Friday, May 15, 2009

Indian Election Campaigning

Mithila Palla | IIM Shillong

‘India Shining’, ‘Jai Ho’, the two slogans dominated the 2004 and 2009 general elections. The extensive use of TV advertising was done for the first time in 2004. But the first, associated with the 2009 election is the use of digital space and the mobile, to connect with the voters. The parties are trying to reach a wide range of target audience at their convenience. With the lifestyle changes witnessed over the last few years, have led the parties to incorporate these changes in their campaigns as well. With both the Congress and BJP leaving no stone unturned to win this election their advertising will be the cause of the turn of a lot of heads.

The Initial Election Campaigns in India
An election is a decision-making process of a democratic country which exercises the right of citizens to choose the appropriate individual into formal office. India being the largest democratic country, witnesses this magnificent ritual with added flavour every election.
With numerous parties contesting for the same votes their communication to the public gains utmost importance. Self-proclamation and defaming their competitors have the means resorted to, by most parties in the recent past. But this was not the norm in the budding stage of the Indian politics. The campaigning back then, involved print advertisements inviting the voters, in a manner similar to inviting one to their wedding. The personal care taken by each of the politicians is also evident from them apologising on their inability to meet all the people of the constituency.
Congress in the initial years utilized the brand ‘Independence Struggle’ to their fullest advantage. This brand image was too difficult for the competing parties to reckon with. The solution for the same by Swatantra party was to launch a series of negative advertisements about Congress during the 1962 elections. They attacked Congress’ high taxation and inflation. The other media that was used was short films in cinema halls before the screening of a movie. This helped increase their seats from 26 to 44. The 1971 election witnessed a counter attack from Congress on the grounds of ‘Garibi Hatao’. After this campaign Swatantra party could capture only 8 seats. This greater decrease in the number of Swatantra party’s seats in comparison to the increase due to its own campaign, illustrates the brand equity of Congress.
The brand continued to help the Nehru family, Indira Gandhi being his daughter and Gandhi being the name shared with the father of nation. The brand established by the dynasty helped steer them through couple of more elections. The strategy of winning by defamation of opposition continued amidst the wins of Congress. Janta party portrayed Congress as dictators and urged the voters to refrain from voting for Congress.

First Advertising firm
In 1984 the elections battleground witnessed an advertisement firm aiding one of the competing parties namely Congress. Most advertisements were aimed at disparaging the opposition, rather than proclaiming their role if elected. The factors like greed and lack of unity were highlighted to put the competitors in bad light. The bad will against some party has played a major role in electing the new government. This is evident from both the 1977 as well as the 1980 elections. ‘Emergency’ led to the loss of the first election for Congress in 1977 and the same instability issue brought it back to power in 1980.
The sympathy wave guided Congress through the 1984 election.
The other parties by this time started realising the significance of differentiating and positioning themselves if they ever wanted to win an election. The Janata party positioned itself as ‘the promoter of the scheduled class and tribes’ taking advantage of the Promotion of the Mandal Commision report. And the BJP came out openly with its philosophy of 'Hindutva' -- both clearly segmenting the market by socio- economic or religious classes and trying to base their appeal to specific segments. This was perhaps a watershed in Indian political history.
Both seemed to be very divisive, and that is what made them sharp; clearly making a trade-off to stand for something. And both stood out and grabbed attention. However, neither was sustaining. While the Janata Party drifted away into a morass of brands, the BJP got more sensitive to the environment and reshaped its perceptions over a period of time to become more relevant in time to come.
In spite of all the positioning, the 1989 was more an outcome abhorring ‘corruption’ rather than a positive vote towards a promise made for the future was the decisive factor. This era of politics was dominated by waves of freedom struggle, anti-emergency, stability, sympathy and anti-corruption. The sympathy wave continued in the 1991 election. But India was witnessing a market of new consumers who did not identify with the freedom struggle. They demanded more than a past filled with icons. They were driven by optimism and individualism and demanded the work of the government on similar lines. The opening of the economy in 1991 by the Congress was on the same lines. But Congress did not recognise the changing consumer needs and hence continued with the previously built brand image. They lost out on the best opportunity to re-engineer their brand. This was reflected in the 1996 elections. The 1996 election was plagued by a controversial scandal involving most of the politicians. As BJP replaced their Priministral candidate with a person not associated with the same still could not manage majority. The 1999 elections saw a wave of sympathy for BJP for their inability to form government in spite of having maximum number of votes. The Congress having a foreigner as their candidate also played a crucial role. Advertising had not gained big as yet.

