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Candidates Sharpen Their Messages

Sandwiched between commercials for floor-washing detergent and stereo equipment, political advertisements have found their home – at least for the next two months.


With lively messages aimed at pulling in more votes, the candidates are competing for the undecided vote in the February 2010 elections.


Yet, whether the 20-foot-high billboards, full-page advertisements or half-minute commercials will have the desired impact is another question.


“It’s tough to say if one or the other candidate is more effective (in their publicity measures),” said Gina Sibaja, a specialist in political communications. “Each candidate has a plan on how to position himself or herself, and there is still some time to see how it will play out.”


Media expert Francisco Correa said many of the answers relating to the success of a particular publicity campaign won’t be known until the week before the election on Feb. 7.


“There is a strong tradition here of waiting until the last minute to decide,” he said, referring to a study from prior elections that showed between 7 and 8 percent of the population put off the decision on who would get their vote until the final moment. “That is a significant percentage.”


However, Libertarian Movement candidate Otto Guevara already is seeing some return on his campaign strategy. A recent poll by Unimer, published in the daily La Nación, showed Guevara with the support of 30 percent of the voters. Prior polls had allotted him a mere 12 to 15 percent.


Political Propaganda


Hammering media outlets with 30-second clips, Guevara’s slogan, Hagamos el cambio ya! (Make the Change Now!), rings as a constant chorus – like the lyrics of a song stuck on repeat in one’s head – on the campaign trail.


Guevara is using a unique blend of humor, fear and frustration to capture a growing voter base. And he’s not afraid to dip his fingers in negative advertising.


“What has been the party with the greatest links to drug trafficking?” one commercial asks, showing a green-and-white banner of his chief rival, the National Liberation Party, and following it with his slogan about change now.


“Negative campaign advertising is nothing new to Costa Rica,” said Correa, president of MediaGuru, a communications firm with offices in four countries inCentral America. “Its effect is determined by how the  candidates respond to the threats. But, yes, negative advertising is used.”


Ottón Solís, who narrowly lost to the National Liberation Party (PLN) in the 2006 elections, also is exploiting what he says are shortcomings of past administrations.


Contrasting a past, portrayed in black and white, and future filled with color, Solís lists poverty statistics to insinuate that current President Oscar Arias (and his hand-picked, would-be successor Laura Chinchilla) has failed, and how he can make a difference.


“The direction of the Ariases (Oscar and his brother Rodrigo, who serves as minister of the presidency) and that of their candidate will only add to poverty,” Solís says in a four-minute video. “There are sufficient resources to decrease poverty, but they are  poorly managed. There are many institutions that are doing the same thing and are doing it poorly … all because politicians don’t know how to administrate.”


The slew of attacks has seemingly been brushed off by PLN frontrunner Chinchilla, who – according to Correa and many other political analysts – represents a continuation of the Arias administration. Her strategy has been to focus on the road ahead.


In a campaign commercial featuring representatives of different sectors of Costa Rican society – a farmer, an English teacher, a union dockworker, an innovator – Chinchilla empathizes with the dreams and desires of the people.


“Laura Chinchilla has been listening to the hopes and desires of our people,” the advertisement says.


Spotlight on Security


The recurring theme laced through the political propaganda of all of the candidates this election season is the issue of citizen safety.


The word “seguridad” (security) is splashed on every blue-backed billboard promoting to Social Christian Unity Party candidate Luis Fishman, and it’s woven thoroughly into his public image, as his campaign emphasizes his resume in security issues.


In one of his videos, Fishman highlights a common technique used by criminals who smash the windows of cars stuck in traffic and take off with purses, briefcases or other valuables. He enters the frame to say, “We need to identify the 2,500 criminals who threaten the security of our country.  We will take them off the streets. When we have the opportunity, we will clean Costa Rica of crime.”


While Solís and Chinchilla mention security, they haven’t made it an intense focus of their campaigns, as have Fishman and Guevara.


Instead of relying only on fear to reach voters, Guevara has complemented the security issue with a touch of humor.


Some of his commercials show a man walking through public parks and by bus stops in nothing but a washed-out pair of green boxers to avoid being mugged. “It’s why I walk chingo (naked),” he tells bystanders, “so I’m not assaulted.”


Publicity Spending


According to Correa, candidates are spending more of their resources on television ads and less on radio spots. Spending on television ads increased from 64 to 70 percent  of candidate’s advertising budgets, whereas spending on radio ads dropped 14 percent.


It’s an interesting shift, Correa said, because radio has the potential to reach sectors that television can’t reach.


“Radio has a large audience: young people, those who listen to music, those who listen to news,” Correo said. “And it has the advantage of reaching people during the day while they are working; television does not do that.”


The amount of money spent on newspaper advertisements remains steady at 8 percent, compared to last year’s 9 percent, but Internet and social networking are new mediums that are grabbing an increasing percentage of campaign funds.


“Every candidate has a Twitter, Hi5 and Facebook account,” he said, listing off popular social networking sites. “They are trying to build on the success of the Internet from recent elections in the U.S.”


 Yet, no matter how much money is spent on advertising now or what medium is used, the only measure of success will be the turnout in the polls, Correa said.


“We won’t know for sure the success of publicity until election day,” he said.


To view the political advertisements mentioned in this article, visit the new Tico Times blog, which can be accessed at



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