Race on to Bag the BJP Account
By Santwana Bhattacharya, Piya Singh and Pratul Sharma - NEW DELHI
Published: 16th Feb 2014 09:21:43 AM
All major political parties in India are shelling out big bucks on ad campaigns in the run up to the Lok Sabha polls.
But not everyone is excited about the approach being adopted by various parties. Says O&M boss Piyush Pandey about the Congress approach, “It’s another campaign. They (Congress) have spent a hell of a lot of money. What they have at the back of their minds is best known to them,” he says.
Industry veteran Arvind Sharma, former chairman of Leo Burnett, who was associated with the 2004 elections, is more forthright: “We have seen nothing that will turn the tide. Strategic thinking is absent. Today pretty pictures and nice slogans won’t achieve anything. I don’t see anything in this campaign that is sharp and transformational.” He feels that unlike the 2004 campaign, where mass media was instrumental in changing the outcome, this time a lot of money is being spent with very little impact. “We are in a different environment due to audience fragmentation,” he explains.
IT’S ONLY MODI: Each major party is expected to spend more than Rs 200 crore. All major advertising agencies are currently pitching for the BJP account. The party has already started a big pop up online ad campaign. Modi will take the final call on all BJP publicity campaigns even though a separate party committee will also be set up for this purpose. Joshi argues that today there are many forms of communication more suited to spreading political messages. Political rallies can be broadcast and webcast across the world (like Modi’s YouTube video). Internet sites like Niti-Central funded by the BJP can drive online conversations and social media chatter. Televised interviews can spell out political positions more accurately, though Rahul’s first TV interview got mixed reviews. “Unlike a consumer durable brand like a refrigerator, political products are different,” says Joshi. “ A bottle of juice doesn’t speak”.
For instance, Modi’s rallies are garnering large crowds nationwide and getting prime airtime on TV. Ad industry experts expect BJP to unleash its advertising closer to D Day, while they continue to leverage other forms of media.
Addressing a gathering of advertisers in Mumbai in September last, Modi had said, “Just impressing someone will not sustain whereas inspiring will. Let us forget about impressing the world and think of inspiring the world.”
His campaign focuses on inspiring voters, especially the huge chunk of new voters, which is added to India’s electorate every year. Modi was quick to latch on to an occasion like the National Voters day on January 25. Full-page advertisements, bearing Modi’s message were inserted in the newspapers calling youngsters to enroll as voters—“For Freedom from Corruption, Vote for India. For Freedom from Inflation, Vote for India. For Good Governance, Vote for India.”
It is clear is that the BJP poll campaign would bear the Modi stamp. Instead of merely packing ads with slogans, Modi’s branding exercise is a project with a theme. Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity campaign that was aired on television talked about the contribution of farmers to society, and the iron man’s stellar role. In the end, the TV commercial ended with the message ‘It’s a Narendra Modi initiative.’
Currently, the BJP has hit the web in a big way. Many a time when an Internet user opens a website, strategically placed ads of Modi and BJP chief Rajnath Singh pops up asking people to donate to party funds. These crop up even when visiting some Pakistani websites. Custom content for cellphone users, Facebook and twitter is also being generated and circulated. Modi is central to BJP’s election campaign where other leaders are found missing unlike the India Shining campaign that celebrated the senior leadership of the party. “India Shining was never a political campaign. It was essentially created to instill confidence in the country. That campaign de facto became an election campaign because it was successful. Remember it was done by the government of India and not a political party,” said Prathap Suthan who devised the campaign. The BJP has created a separate online platform where content generated is distributed to its cadres for further relay. Ring tones, stickers, posters designs, artistically designed pamphlets laying out the ‘Modi Vision’, ‘Modi Agenda’ ‘Modi’s 8-point development plan’, are up for grabs. All of Modi’s interactions, speeches, are transcribed and put online within minutes. Google hang-outs, Facebook posts, promoted tweets and video conferences have become de rigueur for the parties in the current campaign as they seek to leverage technology to reach out. Modi, the clear leader in the social space has 3.38 million followers. BJP is aggressively promoting its “Mission272+” volunteer initiative on social media channels. As a result, Group M estimates that digital spends will to grow 35 per cent in 2014, albeit on a low base. Sites like Modi 360 are on the ball, reporting everything and anything on Modi, giving it a positive spin. It claimed US envoy Nancy Powell’s meeting with Modi a big victory for him.
PAST PERFECT: The ad for votes culture was brought into the party in a big way by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984 with a campaign worked around Indira Gandhi’s assassination and Operation Bluestar. Young Arun Nanda of Redifussion was brought in to give a professional touch. An old timer remembers, “The idea came from two Aruns—Arun Singh and Arun Nehru—both laterally inducted into the (Congress) party from the corporate world and they brought those sensibilities to politics.’’
It was Indira who ushered in the era of popular slogans and catchy campaign strategies to win elections. Having to fight the powerful old guard, the Kamraj-led syndicate, the Morarjis and the Nijalingappas, she could not leave it to the Congress party to do what was needed. “Circumstances forced her to become a one-woman-show,” a Congress veteran adds. The authorship of the catchy Indira-era slogans were attributed to the party’s in-house poet Srikant Verma.
“That was the time when posters, banners and stencil graffiti were the only tools of propagating one’s political message to the masses. There was no social media, no technology needing outside support. Party had writers, poets, intellectuals in its midst and they were given credence and space to contribute creatively,’’ remembers Janardhan Dwivedi.
Some of this election-related spend will also be fuelled by corporates. The Tata group has launched a comprehensive social advertising campaign called “Power of 49” that aims to bring India’s 49 per cent women to the voting booth by encouraging them, helping them register as voters and understand their role in the process of elections. Said Vikram Grover, marketing head of Tata Global Beverages, “Last time when we advertised in 2007 on the Jaago re platform we got young voters to register and cast their vote. This time we are focusing on women empowerment and are targeting the female audience and its issues”. Last week, in Karnataka, Rahul addressed a women only crowd, a novel idea which shows that someone has put on the thinking cap.