THE PERSISTENTLY unpopular President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may be proof that sometimes advertising just doesn’t work.
In early April, or just a little more than two months before Arroyo is supposed to step down, yet another Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey had her posting a net satisfactory rating of -53 (satisfactory minus unsatisfactory) — her worst showing yet in her nine years as the country’s chief executive.
This is even as tarpaulins with the president’s face adorn just about every government project across the country while ads praising her accomplishments can be found in the inside pages of many broadsheets, with similar versions bombarding the airwaves.
For the whole of 2009, media monitoring agency Nielsen counted 286 “products” under the category “government agencies and public utilities” that are altogether worth P6.34 billion on advertising, according to media agency rate cards.
The Office of the President (OP) was No. 1 with 26,201 tri-media ad spots reaching a total ad value of P845.35 million. This value, however, is only based on published rate cards of the major networks. Some networks give significant discounts for ad placements; government networks, on the other hand, may give out this ad space for free. In that case however, it would mean lost revenues for the government.
In fact, in the month following the deadline for filing of certificates of candidacy alone, Arroyo was second to a presidential candidate in Nielsen’s list of “government agencies and public utilities” that had logged the most number of advertisements under “social concerns” on radio alone.
Arroyo’s radio spots, which were produced and paid for by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA), were valued at the projected amount of P16 million, or just P3 million less than the total worth of the December 2009 radio commercials of Nacionalista Party standard bearer Senator Manuel ‘Manny’ Villar Jr.
Said to highlight the president’s “milestones in governance,” the Arroyo ads all harped on the number of beneficiaries of various government programs such as the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, Philhealth medical insurance, Botika ng Barangay, Comprehensive Livelihood and Emergency Employment Program (CLEEP), and the “Pangulong Gloria Scholarship.”
Political analysts agree with government officials who say that the ads were not meant to enhance the president’s bid for a congressional seat in her homeprovince.
But the analysts say that aside from possibly aiming to counter the public’s consistently negative perception of her, the ads could well be part of her rumored post-election plans to remain in national politics.
They also point out that all these are paid out of taxpayers’ money, and hardly with modest sums.
No. 3 on radio
Nielsen data covering just November 2009 to January 2010 already show the total value of President Arroyo’s ad placements as having reached P28.6 million.
The bulk of Arroyo’s legacy ads are entered on radio with a projected total number of 4,837 ad spots worth an estimated value of P27 million. Overall, from November 2009 to January 2010, the president placed third after Villar and the administration’s presidential candidate, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., in radio advertising.
Nielsen’s monitoring covers 111 radio stations in 15 areas in nine regions nationwide, including Metro Manila. Each radio station is monitored five days a month. An advertiser’s monthly ad spend (defined by Nielsen as the advertising expenditure based on published rate cards) per station is projected based on the five-day monitoring period.
But PIA Director General Conrado Limcaoco Jr. sees nothing wrong with the ads featuring Arroyo along with government projects. After all, he says, it is the president who would oftentimes direct implementation of a project.
“If she didn’t think of it, it won’t be done,” says Limcaoco. “I will not deny any president or any leader the privilege of being recognized for something good that she or he has done.”
Still, he also argues that the ads are not primarily of President Arroyo but of the government. According to Limcaoco, the ads feature or mention Arroyo simply because she is the head of the government and is the “clear, single, representation of the executive branch.”
The PIA, he continues, proceeds from the mandate that “we have to inform the people on what the government is doing in very broad strokes.” The importance of public information, he says, is not just to be a mirror in society, but to also stimulate progress.
“It tells the people, for example, what government services are available,” says Limcaoco. “It tells foreign investors that this is a country that is worth looking at because tourism is growing, infrastructure (is) available for them when they invest and so forth.”
It’s imperative of any government to tell the people of what it is doing, he says. “Because if it doesn’t, I guess, (the) more eloquent spokesman in Malacañang will say, ‘What about us? We don’t talk, you tell us to speak up. We speak up, you tell us to shut up.’ I believe we have to say something because it is an imperative for those reasons.”
Grabs credit too much
University of the Philippines public administration professor Prospero de Vera says that making ads that are not politically motivated is acceptable. “It’s a standard practice even in developed countries for government to inform the people about their projects, achievements, etcetera,” he adds.
But what is not standard practice, he says, is the Arroyo administration’s apparent penchant to take credit for all government programs, big and small.
De Vera, who also happens to be one of Villar’s advisers, says that compared to “all the previous administrations…this administration has really exceeded what may be considered acceptable norms of public conduct as far as grabbing credit for government programs.”
“‘Yung sa mga projects – you put the face of the president, the mayor, the congressman, the (public works and highways) secretary – ‘di naman ginawa ’yan ng previous presidents eh,” notes de Vera. “And they put it in projects no matter how small, even the street sweepers in the rural areas cleaning up the streets, meron pang picture ng presidente doon.”
De Vera is among those who cannot understand why the president has to resort to ads to tell the public about her accomplishments, given the array of more cost-effective ways of disseminating information that are well within the capacity of the government.
