POLITICS

The businesses endorsing political candidates

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For many CEOs and business owners, it might be better to stay on the safe side by distancing themselves from politics. So we asked these entrepreneurs: why risk using one’s enterprise’s megaphone to campaign for a presidential bet? Illustration by JL JAVIER

As the 2022 national elections near, people are seeing more businesses dip their toes into the political playing field. BPI and Durex, for example, alluded to a joint press conference of four presidential candidates through cheeky social media posts — posts that achieved easy virality in a short time span.

Meanwhile, politician-owned businesses such as the Gatchalian-owned Gatchalian Lechon and the Villar-owned franchise consisting of All Home and All Day Supermarket are more explicit in their endorsement of the names behind the brands. These businesses display tarpaulins promoting the senatorial bids of Senator Win Gatchalian and Former Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar in their store windows respectively.

Blackwater, a fragrance brand under Ever Bilena, released a scent dedicated to the candidacy of Bongbong Marcos, which they called Red President-Unity, in line with the Marcos campaign battlecry. Priced at ₱ 165.00, it stays committed to the theme of unity with its unisex scent that has a mix of citrus, fruity, floral, and musky notes.

“[This is] the first time I’m dedicating a product to a sole presidentiable,” Blackwater CEO, Dioceldy “Deo” Sy, told CNN Philippines Life. BBM is a long time friend, and as the survey frontrunner, it just made sense to use the Red President as my show of all out support from his Blackwater family.”

Even smaller businesses, such as Iskorinderia and Zoey’s Cafe KLO, are unabashedly vocal. Iskorinderia is committed to promoting the presidential campaign of Isko Moreno Domagoso, and Zoey’s Care KLO is the small business behind the red and green burgers during a Uniteam rally in Aklan. They did not return CNN Philippines Life's request for comment.

It can be said that, for some business owners, getting political is in vogue. But is it worth it?

CNN Philippines Life talked to several business owners who actively campaigned for a presidential candidate to ask why they did it, and to know if it was worth the risk. Among these people are Deo Sy of Blackwater, Hanna Sorbito-Pamaran of Nokma, Jei Marcelino of Cubao Customs, and Ali Sangalang of Linya-Linya — business owners who, instead of staying on the conventional safe side by being politically neutral, chose to use their own businesses to endorse their presidential bet.

Why bother when you can be neutral?

For many CEOs and business owners, it might be better to stay on the safe side by distancing themselves from politics. After all, political involvement might look like woke-washing, and might discourage a potential customer base and their own team members. In fact, research shows that communicating a political stance often has a demotivating effect among employees. So why risk using one’s enterprise’s megaphone to campaign for a presidential bet?

The easy guess might be marketing — businesses have long used politics as a marketing ploy — such as through the regular release of 7-11’s Speak Cup and Fruitas’ Freshidential Cups. In fact, as of May 3, 7-11 has sold over five million in Speak Cup products. After all, with politics come fanfare, and this might be an easy way for businesses to hop on a bandwagon. However, for many business owners, getting political is more than just a strategic move.

For Hanna Sorbito-Pamaran, co-owner of the Muntinlupa-based eatery Nokma, the reason was less business and more personal. Giving away 10% discount vouchers to their fellow Kakampinks who joined the Robredo-Pangilinan Muntinlupa rally was just an expression of her personal frustrations for her inability to attend. After all, for this coming election, she and her husband promised to be more politically involved, especially because they have a two-year-old daughter. The question of politics has now become strongly hinged on their personal lives and their own moral compass, and any business impact from their decision to be involved is only secondary.

Meanwhile, for toy customizer and Cubao Customs owner Jei Marcelino, his decision to use his business to endorse a candidate was a result of the effect his chosen candidate had on him. However, when he made that decision, he knew it would not come without backlash, but it was a decision he made with conviction nonetheless. As soon as Robredo announced her candidacy back in October 2021, Cubao Customs was quick to put out an expression of support. Marcelino shared that he has always seen the Vice President in action and, as a result, she has inspired him to step up and speak up as well.