The 2004 election saw a large scale implementation of advertising. The BJP’s India Shining campaign was all set to take the mass off their feet. They did not create the brand around a single person being the brand ambassador despite having an icon like Atal Bihari Vajpayee for their leader. They stayed away from any pronounced comparative communication and also from resting the brand on one personality. They followed the marketing principle of playing positive. They have decided to focus on the positives of the last five years and magnify them to the electorate.

They moved away from traditional political advertising norms of accepting public opinion and boldly tried to mould it. The 'Bharat Uday' campaign, the 'Bharat Uday Yatra' and the 'Friendship Series in Pakistan' have all been well synchronised to build and reinforce the 'feel good' factor. Rather than let the electorate at a time of review, which an election is, the BJP attempted to create a positive feeling that could help people to be optimistic for the future.

The BJP has consciously tried to adapt classic brand building principles in this communication. Having a strong product is not good enough -- it needs to be packaged in strong emotions to actually make consumers move. Advertising played the pivotal role in this campaign. They recruited advertising agency Grey Worldwide and other PR agencies for the job. The target audience for this was the urban elite who were voting for the first time. They spend 40-50% on print, 20% on outdoors, 15% on TV, 5%-10% on internet and mobile and the rest on radio, film theatres and on-ground activities. The India shining was the second most telecast ad with being aired nearly 9472 times as researched by TAM. The first was the mosquito repellent brand All Out. But the time of being aired was greater for the BJP India Shining ad as each of it was 60 seconds long. 75% of the ads were on Doordarshan and the rest 25% were spread between 29 other channels. They had the fourth largest number of insertions in the newspapers after Pulse Polio, LIC and Tata Open as research by AdEx.

Their main objective was to expose the audience as much as possible to acquire their mindshare. They were successful as everybody was talking about it. Every advertising company’s managing director gave a positive feedback on the campaign. Though some felt creativity was lacking 90% of them praised the central theme. The funding for all of these was taken from the Government of India stating it was to improve ‘Brand India’ and it was not an election campaign. This received criticism from certain corners but at first glance, those supporting seemed to be larger. This seemed too small an obstacle to drive BJP of the course.

This campaign would have succeeded if not for the counter campaign of Congress and a difference of opinion emerged from the media. The Congress highlighted the flaws in their campaign and emphasised that ‘aam adhmi’ was no better off than he was 5 years ago. This is an example where lack of integrated marketing communication especially the communication from the media has led to the downfall of the party concerned. The Congress with the help of Orchard advertising came up with a campaign that questioned the BJP the basis of the campaign, highlighting the lack of progress in the critical mass.

The campaign aimed at capturing the mindshare of the public and for doing the same they had to eliminate BJP. The lack of colours in the campaign and taglines like ‘Congress ka haath aam adhmi ke saath’ reinforced the lack of feel good factor. Their campaign promised the aam adhmi a better and brighter future. This being a very late retaliation, BJP did not expect this to have great bearing on the election result and neither did the media. The exit polls predicted a BJP win but the end result saw Congress as the runaway winner. This goes to prove that the party which has the last word indefinitely occupies a larger mindshare in turn converting them to votes.

Current Scenario
Allegations against the competing parties have led to innumerable wins in the past and hence are assumed to be the winning formula. The 2009 election was not devoid of the same. But the new side to the campaign scenario in 2009 is the greater involvement of advertising agencies. With the increased use of internet, mobile phone, television, the campaigning methodologies are also changing.
With the changing demography and increasing use of mobile phones and internet, the means of reaching voters is getting modified drastically. More than half of India’s 1150 million population is younger than 25, 42 million new voters have entered the electorate since 2004, and, as a result of the newly delimited constituencies, the importance of urban votes has increased in the electoral collage. Apart from that, the internet and mobile penetration in India has increased dramatically since 2004, from 26 million to 365 million for mobile, and from 16 million to 80 million for the internet. Hence the advertising through these mediums is gaining importance.
The recession is believed to have hit most industries hard and advertising is one of the worst hit. But during this lean period, advertising industry has witnessed a spending of more than 300 crores over a period of 2-3 months by political parties Congress and BJP. The fact that FMCG sector spends lesser money on advertising for a whole year illustrates the flow of money for the current election campaign.

