Following the resounding success of Narendra Modi and BJP-NDA in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections on the one hand, and the virtual decimation that the ruling UPA-Congress government faced on the other hand, the Congress party is facing the heat. The political party is reportedly blaming its advertising agency, Dentsu India, for their loss in the Lok Sabha elections.
The sheer incredulity of the situation has got sharp reactions from the industry.
The Blame Game
“Didn’t they see these ads before? Didn’t they approve them? Didn’t they pay for them? Didn’t they invest behind them? Of course. All of them knew what they were doing. Do you think the agency did charity work and released a campaign that they liked? How quaint! Just how inelegant and weak to pass the buck. One more reason why they were voted out,” remarked Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner & Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle.
Advertising is only one (albeit vital) part of the overall marketing strategy. If other parts of the strategy, such as segmentation, positioning, features and benefits of the offer, value proposition and other critical elements of any product or service are faulty or inappropriate, then no advertisement can save the day.
“Political situations are far more complex and hence, a direct, simplistic comparison with a product or service is inappropriate. Nevertheless, to blame an agency for failure is incorrect; failure was the result of faulty conceptualisation and execution of critical elements of strategy. A bad advertisement campaign cannot make a bad strategy worse,” opined Abraham Koshy, author and Professor of Marketing at IIM, Ahmedabad.
Meanwhile, most industry leaders believe that the blame, if any, must be taken by those who put the strategy together.
“If both the client and the agency had agreed and had a mutual agreement and understanding, then it is not fair to blame either one party,” said Rana Barua, CEO, Contract Advertising.
Harish Bijoor, brand expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc added here, “Yes, blame the creatives if you wish, but surely these were not creatives that could make a party lose as heavily as the Congress has. I do believe there is a new terminology going around, called 'Congressed'! Advertising failure cannot be blamed for this state of affairs for sure.”
Role of advertising in an election campaign
An advertising agency can play a very important role if it is allowed to, or a very peripheral role if it is curtailed, feel industry experts.
“Usually, the politicians dictate what they want. And the agency merely executes. It is not very often than an agency recommendation is seriously considered by a party. I am sure the agency had a point of view when they approached these elections, and I am also sure it was run over and run down by the party. Because the only solution for the Congress was in taking on public perception,” felt Suthan.
Of course, what didn’t help the cause of the Congress was that the BJP campaign, which though had a late start, made up for lost time with a communication strategy that effectively covered all touch points, with digital media playing a vital role.
The Modi vs Rahul effect
“The BJP ran a nifty 360-degree campaign. However, it would be wrong to credit its victory to its advertising campaign alone. Advertising possibly contributes to 60 of those 360-degrees that made success happen,” Bijoor added.
While many believe the BJP got its hero right, the part also enjoyed the late mover advantage, whilst the Congress campaign was out first, and received flak from all quarters. The BJP campaign learnt from all the mistakes made by its rival, and resonated with its audience, with a campaign that spoke to India and more importantly, went into the hinterland.
“The BJP campaign, led by the iconic Modi, came through harder and stronger. People needed a strong leader. India needed a decisive leader. And the repetitiveness of the line, ‘Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar’, got amplified by public imagination. Moreover, versus a badly choreographed Rahul Gandhi performance, Modi stood out bolder and more emphatic. India merely separated the men from the boys,” concluded Suthan.