The editor's corner

Competing messages in the Lima recall campaign

By Nick Rosen

The two campaigns have taken to the airwaves to convince Limeños to vote for or against the recall of mayor Susana Villarán.

Competing messages in the Lima recall campaign

The pro-recall campaign's ads rely on fear

On Sunday, Lima goes to the polls to decide the fate of mayor Susana Villarán. In recent weeks, the campaigns for and against the recall have stepped up their advertising. How have the campaigns laid out their argument to the public?

The highest profile spot is one launched in favor of the recall. It has been airing in some high-profile time slots— during prime time broadcasts on popular channels. The ad trades, in large measure, on fear. Over creepy music, black and white images of Villarán’s supposed failures play out one-by-one, captioned in stark red and white font. Finally, a harsh, almost angry voice intones, “Let’s get rid of the incompetents.” Then, there is a quick shift in color and tone: “Vote yes 40 times; yes to the recall; yes to change; yes to progress; yes to hope,” the same voice says over happier music.

The ad is unsettling. The transition is jarring, and the “positive” narration at the end is unconvincing. It is as if the ad’s creators could not decide if they wanted to make a negative or positive ad. Given the high degree of disorganization in the pro-recall campaign and the lack of coordination between the two major parties (APRA and Solidaridad Nacional) backing it, perhaps it is fitting the campaign’s showcase ad is so bipolar.

The anti-recall campaign has been better coordinated in its messaging, even if its messages have evolved. At the beginning of the process, the anti-recall message was built around the “Faces of no” campaign. Prominent celebrities from various walks of life were shown lending their support for Villarán’s administration. Those billboards all over the city with a celebrity saying, “I say no to…” are the most effective use of that campaign.

Still, critics have said that the “Faces of no” campaign was not connecting with the population in Lima’s populous shanty towns and outlying districts. More recently, the campaign’s message has shifted to pragmatism, warning about the chaos and gridlock that would result from the recall.

The anti-recall campaign’s spots do an effective job of bridging these different arguments. They are targeted squarely at Lima’s working-class population, and their tone is decidedly positive. Take, for instance, this ad:

The music is upbeat, everyone on-screen is smiling, and the refrain is catchy. The slogan “Lima no puede parar [Lima can’t stop]” is, of course, based on fear (of the problems that would result from the recall), but it is presented here in a hopeful way.

Something similar happens in another NO spot:

Here, a resident of Huaycán discusses how his neighborhood has been improved since Susana Villarán came into office. The focus is on practical quality of life issues: sidewalks and contention walls. It’s a direct rebuttal to the common argument that the Villarán administration has not been laying down enough cement and building enough public works, especially in Lima’s poorest districts.

The ad also responds to criticism that the campaign is one of the rich “pitucos.” It doesn’t abandon the “Faces of no” concept, but here actress Mónica Sánchez is paired with a resident of one of Lima’s poorest neighborhoods. Again, the music and the lighting create a positive, optimistic image of the city.

I am not alone in my impression that the anti-recall campaign’s ads have been more effective. Last week, an Ipsos poll found that 54% of voters thought that the anti-recall campaign had better advertising, while only 26% thought that the pro-recall campaign’s ads were superior.

All of the polls show that Villarán is still very likely to be recalled, but the anti-recall campaign has made up a lot of ground since the process began. Part of that success has been a more coherent advertising campaign.