Entering the final phase before the constitutional plebiscite on Sept. 4, broadcasters must provide free ad space to both campaigns. It’s interesting to see how the ads differ and which aspects they have in common. But with polls strongly indicating that the proposal will be rejected, the more important question is if they will have any impact.
With less than four weeks until the constitutional plebiscite, the Rechazo (reject) option is still ahead of Apruebo (approve) by solid margins, according to some polls.
However, in all electoral processes since the social uprising of 2019, the final stage has turned the eventual result. Last week, the TV phase, with free space for campaign ads, kicked off. According to electoral service Servel, Rechazo received four times the funds of Apruebo, mainly from oligarchs.
Although it’s unclear how deeply these ads impact electoral processes, I think this time they may be important, considering the high percentage of undecided voters. Who are they? Depending on who asks, 14-20 percent of them voted Apruebo in the 2020 entry plebiscite and about 10% for Gabriel Boric in the 2021 presidential election, while 22% did not vote in both processes and will decide only the day of the plebiscite. They are mostly men over 50, live in large cities and earn lower incomes.
The TV campaigns represent a great opportunity to confront the avalanche of fake news, mostly circulated by Rechazo proponents, including prominent politicians and commentators. The ads could level the information field and funding imbalance. Historians will draw a more objective picture of how evidently the elite, most traditional media and the usual powers that be misinformed and created a negative perception of the proposal delivered by the Constitutional Convention. Of course, they were helped by the more extreme convention members, a tiny minority, however.
TV ads may be as important this time as they were in the 1988 plebiscite to end the dictatorship. The TV campaign gets underway as pollster Ipsos Mori identified a technical tie, an assessment not shared by any other survey, with Rechazo leading by 10 to 18 percentage points, depending on the polling firm.
Dissecting the Ads
The first TV ads for both options showcase a lack of conceptual unity in the final product.
Apruebo ads are staged to invoke the vibes of the 1988 NO campaign against Pinochet’s continuity in power. Still, they create informative spaces, in line with the overall objective. They aim to create emotional connections, focusing on social and women’s rights established in the proposal. Regarding the indigenous question, ads show that the proposal clearly establishes a unitary State, not several statelets under the guise of plurinationality, as the right claims. Curiously, only secondary politicians appear, but they rescue some symbols and send a clear signal that approve means improve, modifying most controversial points in the proposal.
Rechazo ads, on the other hand, resemble retail advertising. They are well assembled, but for the same reason, cold at times. It’s obvious that the people in them are actors. The ads rarely mention the text and are not informative; they reiterate lies about supposed articles that aren’t in the final text but were conceived to scare and confuse voters. Betting on a rage/love conceptual axis, they follow the same pattern as the bullying of left-wing conventional members. In addition, the ads link crime with the new Constitution, even though it has been surging under the current one.
Most strikingly, the Rechazo ads totally hide the politics that sustain the option. It simply doesn’t exist. The key political players are not part of this ad story, even though they appear every day in the media to boost the Rechazo option. But this would be misleading advertising anyway, as those that will lead the post-Sept. 4 scenario are not part of the offer. The message is: “Vote for ordinary people today, but the usual politicians will tell you what to do next.”
Undoubtedly, appearances of right-wing figures, especially from the far-right Republican party, could benefit the Apruebo option, as they cause lots of loathing among voters.
We’ll see if the ads help turn the tide. The result could be much narrower than currently predicted, especially since voting will be mandatory, while previously only about 40 percent turned out.
Germán Silva Cuadra is an expert in corporate communications and a regular commentator on Chilean politics. His latest book is ‘No te reconozco Chile. Cómo entender al país que noqueó a la elite.’ Germán tweets under @gsilvacuadra.