them? Have they made it past the awareness phase?

In Leni’s case, her position as VP gives her national exposure; but whether she is ENDEARED to the electorate is another matter. The sentiment I’ve heard is that many voters like her, but won’t vote for her because of her association with the Liberal Party. 

Pacquiao’s marketing in the past year hasn’t really clicked, probably because they don’t match what the public see in him. Since this year, he has been associated with everything from “West Philippine Sea” to “free housing” or “chess” or “Anti-Martial Law (in Cebu).”

Isko hasn’t recovered from criticizing Sara Duterte tarps before filing his COC, then being open to giving PRRD a Cabinet post, then praising Duterte’s vaccination strategy and saying that he would vote for Duterte as Senator. It’s these mixed messages that can cost him his “bailiwick” of Greater Manila. 

In summary: an election is not like an “application” for a job where the person who has the best resume wins; it’s a little closer to dating: you have to first introduce your candidate; then give a little background; and only then go into (policy) likes and dislikes.

Words by: Melchor Alejandro
Editing by: Christina Salazar

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