Murphy’s law and Manny Villar

Murphy’s law and Manny Villar
Ad Lib — Greg B. Macabenta
BusinessWorld Online

There’s an axiom in advertising that says, a great campaign can expose a bad product faster — because it persuades people to try the product sooner and to find out how bad it is. It looks like this axiom is being proven true in the case of would-be-president-of-the-poor Manny Villar.

One of my closest friends in advertising created Villar’s OFW commercials when he was just beginning to water the seeds of his presidential campaign. Apparently, the creative strategy worked, because Villar began to close the gap with VP Noli de Castro who, at the time, appeared to be formidable as a “presidentiable” in all the public opinion surveys.

But on one of my visits to Manila, I learned that my pal had quit on Villar. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate the way Villar had hired a host of creative consultants and political advisers, armed with a variety of bright ideas that violated the cardinal rule for an effective campaign, namely, single-mindedness.

At any rate, Villar apparently listened to his new creative brain trust and, together, they came up with some very impressive commercials, based on some very bold claims, expressed in very memorable language.

To solidify Villar’s positioning as the “champion of the poor,” they concocted the line, “Nanggaling sa hirap. Tumutulong sa mahihirap.” (From the poor. Helping the poor.)

To portray him as the role model for the upward-striving masses, they attributed his rise “from poor boy to billionaire” to “Sipag at Tiyaga.” Industriousness and diligence. Yes, indeed, what better formula for success?

And to really, truly, effectively, dramatically, and memorably drive home the point, they created the gems: “Nakaligo ka na ba sa dagat ng basura?” (Have you ever bathed in a sea of garbage?) and “Nakaranas na ba kayong…mamatayan ng kapatid dahil wala kang perang pampagamot, wala ka namang magawa?” (Have you experienced the death of a sibling because you had no money for medicine and you could do nothing about it?”

No soap opera writer could have spun greater tearjerkers.

And that was not all. Armed with such fantastic creatives, Villar decided to make sure that every man, woman, and child in every corner of the archipelago would have an opportunity to see these products of communications and creative brilliance.

“Pour it on,” Villar must have ordered his media buyers. “Saturate Wowwowwee. Tell Revillame to raffle off houses and bundles of cash. Shoot a Dolphy testimonial. Ask Pacquiao to sing a jingle.”

And Villar must have added: “And do a pool of commercials starring me — the poor boy who made good — surrounded by the people I love. The POOR!!!”

Strangely, the one campaign theme that Villar’s creative and political consultants did not touch was the most obvious, for someone desiring to replace Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo: what he would do about the much-reviled Arroyo upon assuming office. While his rivals all vowed to throw the book at her, Villar said nary a nasty word.

And so, the Villar armada blitzed the media. And, as expected, his poll numbers went up and up and up until he came up to a statistical dead heat with Noynoy Aquino.

But then, in the cruelest traditions of Murphy’s law (If something can go wrong, it will), things began to unravel.

Villar’s Senate colleagues pursued accusations against him of using his power and influence as speaker of the House of Representatives and as Senate president to provide undue advantages to his business interests. Among others, the C-5 extension public works project translated into billions drained from the national coffers and poured into Villar’s bank account.

Some nasty punster then came up with an alternative to “Sipag at Tiyaga” — “C5 at Taga.” The last word being a Tagalog idiom for an illicit profit.

Then other punsters went to town, creating funny versions of his “bathing in garbage” story and the one about being so poor, his brother died from lack of medicine.

Some digging into Villar’s background exposed these stories as the product of a copywriter’s over-imaginative mind. That, by itself, violated a cardinal rule in advertising: Make sure your puffery can be supported by facts.

Then stories of land-grabbing and questionable get-rich-quick schemes began to surface. And all Villar and his apologists could do was to dismiss the accusations as “politically motivated.”

And for the coup de grace, another punster added two and two together — namely, Villar and Arroyo — and concocted the name, Villarroyo. And for the final flourish, they changed his name to Money. MONEY VILLARROYO.

As if that was not enough, the law of unintended consequences has come into play. Villar’s billions in media spending has begun to bother the simple minded masses. “How does he expect to recoup all of that investment???” they have now begun to ask.

If you know something about communications jujitsu or the technique of using your opponents strength against him, then you must agree that this is exactly what has been inflicted on Manny Villar.

The latest SWS survey tells us that Noynoy Aquino, who has not been spending as much as Villar, has surged ahead with a 9-point spread, caused mainly by a significant dive in Villar’s poll ratings. Another survey, this time by Manila Standard, shows an even bigger spread of Aquino: 13 points.

In the face of all these, what are Villar’s options?

OPTION ONE: Fire his creative brain trust. In fact, burn them on a stake for not allowing facts to get in the way of their fiction.

The trouble with that is, Villar can’t be sure that the replacement will be better. In fact, at this stage of the campaign, all the creative brains-for-hire in Manila are already busy on the campaigns of other candidates.

OPTION TWO: Fire the columnists, newscasters, and commentators in the Villar payroll. Apparently, these folks have lost all credibility and anything they say FOR Villar is taken AGAINST him by the public.

The trouble with that is, these AC-DC journalists (attack-and-collect, defend-and-collect) will probably be merrily writing for another batch of presidential candidates the next day. Maybe, Villar should just pay them to STOP WRITING and STOP TALKING.

OPTION THREE: Ressurect Garci and Lintang Bedol and bring back the Hamburjer Man into the Comelec.

Of course, there is a FOURTH OPTION, which Villar may not fully appreciate. And this is the possibility that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo may have been stringing him along and really has no intentions of handing over the presidency to him. There is a Tagalog phrase for that: “Ginigisa sa sariling mantika.” (Frying him in his own lard).

Meanwhile, to revive his spirits, Villar may want to seek the counsel of his Holiness Mike Velarde, who could advise him in impeccable English: “Strong your heart, for in the long of time, you will success!”

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Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.