With the Government declaring the poll dates for Assembly elections in five states, the great India election Juggernaut has been set rolling. With it begin the high decibel rhetorics, relentless campaigning, mega money and one of the few occasions when ad agencies and political parties directly collaborate with each other.
A relatively new development vis-à-vis corporate or brand advertising, political advertising poses its own set of challenges and uniqueness. One may recall the election campaigns designed by Rediffusion Y&R (then Rediffusion DY&R) for the late Rajiv Gandhi in the late 80s.
And then there was the India Shining campaign of the previous BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government leading up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. Reportedly Rs 500 crore was spent on this campaign, which also drew its share of flak for sweeping under the carpet pressing social issues like poverty, illiteracy and inequality.
Incidentally, BJP’s campaign for the Assembly elections in Delhi on November 29, 2008, has run into some rough weather with allegations of some irregularities in selection of the advertising agency to handle the ad campaign. (Read:
Political advertising not so easy: Controversy rises over BJP Delhi election campaign)
However, political advertising is here to stay as various parties are realising that it requires more than ideologies and mandates to woo today’s voters. As any brand, parties now look to project a shining image replete with detailed media strategies, audio-visual presentations, campaigns designed for different TGs, taglines and what have you.
While lacking the sophistication and well-managed poll campaigns of the US Presidential elections as in the case of the current Obama versus McCain poll battle, political advertising in India has to be designed keeping in mind the huge diversity in the nation regarding language, religion, cultural sensitivities, region, social status and the rural and urban ‘divide’.
It of course remains to be seen whether political leaders would get remodelled as brand ambassadors of their parties. Will party accounts, pegged at crores of rupees, prove to be windfall for agencies? Will politicians write blogs or distribute their masks around, a la Narendra Modi? Will specialised media minds be able to shape up political advertising? And will advertising mould the Indian minds and deliver the votes? exchange4media finds out from ad industry honchos.
A long way to go
Most media observers have said that even though political advertising in India has come of age, it still has some way to go.
Nirvik Singh, President, South East Asia, Grey Group, observed, “As far as the evolution of political advertising in India is concerned, political parties are now more focussed in their marketing strategies and value-advertising as part of their voting campaigns.” Ranjan Bargotra, President, Crayons, added, “Political advertising has definitely come of age in India. There will be no more posters and slogans. The campaigns will be much more evolved and professional. Political parties have realised the importance of advertising and started appointing specialists for the same.”
Punitha Arumugam, Group CEO, Madison Media, observed, “Unlike in the US, where there are negative or confrontational campaigns, in India, political campaigning is just an extension of the mundane everyday FMCG kind of campaigns. Campaigns here do not take up that aggressive look of the US.”
Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm, noted, “In India, political advertising is by and large an attempt to get your symbol across. Given the level of illiteracy in India, it is more of a reminder activity without too much of an underlying thought behind it. However, there are some cases that point that in the coming elections, we would see a more professional approach. For instance, in the Karnataka State elections in May this year, the BJP had attacked some of the basic development issues than a mere campaign of symbols.”
Singh pointed out here that even as Indian political advertising was not like the US during their Presidential elections, there was a huge potential in the area. He said, “Political advertising is not disorganised. I believe they require better focused consultancy to drive their messages to the public.”
Print and outdoor still dominate political ad campaigns
Most experts have said that even as political advertising should be a mix of all media, in India, the ad campaigns are still dominated by the print and the outdoor media. Some signs of Internet use are just trickling in.
Singh said, “Campaign advertising should be a mix of all media. Print, TV and outdoor, especially regional, will play a vital role in their communication campaigns.”
Bargotra explained further, “For the Lok Sabha elections, TV plays a substantial role, but for State elections, regional print media and other OOH campaigns will be dominant. The Internet is believed to be creating a great impact in the coming elections as the huge youth population of India can be reached through the Internet. Around four crore young voters would be connected through the Internet.”
Sridhar is among those who believe that political advertising has evolved in its media consumption pattern. According to him, there was a great opportunity for agencies to deliver while working on political accounts as such campaigns commanded tremendous visibility and involved people from every strata of the society. Citing an example, he said, “Campaigns based on short films, documentaries and OOH will play a major role. Radio jingles will play a new role for the elections henceforth. The entire approach of political advertising will be much more professional and organised.”
That is indeed a positive development. Now, if political advertising leads to a windfall of votes, one can see the same sophistication and of course mega money being pumped in for party promotion of an organised kind.
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