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'Govt spending on publicity an investment for the country’s future'

Guest Column: Mukesh Gupta, Chairman-Managing Director Graphisads, says rather than reducing ad expenditure, it’s time for the government to create awareness about COVID-19 precautionary measures

e4m by Mukesh Gupta
Updated: Apr 9, 2020 4:59 PM
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Advisors to Mrs. Gandhi seem to have got her in a bind with one of the suggestions in her letter to the PM. Unnecessary stirring a hornet’s nest has its own disadvantages. By suggesting the government to curtail spending on advertising & media, Mrs. Gandhi just ensured calls from various media quarters to criticise the move.

As per estimates, the Union Government spent nearly Rs 6,500 crore on advertising and publicity of its various schemes launched from 2014 to 2019, roughly Rs 1,200-1,300 crore per annum. For an industry size of Rs 65,000-70,000 crore, the central government’s share is roughly 3-4%.

The Central Government, under the leadership of Narendra Modi, launched some novel welfare schemes that should have been launched some decades ago. These welfare schemes reached the masses directly and were targeted through the JAM (JanDhan-Adhaar-Mobile) platform with an intent to plug leakages to a large extent. Some of the game changing schemes that even a common man can instantly recall are:

  • Swachh Bharat Mission- biggest behavioral change scheme, possibly in the world
  • PM Jan-Dhan Yojana (Opening of Bank accounts for the unbanked)
  • Ujjwala Yojana – Provision of LPG in every house
  • Saubhagya- Provision of Electricity in every house
  • MUDRA- Micro Loans for informal sector
  • PM KISAN- Subsidy scheme for Small and Marginal Farmers
  • Ayushmann Bharat- Health Insurance for the Poor and underserved

 These schemes along with various subsidy schemes need to be promoted at a mass scale to ensure that the benefits reach the last mile efficiently. As per the last count, and estimates, over a period of 2014-19, government saved over Rs 1.7 lakh crore through JAM or DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer).

 It’s not just about creating awareness. It’s also educating the consumers about the intention of the government in passing on the benefits and also in inculcating the customers for major behavioral changes. For instance, Swachh Bharat is all about behavioral change, it is not a one off event, it is a constant effort which shall pay benefits after 10-15 years. Has anyone started to notice that small children are making much more sincere efforts to keep the environment clean and even forcing the families to ensure the same.

The government spending on publicity has to be viewed as an investment for the future of the country. Because if the government is spending X amount, the money is circulated in the advertising industry and it benefits the trade in many ways. Media & Entertainment Sector provides formal and informal jobs to the tune of 2 crore families.

In fact, many people are not aware of the benefit of advertising in their daily lives. The newspapers that we receive in our houses may cost nearly Rs 40 or more every day if there is no advertising on the newspaper that we read. All the schemes and messaging around it is conveyed through advertising industry. Radio, Television, Newspapers today have celebrities who are influencers in their own right. Jockeys, News Anchors, Editors can influence behavior change to a large extent. Mediums like Outdoor, Cinema are used for a huge re-inforcing of the message. The impact that these large format mediums leave on consumers’ minds is unparalleled.

However, post 2019 general election victory the government has drastically cut down on expenditure, the spends in last financial year were really miniscule in comparison to the previous years. It may be due to the criticism the government receives from various quarters on advertising expenditure, but the constant feedback was that all the advertising has to be reviewed by PMO and unnecessary advertising be curtailed.

The government is spending significant portion of its publicity expenditure through the social media. Unfortunately, the Tier 3 and Tier 4 towns and villages do not have adequate social media reach. Even before Delhi elections, while the central government was found wanting with minimal exposure in media, the Delhi Government’s strategy to reach out to masses through all advertising means, especially before Delhi elections’ time is a case study in itself. Most of the outdoor media was filled with campaigns of Arvind Kejriwal, highlighting various issues and achievements of the government. Advertising in itself can never win you elections, but advertising with delivery can provide huge returns.

In the end, the most important question remains: how much expenditure should be done on publicity by the central government. The government may spend at least 0.5% of its total revenue every year on advertising and publicity.

This figure is highly reasonable when one compares the spend with other categories. An FMCG product manufacturer spends an average of 20%, even other corporate firms which have no direct marketing activities spends 3-5% on publicity. Against these spends, 0.5% spend is highly reasonable and recommended.

Rather than reducing the expenditure, this is the time to come all out all guns blazing and use all the available mediums to ensure precautionary measures with respect to COVID-19 and stimulus packages which the government is announcing reach the last mile so that everyone can benefit from these.

At last, we just hope honorable Prime Minister takes the suggestions of Mrs. Gandhi, just like the opposition leaders do and increase their marketing budgets! J

The author is Chairman-Managing Director Graphisads & Chairman, Media, Entertainment, Arts & Culture Committee, PHD Chambers of Commerce & Industry.

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