Venezuela's 10-Day Presidential Campaign Prohibits Barrage of Ads Targeting Citizens

Chavez-Successor Hopefuls Limited to Five Minutes a Day of Ad Time on TV and Radio, Few Newspaper Ads

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Americans weary of seemingly endless presidential campaigns might envy Venezuela's decision to limit the process of electing a successor to Hugo Chavez to a mere 10 days.

Hugo Chavez, left, Venezuela's president, speaks with Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan foreign minister.
Hugo Chavez, left, Venezuela's president, speaks with Nicolas Maduro, Venezuelan foreign minister. Credit: Bloomberg News

From April 2 until April 11, candidates can buy five minutes a day of ad time on each TV and radio channel, and a daily ad in every newspaper.

But beyond its brevity, there isn't much else to like about this election campaign. Much of Venezuela's media is government-controlled, and appears to be dedicated to the deification of Mr. Chavez. And as acting president, presidential candidate Nicolas Maduro can commandeer the airwaves in a roadblock whenever he chooses, to talk about anything he likes. Separately, he can use 10-minute PSA-like segments to talk about government programs.

Local trade publication Producto broke the news that Brazilian political marketing strategist Joao Santana, who has helped elect presidents in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America, is back. He masterminded Venezuela's last campaign, when a terminally ill Mr. Chavez was re-elected in October 2012 using slogans designed to be easily shouted by crowds, like "I am Chavez." Mr. Santana recently created a spot called "He Will Be Born Again," now on YouTube in a two-minute version.

"[Opposition candidate Henrique] Capriles will try and demonstrate that he has a chance to win, while Maduro will try to "keep Chavez alive' and position himself as the one who can carry on Chavez's work," said Roberto Coimbra, country manager for the Andean region for WPP and president of 141 Coimbra in Caracas.

Mr. Capriles has to run to keep Venezuela's opposition movement alive, but he's believed to have little chance against Mr. Maduro, who is cast as the country's link with Mr. Chavez. As part of the Chavez cult, Venezuela's main channel, VTV, is bringing back reruns of Mr. Chavez's long-running TV show, "Hello, President," which aired for five or six hours every Sunday from 1999 through January 2013. Renamed "Hello, Comandante," the show has been trimmed to just three hours an episode and is airing on Sundays again.

The opposition set up a mildly snarky website called Madurodice.com ("Maduro Says") that counts the number of times Mr. Maduro invokes the Chavez name on TV and in public appearances. Two weeks after Mr. Chavez's death, the count was up to 3,367.

With limited time and space for the presidential candidates to campaign, and the local media obsessed with mourning for Mr. Chavez, marketers aren't doing much spending. "I think that will continue until mid-April, waiting on the outcome of the election [on April 14]," Mr. Coimbra said. "So this is definitely going to be a short year in terms of ad spending."

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