Tayo si Isko? Why Politicians Say They are Just Like You

The everyman strategy in election ads, explained
Photo/s: Jerome Ascano

Featuring Juan Dela Cruz or the Filipino everyman, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno narrates his zero-to-hero success story in his early campaign ad for the presidency, telling the public that he's just like them.

"Ako kayo, hindi sumusuko," Moreno tells his audience in the ad, who reply to the former trash-picker and sexy actor: "Ako si Isko" and "Tayo si Isko.

Why do politicians love to co-star with the Filipino everyman in their campaign ads? It's because for the Filipino vote, similarities are a win and uniqueness is a fault according to sociologist Enrico Baula, who teaches Behavioral Sciences at the De La Salle University-Manila.

"The voting masa wants somebody the same as them or even the fantasy that someone is the same as them," Baula told reportr.

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The only son and namesake of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. used the same everyman tactic -- telling the nation "sama-sama tayo para umangat ang bayan" even as the country seeks to recover billions of ill-gotten wealth from their family.

"Our values as a nation are rooted in similarities. That's why you have pakikisama, pakikipagkapwa tao, pakikiisa. Every Filipino value is connected to being part of the group that's why the vast majority want someone who promotes that," Baula told reportr.

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The connection has to be real

Politics in the Philippines is personal. That's why politicians, even those who have no connections to poor try to relate to them since they are the biggest voting population of the country, said Gerardo Eusebio, who teaches political science at De La Salle University.

"What they (politicians) try to do is associate themselves to the masses...That's why you see politicians before kissing babies, using the language of the masses etc," Eusebio told reportr.

"Just hearing those tales of rags-to-riches attracts people to associate themselves with you that they can be like you too," Eusebio said noting that while it's "music" to people's ears, it's not the be-all of winning elections.

Portraying a connection with the masses needs to appear real even if it's not for politicians to woo voters, said Eusebio and Baula.

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Take for example Sen. Bong Go's 2019 ad that featured ordinary Filipinos thanking him for his help. The commercial included the youth, a Muslim, and a fire victim--sending the message that Go connects with the masses.

"Nararamdaman niya ang pangangailangan naming mga kabataan at inaaksyunan," one of the Juan Dela Cruzes in the ad said.

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"You need to make it appear that there's a connection. It doesn't have to be real. It just has to appear honest," sociologist Baula said.


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It has to be simple and visual

Only 12% of the population in the Philippines finished college based on the 2019 functional literacy, education, and mass media survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority, showing that in a country where undereducation is prevalent, simpler ads are more appreciated, said Eusebio.

One example of such "simple" ads? Take former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile's 'Gusto Ko Happy Ka' that featured ordinary Filipinos thanking him for his crusade against the "disappearing cellphone load."

The 2010 ad targeted a minor issue that has long been a source of discomfort for many Filipinos back at a time when text messaging was the go-to for communication. Pair that with dancing and singing and Filipinos got a simple and visual ad that helped Enrile win a Senate seat again.

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"For many, the discourse is just entertainment. The simpler [the ads are], the better," Eusebio said.

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When it comes to political ads, visuals are key said sociologist Baula, noting that viewers tend to gravitate towards action and concrete examples.

"Filipinos want concrete examples, those that they can see. It's not about how many laws you made or passed. It's about how you say it and what you say," Baula said, citing how politicians dance and sing in ads to woo voters.

"Filipinos gravitate towards action, the action man," he said.

The official campaign season for the 2022 polls has yet to start but politicians are already busy with their early advertisements.

And as the official campaign season nears, Filipinos can expect to see more of themselves on their TV screens alongside politicians marketing themselves--at least until the elections are over.

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"Politicians need to look like ordinary people even if it's fake," Baula said. "Filipinos want the show. We don't want the achievement."

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