The "no" refers to a referendum held in Chile back in 1988 when voters were asked to choose between “yes” and eight more years of dictatorship under General Pinochet or “no” to see Pinochet ousted from power.
From here, many years later, the choice seems like a no-brainer. But politics is complicated and Chile has had a complicated history.
The international community, embarrassed by Chile’s abysmal human rights record, forced Pinochet to hold this referendum to legitimize his government.
Pinochet accepted the challenge, knowing that Chile’s opposition parties were scared and divided. They figured it was highly unlikely they could form a united front to oppose him in the referendum. Sounding familiar yet?
While watching the film it was astounding how many parallels one could draw between what the Pinochet government was doing in 1987 and what the Canadian federal government is doing in 2013. Not for a moment would I equate the two governments. For all the quarrels I have with Mr. Harper, I do not accuse him of torturing citizens or literally making them “disappear”. However, their approaches to seeking re-election and dealing with opposition voices is quite similar.
The movie centres on the story of René Saaverdra who reluctantly agrees to help launch the “no” campaign by developing a series of television ads to be broadcast each night for 15 minutes for 25 days. The “yes” side would have its own 15 minutes, but in a much more desirable time slot.
The flavour of the “yes” ads is quite predictable (and familiar to Canadian eyes). The patriotism card is played for all it’s worth. Much flag waving, anthems, citizens marching on mass towards some ill-defined world of material progress (which seems to depend on 40% of the citizenry living below the poverty line.)
Many on the “no” side, are very keen to focus on the atrocities of the Pinochet regime (and there are many) but Saaverdra insists they must send out a message that is positive, and happy. They must, in fact, produce a product which will appeal to a wide range of people. To old ladies fearful of losing their material possessions and to young men and women who are convinced all politics is corrupt. Does any of this sound familiar?
Despite much resistance from veterans of the “no” camp, our marketing hero convinces them to broadcast images of dancing, singing, happy people, all looking forward to a bright future without Pinochet. The ads conclude with the message, “Happiness is coming, vote ‘no’".
In spite of the “yes” side’s negative push, Saavedra holds firm: only positive messages, dancers, singers, catchy jingles, even mimes on the television screen. And always the happy tag, “Happiness is coming, vote ‘no’.”
Some of Saavedra’s own colleagues dismiss this strategy as nothing more than a coca-cola commercial, and this is a fair criticism in part but what Saavedra seems to understand clearly, and the others only dimly, is that one must first catch the voter’s attention emotionally. One must first engage the viewer’s gut feelings, must make him crave for a future vision. Then you can discuss the details.
In the end, the “no” side does win and Pinochet steps down. The rest is history.
I think the movie should be required viewing for all opposition parties in Canada. It shows the power of the “positive message”, the importance of understanding the fundamentals of marketing, to foster the understanding that maybe the only thing that can be more powerful than an appeal to fear (which dictators worldwide are quite expert in) is an appeal to future happiness.
The movie is more convincing than my feeble arguments. Check it out.