Pop superstar Ariana Grande broke the internet Monday for shining an international spotlight on presidential candidate Leni Robredo, with a couple of Instagram stories that marveled at the size of her weekend campaign rally in Pasig City, without explicitly endorsing her as the Philippines' next leader.
The singer with the high ponytail to match her vocal range reposted a video of Robredo supporters singing her hit song "Break Free" during the rally at Emerald Avenue last March 20, where more than 90,000 supporters were present.
The song became a trending topic on Twitter overnight, along with Bretman Rock, a Filipino-American influencer with Ilocano roots, who told his global audience via Instagram stories that his president was Robredo. International pop blogs took notice.
Earlier in February, pop legend Cher also gave Robredo a boost through a series of tweets that cheered women in leadership.
While two of these three do not count as explicit endorsements and nor are these foreign figures allowed to vote anyway (the prevailing argument by supporters of other presidential candidates), analysts said these gave a much-needed boost to the Robredo campaign as it further drives awareness.
Why this matters
"The trolls are just trolling. They know that the appearance of international support contributes to the positive image of the campaign. It’s symbolic to a global nation like ours whose people are spread all throughout the world," political analyst Cleve Arguelles told reportr, citing as an example how President Rodrigo Duterte’s disinformation machinery "have consistently produced fake contents showing how supposedly foreign leaders praise him and his policies."
In general, celebrity endorsements play a huge role in electoral campaigns in the Philippines, so much so that candidates would pay millions just to have them sing a song or two at sorties.
Perhaps, one easier way of understanding the role of celebrities during campaigns is in how local brands do it. In 2021, Smart Communications tried tapping into the international sphere of influence by getting K-pop sensation BTS and Captain America Chris Evans as endorsers, despite them not being "real users" of the brand.
This is "not uncommon and kinda accepted" in advertising, said Raymund Acedera, who teaches marketing at the UP College of Business, explaining how from the point of view of advertisers, they are borrowing three things.
First, he says, is the the massive fanbase. "From our definition of a brand as a 'relationship', they are using the endorser as a "bridge" to those who they want to build the relationship with," Acedera said.
Second are the artist's values and personality, he adds, explaining that "Endorsers, being brands themselves, have well established 'personalities'--associating with them strengthens the desired image of the adversing brand."
Lastly, is "reason to believe", he said, citing a marketing concept. "Even if it will be stretch for the endorser to be using the products regularly, mere association legitimizes your brand and thus, adds up on 'aspirational points'."
"Politics in the Philippines is always intertwined with entertainment", said Fatima Gaw, an Assistant Professor at the UP Department of Communication Research.
Having studied algorithms and digital cultures in Southeast Asia, Gaw said at the very least, "international celebrities being part of the discourse can make the campaign culturally resonant," she said.
"It can pique interest. Conversion to preference is another thing," she added.