Marketing political parties was a complex issue as political parties went much beyond products, they concerned people and certain ideologies. According to D Raja, National General Secretary, CPI there were two ways of looking at people – one was to as consumers and secondly, was to look at people as social beings, the real forces who changed the course of history. “Political parties represent certain classes of people. For me, politics is a mission, a commitment to take the country forward. In other words, it’s a struggle, a campaign, a movement… to take the people through this,” he remarked.
But he was quite emphatic as he said, “I don’t need paid news to sell my ideas. If your idea grasps the minds of the people, it becomes a physical force; ideas should capture the minds of the people. Politics means ideas. What are the ideas you are going to propagate to the people?”
Agreeing with him, Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express Group, urged, “Don’t treat political parties as consumers.” He, however, wondered whether today it was more about marketing individuals rather than what they stood for. “For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the idea of Mayavati sells, in Tamil Nadu, it is Jayalalitha and so on,” he remarked.
A power-packed session on “Marketing Political Parties”., saw members of the Parliament debate on the need of marketing for political parties and its impact. The eminent panel included Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express Group; D Raja, National General Secretary, CPI; Baijayant Panda, Member of Parliament; Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, Member of Parliament amongst others.
Raja observed, “Finally it is an idea that you take to the people. Political parties are not products, but voluntary organisations to take the ideology to the people, and if they believe in the ideology, they will join. That is how a political party is made. Hence, I disagree with the idea of marketing of political parties.”
He, however, said that the influence of media was undisputed, but at the same time added that now media was more corporatised, be it print or electronic. But the moot question was whether ideas could be sold. “An idea is an idea, it has to grip your mind. Ideas are not saleable and cannot be treated as commodities,” Raja maintained.
Meanwhile, talking about ‘brand equity’, Member of Parliament Baijayant Panda, explained, “At a subconscious level, a brand creates an impression in our minds. What do these ideas, campaigns, marketing claims do? They position themselves in our minds, in the minds of the voters.” He referred to ‘political consultants’, who existed even long ago, in the times of Thomas Jefferson or even in the times of the Romans. US President Barrack Obama used an Internet-savvy marketing strategy, Panda said, adding, “But we have less net presence. However, we see a lot of activities in print, TV and outdoor. There are ad agencies who work for political parties, for example, Leo Burnett worked for the Congress party.”
He was emphatic in maintaining that political parties had clear marketing messages. He recalled how such strategies had helped change the image of Naveen Patnaik, the current Chief Minister of Orissa, from that of a socialite who had lived abroad to a committed politician.
Chawla interjected here with the idea of product differentiation, remarked that there were no alternate product available in Orissa, which might be the advantage they got.” He also pointed out, “Sometimes political ideology does not sell.”
Member of Parliament Syed Shahnawaz Hussain referred to the Shining India campaign and said, “When you come on the covers of ‘India Today’, you are automatically marketing yourselves. The BJP image grew in such a way that we had to market ourselves,” he admitted. Putting the lotus flower symbol or a picture of Atal Behari Vajpayee, that was marketing, he remarked, adding that parties could run on people’s names. “The media doesn’t know the young Dalit leaders who come for the first time to Delhi, or walk to the Parliament House, because they are not marketed; they only know those who market themselves,” Hussain remarked. He, however stressed that marketing should be positive.
Chawla rasied some pertinent questions when he asked, “Do we need to market political parties? Is the marketing concept meant for the upper, urban audience?” It was D Raja who had the last word as he said, “It’s ideology that matters.”
D Raja, Baijayant Panda, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain and Prabhu Chawla were speakers at AIMA’s second annual World Marketing Congress, held in New Delhi on March 2-3. The theme for this year’s congress was - Exploding Marketing (Power).