So, when Cubao Customs went viral on TikTok for their post on the process behind a customized Robredo Funkopop, Marcelino was quick to respond to the haters in the comments section. He remained unbothered in his stance to support his candidate. In fact, Cubao Customs recently created a customized Funkopop for Robredo’s runningmate, Kiko Pangilinan.

As for Linya-Linya, the decision was in line with their values and beliefs as a company. “Even before the campaign, may core values na kaming pinanghahawakan sa brand and as a company. ‘Di lang ‘yung pagiging fun and creative. Dapat may integrity din at accountability.” creative director and co-owner Ali Sangalang told CNN Philippines Life shared. Supporting the Robredo bid was a decision they made as a company.

As an apparel brand that primarily produces graphic tees, Linya-Linya is, according to them, in the business of making Filipinos happy through the products that they sell. Part of reaching that goal, according to Sangalang, is ensuring good governance. As Sangalang puts it, “ang content creators, nalalaos. Ang prints sa shirts, kumukupas,” but the impact of their vote stays.

Is politics good for business?

For Nokma, whatever negative reactions they received–such as a few “haha” reactions on their post–were negligible. To their surprise, their supposedly non-business move of supporting a candidate has boosted their business. Nokma’s Facebook page likes soared from less than ten likes to over 200 in a few weeks. However, more than the increase in popularity, what Sorbito-Pamaran found to be valuable was the sense of community she received from her fellow Kakampinks. Nokma has now gained a valuable support group and a loyal base of customers all thanks to the fact that they chose to be political.

This sense of community was also felt by Marcelino, especially from the toy collector community. The bashing he had to deal with (which he dealt with sharp retort and wit) is nothing compared to the support he received. Cubao Customs’ social media following quadrupled in over a few weeks since the virality of their TikTok. To date, there are over 1.5 million views on that one TikTok alone–an exposure unseen by Cubao Customs before.

Sangalang and the team are happy to learn that even Linya-Linya’s customer base mostly aligns with their company values. The support overwhelmed the trolls, so they chose to ignore the haters and focus on the impact of their work — such as their commitments to their charity partners, beneficiaries, and partner communities. Their civic responsibility, after all, does not begin and end during the campaign season.

As for Blackwater, the Red President-Unity fragrance recently achieved distribution in over 1,200+ retail stores and is carried by over 900 direct selling distributors already. As of this writing, it has been sold out where it is available. While they received bashing, Sy happily shared that their sales have only improved since. “In some retail stores, Blackwater’s sales have more than doubled! I guess the saying ‘any publicity is good publicity’ applies to Blackwater for our Red President line in this scenario,” Sy said.

The decision to involve one’s business in politics remains rife with many factors to consider. According to Marcelino, this includes ensuring that your business reflects your principles and ideals. As a business owner, he takes it upon himself to run a business with integrity — and part of this is manifesting his personal values into his business.

For Sorbito-Pamaran, she feels that it is her obligation as a small business owner, to use her business to share what she believes in. She takes advantage of the lack of bureaucracy in an MSME set-up that gives her more freedom to make decisions for the business. She feels that, as an individual, her efforts are less impactful and noticeable as compared to when she courses it through her business. Thus, she sees her business as a platform that allows her to reach more people.

As for Sy, he understands that his role as a business owner is to bring life to the economy. Hence, the clamor for a Marcos presidency inspired him to create the Red President-Unity scent. According to him, the scent is meant to fulfill the demand of the mass population.

Why businesses choose to go into politics might be a riddle for most, but for Sorbito-Pamaran, Marcelino, Sangalang, and Sy, their decision to campaign for a candidate, while informed by different factors, has been a step in the right direction for them — both in fulfillment of their role as citizens, and as a strategic (deliberate or not) move for their business.