From ads to advocacy: How political ad ban will change dynamics of digital campaigning

Experts predict at least 50 per cent increase in digital spends for parties and individuals in the upcoming state polls. The spends would include direct ad buys and indirect content deals

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Updated: Jun 29, 2020 9:25 AM

Banning of political ads on certain digital platforms is certainly a deterrent for the platforms to make ad dollars from the upcoming state elections in the country this year and early next year. But that does not mean that they would not be making money from the polls and the associated campaigning. The fact that social media is no longer an adjunct to mainstream campaigning is not new but dynamics of online political messaging has changed from ads to surrogate advocacy. As Harsh Shah, Senior Vice President- Account Management, Dentsu Webchutney, said, “the digital landscape of Indian politics has changed from ads to advocacy.”
With limited reach of flyers, OOH and print mediums, spends will rapidly be redirected to digital platforms and channels, said experts. Especially, this time around with stringent rules on social distancing and a robust uptake on digital, experts predict at least 50 per cent increase in the digital spends for parties and individuals. The spends would include direct ad buys and indirect content deals.
Powered by sophisticated tools designed to target individuals and enhance reach, digital platforms are naturally imperative to any sort of campaigns, and political parties will make full use of it in the upcoming state elections of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Content creation will play a major role in the political advocacy done across platforms.
“Platforms have banned political ads but there are surrogate ways to advertise there through content creation,” said Harikrishnan Pillai, CEO, TheSmallBigIdea. “Some brands for instance are striking a fine balance between direct advertising and content marketing. This has seen a steady uptake. This is also because of matured content creators who have managed to integrate brands well without making it obvious. They have also built methods and mechanisms of measurement which is a great fuel to this growth,” Pillai said.
Political parties and candidates are also striking the right balance between upfront advertising and subtle advocacy through content creation.
“What’s important to note is that the changes are to their ad policy and not necessarily to their presence on the platform. This means that political parties can still get reach through organic means. While some platforms have altogether banned ads, others like Facebook have extended tools like the Transparency report as way to bring focus to the paid ads run by political parties,” said Preetham Venkky, President at 22feet Tribal WW.
Talking of spends on Facebook, in the last 30 days for instance, The Baat Bihar Ki page on Facebook auctioned by Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) spent Rs 9.26 lakh on 195 ads, the Bharatiya Janta Party’s official page on the platforms spent Rs 8.07 lakh in just 15 days, the Banglar Gorbo Mamata page again auctioned by IPAC spent Rs 7.77 lakh on 90 ads. Similarly, several allied pages belonging to the political parties directly or the consulting agencies helping candidates and parties in campaigning saw spends between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs5 lakhs on several ads.
While in the current scheme of things, given the opportunity of upfront advertising and from a reach and affinity standpoint, Facebook is a solid option, but there are other platforms that will be heavily used by political parties in the upcoming elections.
“Platforms like ShareChat, WhatsApp are big when it comes to advocacy and we will continue to see these platforms play an important role. In fact, the organic penetration that parties have been looking for has been fulfilled by WhatsApp where specific problems and issues get addressed in smaller as well as larger groups,” said Shah.
While platforms like Twitter and TikTok explicitly don’t allow political ads, they do contribute to the advocacy aspect in a big way. Platforms like TikTok, ShareChat can thus be leveraged in a very organic, content-led way.
When it comes to options for digital platforms, Google should not be ruled out too. “Google still remains a big platform that does not have a blanket ban on political ads. Google said it would limit audience targeting for election ads to age, gender and general location at a postal code level,” said Shah.
The change means political advertisers can no longer target ads using data such as public voter records and general political affiliations such as right-leaning, left-leaning or independent. However, advertisers can still do contextual targeting, such as showing ads to users watching a certain video.
Advertisements via social influencers and publishers too are likely to increase. As Venkky said, “Subject matter experts and long-tail publications with significant reach have become influencers in their own right. Beyond their reach, their ability to influence makes them an interesting group for sponsored content. Before the lockdown, there was a growth of 30 per cent YoY for sponsored content.”
Emerging trends and growth in number of users across new platforms like OTT, Gaming, File Sharing makes them potential platforms to drive advocacy, said experts.

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