Why not gov’t media?
For instance, he says, there are press conferences and other regular instances when the president is able to address the public. There is also the annual state of the nation address (SONA), which is an ideal venue for the president to lay down her accomplishments for all to see because most, if not all, media outfits cover it.
And yet, says the professor, even PIA, by buying airtime in private radio stations for the Arroyo legacy commercials, has now deviated from its traditional role of simply producing ads and letting the government agency concerned find a way to release it.
De Vera, who has done consultancy work with the PIA, recalls that in the past, the PIA would place its ads with government stations where the fees are cheaper or practically free. But he concedes that these probably had limited impact since the government stations’ audience share is relatively small compared to the private networks.
Nielsen data indicate that the “milestones in governance” ads aired in 19 Radio Mindanao Network (RMN) stations (11 FM and eight AM) and one Bombo Radyo station. Ad spots in these private stations range from P900 to P19,500 according to Nielsen.
Limcaoco himself says the PIA does not pay the government-owned stations for running its ads because these are under its supervision. But he admits that in addition to placing ads in government media entities such as National Broadcasting Network (NBN) 4, Radyo ng Bayan, and the sequestered Radio Philippines Network (RPN) 9 and Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) 13, the PIA in 2006 began buying airtime in non-government media outfits so that it could reach its “target audience.”
For example, says the PIA secretary, the agency bought airtime in Bombo Radyo and RMN because these stations have wider reach and operate in areas targeted by the PIA.
“If our material is meant to reach the rural areas, we use radio and we use the language that is normally used (there),” he says. “Why these two stations? Because they have the reach, they have the rate card, and they operate in the Visayas and in Mindanao….because many of our messages particularly in the past years have had to reach Mindanao.”
Ad expenses up
A review of the Commission on Audit’s (COA) annual audit reports on the PIA show that the agency’s advertising expenses shot up in 2006. From a measly P22,645 in 2005, the COA reported that PIA’s “advertising expenses” – an item under maintenance and other operational expenses (MOOE) in the audit report’s detailed statement of income and expenses – climbed to P32.9 million in 2006, a year before the mid-term election. This represents about a third of the total MOOE of PIA for that year.
In 2007, an election year, the agency’s advertising expenses rose to P105 million, or 60 percent of its total MOOE for the year. Advertising expenses in 2008 tailed off slightly to P76 million or about 48 percent of the agency’s total MOOE.
According to Limcaoco, the PIA is actually doing “much much more print than we do broadcast.” He cites as an example the PIA’s “Ganito Tayo Noon, Ganito Tayo Ngayon” print ad that lists the Arroyo government’s achievements and was published in major dailies in January 2010.
He says that the PIA chose to place the ads about the government’s accomplishments in broadsheets because it wanted to address “classes A and B and the business community.”
“And the Secretary of Trade and Industry has told me that because of the ads we have done, right after that, some major investors came,” says Limcaoco. “That’s what I mean when I said the objective is not just to inform but to help the country move forward.”
Limcaoco notes that COA has not disallowed any of the agency’s advertising expenses. He says that the PIA’s media buys are liquidated by certificates of performance if on broadcast and by a copy of the actual ad if in print. Everything is by the book, he assures.
Civil Service Commission Chairman Francisco Duque III meanwhile argues that advertising could be the only effective way of informing the public of the government’s achievements because no media outfit “will freely put on paper the list of projects of their leaders.”
“No one,” insists Duque, who as health secretary saw several projects and initiatives by his then department enjoy ample media coverage.
Needs no enhancement
Duque also says, “People say she’s using it (ads) to enhance herself. She doesn’t need that to enhance herself. She’s already enhanced by the mere fact that she is the president.”
At the same time, Duque says that President Arroyo cannot be said to have just twiddled her thumbs in Malacañang, unlike other officials. He hints that it is only right for her to let the people know everything that she has done.
“You’ve seen that in many instances where (there are) lost or missed opportunities, where officials just chose to relax and sit on his swivel chair and not do much,” he says. “Now, for a president who has accomplished much, what’s wrong when she thinks that she has truly accomplished so much more than past presidents? So much more than all presidents after Marcos put together, ‘di ba? What’s wrong with that?”
Duque also says that if people want a stop to having public officials putting their names on projects, then they would have to ask Congress to craft a law that would finally prohibit this.
“If you want to be serious about all of this, if you don’t want personification of publicly-funded programs or projects, there should be a clear law that should be crafted by Congress,” he says. “Otherwise, we’ll keep on going back to this. Whoever will head the next administration, we’ll only have more of the same, people will say it’s all politicking, self-aggrandizement, binubuhat ang sariling bangko.”
Still and all, analyst De Vera says that President Arroyo evidently has to do more than produce ads that trumpet government projects to change the public’s negative perception of her.
“Performance on the ground is the best PR,” he asserts. “Successful programs are the best PR.” – PCIJ, May 2010