Campaign 2010: Personal brand report card

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on January 26, 2010

A common complaint about presidential elections is that they are personality-based to the detriment of substance. This is a strange complaint. Voters are asked to elect leaders, not platforms (although a platform is one of many ways a candidate may be evaluated). This is a universal truth. When a voter is interviewed and says, “Candidate A is the best candidate to lead our country forward,” he or she is exhibiting faith in leadership.

This is why charismatic, visionary leaders generally win elections, so long as the elections are free and transparent. The late Philippine president Corazon C. Aquino may have been a simple housewife as she and many others insisted, but she was also a leader who excited voters. She was the one opposition leader that excited voters, and the only candidate that could successfully unseat her dictatorial predecessor. She galvanized voters who believed her sincerity and goodwill would lead them to a better future.

Indeed, why else would a simple housewife be elected president of any nation? How could the most powerful nation on earth repeatedly elect golden-tongued orators such as the late presidents John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, compelling rebels like presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and the celebrity President Barack Obama? The late former president Richard Nixon ran against probably the only Democratic presidential candidate in history with less charisma than Mr. Nixon exhibited. That good fortune also accounts for the election and re-election of former president George W. Bush.

It may not be entirely wise to oversimplify the impact of charisma on the outcome of elections. On the other hand, it is probably patently unwise to discount the impact of charisma on voters’ choices. Woe to the candidate that relies on substance, outrage, or competence to win voters over. Voters want to elect leaders that inspire them to believe in them, not candidates that remind voters of their dreadful circumstances, the candidate’s academic credentials, or even his or her professional accomplishments. It’s a better tomorrow that matters, and who will lead them there.

With that perspective in mind, I spent some time this week examining the personal brands of three of the 12 candidates for Philippine president: Senator Manny Villar (Nacionalista), Senator Noynoy Aquino (Liberal), and former defense secretary Gibo Teodoro (Laka-CMD-Kampi). My methodology was simple: I examined what personal brand attributes their websites are attempting to project.

Personal brand identity consists of the core identity and extended identity, an idea originally developed by Dr. David Aaker for corporate brands. Core identity is a basic requisite required of the brand to validate it, and make it a player. Those requisites would probably include for these candidates things like Philippine citizenship, government experience, a level of credibility as demonstrated in surveys (or by having a powerful endorser), a viable political party, and a platform.

The extended identity resonates much more powerfully with voters, and generally is much more difficult to emulate or compete with for visibility. It consists of such things as the candidate’s name, legacy and legend, symbols (including campaign colors), associations with other (hopefully) admired brands, reputation, and slogans. Together, these attributes generate good will. It is extended identity-and how well it is communicated-that wins elections.

Mr. Villar.The website (www.mannyvillar.com.ph) projects the smiling candidate in two different poses on the communication channel of choice to average voters: a billboard. Emblazoned on the billboard is the slogan: Hard work & perseverance (translated from Filipino). The candidate is dressed informally. Links connect to information of constituency concern: OFW assistance, housing, and livelihood. Candidate information plays up Mr. Villar’s humble roots.

Mr. Aquino.This website (www.noynoyaquino.ph) is naturally yellow- and rather improbably, black-themed. The longish slogan: Remove the corrupt. Right the wrong. Honest fight. Everyone’s fight (somewhat roughly translated from Filipino). The candidate is posed above a crowd at night with many torches. He appears somewhat pensive. None of the main links appear to have anything to do with constituency livelihood and well-being. Candidate information plays up family heritage and Mr. Aquino’s destiny.

Mr. Teodoro.The website (www.gibo.ph) has a green background with a Philippine map. The slogan is provided in English: Competent leadership for the Filipino. The somewhat awkwardly smiling candidate is lined up with a group of individuals meant to symbolize average Filipinos. They are all gazing off into the distance (and into the future, presumably). Like Mr. Aquino, none of the main links appear to have anything to do with the core concerns of voters. Candidate information plays up his middle-class roots, political experience, and academic achievements.

Now, the important question: which brand will you vote for based on these attributes?

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