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Thursday, 25 April 2013

The powerful political marketing: hate and love emotions in Malaysian election?

The peddling of hate has been proven to be very effective in political marketing, especially when people are trapped in certain mindsets that determine their views.

SATURDAY, April 20, was a special day for about 80 of my ex-schoolmates and I, most of whom have known each other since starting out in primary school 51 years ago.

No, politics had nothing to do it. Nomination Day just happened to fall on our old boys’ reunion, planned months earlier.

But there was no relief from the pervasive political talk amidst the camaraderie and merriment.

Even the chef at the golf resort in Malacca where the gathering of the 58-year-olds were held, could not resist trying to campaign for the side he was supporting.

To my disbelief, the man who had only recently returned home after working in Germany for many years asked me point blank: “Who are you voting for, ah?”

With the whole country gripped by election fever and emotions running at all time highs, such manners can be expected before we cast our ballots for the mother of all political battles on May 5.

A day after the bash, as we were recovering from the after effects of the revelry, a friend who has seen the ups and downs of business shared his experiences in the insurance and multi-level marketing industries before heading back home.

Recalling his lucrative days of running a thriving insurance agency, he said the art of selling policies mostly relied on playing on the emotions of potential clients.

His formula was simple: Give 98% focus on emotions, 1% on product knowledge and 1% for other needed explanations to convince, including “convenient untruths”.

We soon ended up comparing the similarities of tactics used in the realm of politics.

An election, after all, is the final closing move in the marketing of political emotions to sway voters to one side or the other.

Emotions are mental reactions experienced as strong feelings directed toward a specific object, persons or situations.

The word can be traced to its Latin roots of movere (to move). Emotions move people to act in a certain way.

Like in the case of marketing products or services, three types of appeals – logical, ethical and emotional – are put across to political “customers”.

By right, the logical route based on reasoning should be the most appealing but is used the least, except in cases of party manifestos and presentation of performance “report cards”.

The simple reason for this is people don’t make rational decisions based on detailed information, careful analysis or conscious thought.

The ethical appeal is usually used in campaign messages to raise the profile of certain personalities and expose the unsuitability of others by disparaging them.

In business, the emotional appeal involves using greed, fear, envy, pride and shame, but in politics, it is the harnessing of primary emotions – happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear, in addition to the most potent one, hate.

The peddling of hate has been proven to be very effective in political marketing, especially when people are trapped in certain mindsets that determine their views and decision-making.

In Malaysia, like elsewhere, political support is conditioned by up­bringing based on ethnicity, location (urban or rural), level of education or wealth and the shared belief of family members or friends.

Tragically, since the last general election, hate has been stoked steadily to the point where reason has little chance or participation in civil discourse.

Hate has become the norm in our political engagement, especially in cyber space, with our Hollywood icon Datuk Seri Michelle Yeoh as the latest hapless victim.

The 49-year-old actress was called “a traitor” to the Chinese race, running dog and pinned with other unpalatable labels by partisan cyber bullies just for attending a dinner in Port Klang organised by a group of Selangor Chinese businessmen in support of Barisan Nasional last week.

Two months ago, a young female Facebook user, who posted a YouTube video pledging support for one side, ended up being insulted with all sorts of derogatory names and even threatened with rape.

Don’t Malaysians have a choice or the right to support whoever they want anymore?

These days, one cannot log into Facebook without being drawn into some form of partisan political conversation.

Too much energy appears to be focused on emotionally-charged rants and sharing them with people who might not necessarily agree.

Instead of “de-friending” these people, I have taken to hiding posts that are deemed to be unworthy of sharing.

I read somewhere that this would automatically prompt Facebook to weed out posts from such people. It has not happened yet, though.

Hate is also being spread via e-mail and through SMSes and WhatsApp on mobile phones.

Like many others, I have been getting an endless stream of political messages designed to influence my vote, over the past month.

Enough already, please. In any case, my mind has already been made up. It was done some time ago, too.

> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan values these words by Gautama Buddha: Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule

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