Selling our Leaders In the Rs 2000 Crore Scramble
By Santwana Bhattacharya, Piya Singh and Pratul Sharma - NEW DELHI
Published: 16th Feb 2014 07:53:03 AM
It’s raining political ads and copywriters are reaping the whirlwind. All major political parties, national and regional, have recruited advertising agencies to sell them in the coming Lok Sabha polls. The size of the election publicity pie is Rs 1,000 crore, estimates Group M, an international media investment arm of the WPP group which may well escalate to Rs 2,000 crore. The Congress is spending the most, around Rs 700 crore, mostly with Dentsu India, a Japanese public relations-cum-advertising agency. The BJP’s campaign revolves singularly around Narendra Modi, though party treasurer Piyush Goel maintains that the party hasn’t finalised any agency. It’s an indicator of the changing times that Mayawati’s BSP is also hiring a professional ad agency to mount a catchy poll campaign. Three agencies have been shortlisted and the result will be out in the next few days. Ironically, the strong-woman of UP politics had famously declared that she does not need the media to do her politics. In UP, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is overseeing the party’s publicity campaign himself, assisted by loyal babus. He has commissioned two TV channels, ETV UP and ZEE News, to make short films about his and his father Mulayam Singh’s political achievements. Sources say he’s a “bit cagey about handing over the entire account to a single agency’’, the way the big parties with deep pockets, Congress and BJP, do. Without political campaign spends, in this slump year, Indian advertising would have grown at around 9 per cent only and not at the current estimate of 11.6 per cent.
LOCAL TALENT LAUNCHPADS: Other political parties in the fray are using local talent and state television channels to promote their leaders, who monitor the work with eagle eyes. While the BJD has a team of five senior party leaders working on the campaign text, slogans, manifesto and audio visuals, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik “does not let anything go out without his approval’’. For audio-visuals, the party is depending on local agencies. In Tamil Nadu, AIADMK and DMK have their own TV channels to propagate their campaigns and counter-campaigns.
In an increasingly multi-cornered contest where every other leader worth a vote bank is entertaining hopes of becoming the next occupier of the prime ministerial bungalow at 7 Race Course Road, nothing can be left to chance. “Catching the maximum eyeballs is the name of the game now,’’ a young ad-executive waiting outside Congress treasurer Motilal Vora’s office says. His company attached to a media house deals in online ads for parties in the heartland states, especially Uttar Pradesh. But Prasoon Joshi, President South Asia of McCann feels that the “Congress was the first-mover; it was the fastest to get its campaign off the ground.”
THE BIG SPENDER: The Congress has belatedly realised that Modi’s meticulously planned across-the-range publicity campaign—TV screens at street corners, holograms and public engagement initiatives like chai pe charcha—has set the agenda, forcing the Congress to react. But the on-air commercials touting the UPA’s achievements and positioning Rahul Gandhi as the next PM have drawn mixed reviews. Copy errors have crept into regional print ads. Tweeples, cartoonists and commentators in the capital have been sniggering at the poster of Gandhi standing in the middle centre of ten youthful faces—it is very similar to the Modi campaign. Its slogan “Main Nahin, Hum (Not I, we),” which, the BJP immediately pointed out, had been a 2011 Modi line for a “Chintan Shivir”. Rohit Ohri, executive chairman of Dentsu declined to comment quoting a non-disclosure agreement. The Congress is targeting the youth through a specific campaign with 120 million new citizens eligible to vote for the first time using a time-tested marketing strategy of segmentation.
Party treasurer Motilal Vora is shelling out the big bucks. Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh’s task is to devise “the line to be followed’’. The rest is being left to Dentsu India. Sonia Gandhi has strictly banned any mention of ‘aam aadmi’ any more in any Congress ads after its arch enemy, AAP appropriated the moniker. The ‘Congress ki haath, Aam Aadmi ke saath’ slogan had brought the grand old party back to power in 2004. Vora says, “We’ve lot of work to do and professionals are better equipped to do these kind of things now.” The reason Dentsu was chosen over JWT which had done the Congress campaign in 2009, was “because the people moved from JWT to the Japanese firm”, according to Vora.
UPHILL CONNECT: Senior ad executives in Mumbai who were closely involved in Congress campaign—expected to roll out in 14 languages—would speak only on the condition of anonymity. “The Congress campaign was a result of several brainstorming sessions with Rahul and the top party leadership like Digvijay Singh that moved the positioning from “Congress Ka Haath Aam Aadmi Ke Saath” to empowerment through “ Har Haath Shakti, Har Haath Tarakki,” (Every Hand is powerful, every Hand leads to progress)” says an ad guru, who was present at the sessions as part of a group of media representatives. Another executive confirmed that leadership right up to Rahul had vetted the campaigns before being released. Industry insiders say that the slogans would keep changing until the elections. A recent Hindi ad featuring a youth activist from Goa got mired in an online controversy; she got hate mails following her appearance in an ad titled, Kattar Soch Nahi, Yuva Josh (Not fanaticism, youthful energy) which was aimed at an image makeover for Rahul Gandhi.