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Toni Roars for BBM, Angel Flies for Leni: Can Star Endorsements Deliver Votes?

In the Philippines, celebrity and politics intersect.
by Arianne Merez
Mar 28, 2022
Photo/s: Photos courtesy of Bongbong Marcos, Angel Locsin/ Facebook

Wearing red in support of presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos, former TV host Toni Gonzaga stood before thousands of supporters of the late dictator's son in Cavite unbothered as she called for humility in light of criticisms thrown against them.

"Patuloy tayong magpakumbaba dahil katulad ni BBM, laging nagpapakumbaba, kaya naman si BBM, lalong tumataas!" Gonzaga said.

On the other side of the political fence, actress and philanthropist  Angel Locsin channeled her superheroine character "Darna" in expressing support for Vice President Leni Robredo's campaign for the presidency.

Locsin, with her husband Neil Arce, joined Robredo's #PasigLaban rally, holding a placard that read: "Ma'am Leni, sa 'yo na ang bato."

Gonzaga and Locsin are among several actors, singers, and influencers who are hoping that their star power can translate to votes for their candidates of choice in an election that will decide the fate of 109 million Filipinos.

In a country where celebrity idols can easily run for public office and politicians are often treated as celebrities, celebrity endorsements have become a staple in elections, University of the Philippines-Diliman Political Science Assoc. Prof. Alicor Panao told reportr.

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"In the Philippines, celebrity endorsers have become ubiquitous in almost every candidate’s political campaign...Some contend the ubiquity of celebrity endorsers in campaigns is a testament to how politics in the country has been reduced to a sort of spectacle and the intertwining of politics and entertainment,"  he said.


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A quick look at government offices and anyone can see how celebrities have capitalized on their star power to easily cross to public office, a testament to the Filipino voters' penchant for the famous according to University of Santo Tomas Political Science Asst. Prof. Ronald Castillo. 

"There's that characteristic of the Filipino voter to favor popularity and to give their support to who they like because these people are famous because they are celebrities," he told reportr.

READ: Zelensky, Erap and The Donald: These Presidents Started as Actors

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What makes a celebrity endorsement work?

Celebrities have the ability to influence the political behaviors of their fans, according to Panao, given the presence of different fan groups dedicated to showbiz personalities.

"It is assumed that a movie or TV personality’s imprimatur can increase public perception about the quality of the candidate," he said.

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"Celebrities are not valued for their platform or ideas but for their ability to communicate or convey the message of reform or representation, and convince the electorate to cast their vote," he added.

The rise of social media has also allowed candidates to "celebritize" their image to directly engage with voters.

"Nowadays, candidates are now more reflexive and becoming celebrities themselves, that is, they take advantage of communicative modes erstwhile available to celebrity endorsers, embrace entertainment values, and deliberately engage in efforts that further celebritize their image," Panao said.

But while celebrities can lend their popularity to politicians especially during campaign season, such is also a double-edged sword for both the candidate and the celebrity according to Castillo.

"Sometimes, it's a gamble. The popularity of a celebrity may lend itself to a politician but if the candidate is already a celebrity in a sense, it could go the other way around and taint or promote the celebrity's image," he said.

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Gonzaga for instance has seen a wave of criticism and bashing following her public support for Marcos Jr while actor Jake Ejercito, son of former President Joseph Estrada, has made headlines for supporting Robredo.


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What makes a credible celebrity endorser?

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Politics is personal which makes celebrities who have qualities that Filipinos admire credible or ideal endorsers of candidates, said Panao.

"The most effective endorsers are those who people look up to as the best representation of themselves," Panao said. "As a bonus, celebrity endorsement is more impactful if the endorser is likable."

READ: What Ariana Grande, Cher, Bretman Mean for Leni Robredo's Campaign

More than popularity, several factors also come into play when gauging the possible effectiveness of celebrity endorsers:

1. What's the image of the celebrity?

What do people know about the characteristics of the celebrity that could influence their political decisions? Think of news reports, rumors, scandals (if any), and the body of work of the celebrity that could help or hurt a candidate's campaign.

"Is the celebrity involved in a scandal? Kasi if yes, it could hurt the campaign of the candidate the celebrity is endorsing," Castillo said.

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2. Does the celebrity have 'clout' or a fan base?

Just like in product endorsements, celebrities become more effective endorsers when they have a loyal fan base.

"Does the celebrity have clout to speak on a particular topic? Yun yung isang magiging gauge ng tao sa pagtanggap ng endorsement," Castillo said.

3. Does the celebrity share the candidate's beliefs and stances?

Celebrities who share the same views of the candidate they are endorsing can help politicians' campaign efforts but could also alienate voters who are looking for candidates who would advocate policy reforms covering socially divisive issues according to Panao.

"Fitness is another dimension that may hurt instead of uplifting a political campaign. A movie star or celebrity who is known for conservative positions on issues such as divorce, abortion, family planning, and same-sex union, may resonate with voters whose views are congruent," he said.

But at the end of the day, no matter how famous or well-liked a celebrity is, his or her endorsement wouldn't even matter if voters are politically aware and engaged.

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"Political endorsements tend to resonate only with voters with low political salience. If voters are politically engaged, celebrity endorsement would practically have no effect on votes," Panao said.


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