Congress campaign
Congress has been the early bird as it shortlisted India’s biggest advertising agency, JWT, and a smaller Delhi-based firm with the experience of handling several political accounts, including the BJP’s 2004 polls campaign, Crayon. They were selected from 5 finalists who gave presentations on their perception of Indian politics and what should be their strategy for 2009 elections.
The two winning finalists adopted somewhat different approaches. Crayon zeroed in on youth, the new voter and women; all Congress’ pet subjects, especially in the aftermath of Mr Rahul Gandhi’s entry into the organisation — as being crucial to the party’s strategy. It presented a cross-section of people from across the country talking about what they expected from India. JWT took a more broad-based approach focusing on how an election communication campaign should be run rather than getting into the nitty-gritty of politics. It talks of the importance of different phases in the election and the role that various media such as print and TV play at each stage. The cost of the advertising is estimated at 150 crores.
The quintessence of the Congress campaign is those living in the villages. Priyadharshan’s depiction of rural life in the Shahrukh Khan-starrer Billu, Viraasat and Maalamal Weekly, is one of its kind. Hence he was roped in by the two ad agencies for shooting of the ads depicting the common man as the real hero. The Badte Kadam campaign does not intend to glorify the United Progressive Alliance's achievements. Instead it takes a look at the Congress party's "proud heritage, culture and history". Made in 13 languages, the 13-second to 10-minute video mainly focuses on the Right to Information Act, mid-day meal scheme, National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the pan-India presence of the Congress party.
The slogan “Aam admi ke badte kadam, har kadam par Bharat bulund “targets the common man. The emphasis they lay on common man is bound to sway the masses. The most recent of their campaigns is the ‘Jai Ho’ advertisement. Their means of reaching the target audience has been through the click of mouse by using of social networking sites like orkut, facebook etc to drive traffic to the video on the youtube website. This is the means; the Congress has adopted to connect with the youth of the country whose number has been constantly increasing year after year. Ignite Digital Solutions is the company which is managing the Online campaign of Congress.
With the segmentation of common man and the emerging tech savvy junta, the targeting has been done in a professional manner to allure these diverse vote base.

BJP campaign
To counter the ‘Jai Ho’ campaign of Congress, BJP appointed Simoes-Tag and Utopia to carry forward its ‘Majboot Neta Nirnayak Sarkar’ poll campaign. The slogan was decided on after a conduction of survey across 57 cities and towns. The campaign will use diverse platforms like television, FM radio and print media. The initial stage of the campaign begun with TV advertisements, hoardings and latter it was extended into print media and radio. The introduction of FM has spruced up the usage of radio in the last couple of years. The television and print campaigns were managed by Frank Simoes-Tag and Utopia is managing the radio campaign.

The other significant means of communication that they employed was the mobile. The increasing use of SMSes on mobile has prompted them to utilize it to communicate to over 35 crore users across the country. On the online front BJP did tied up with Yahoo! India for its online campaign. The present campaign substantiates the changing life-style of the Indian population. Popular playback singers Shaan and Roop Kumar Rathod were roped in for the jingles.
The message from BJP was playing around following themes:
  1. A Terror-free India, Hunger-free society, Debt-free kisan, Worry-free middle class.
  2. 5 crore families to benefit from income tax exemption for incomes up to Rs. 3 lakh p.a.
  3. Student loans at 4%.
  4. Longstanding demands of our brave Armed Forces to be met.
  5. Farm loans at 4%.
  6. Road and broadband connectivity to all villages. 1.2 crore IT-enabled jobs in rural areas
Their website has LK Advani’s blog which has been active since January 2009. They recruited volunteers from colleges to mobilize the campaign and start their own blogs to support BJP if they believed in their ideals. BJP had more than 7000 volunteers each of them creating further buzz on the internet.

The BJP also used the online media in a very smart manner to counter the Congress campaign of ‘Jai Ho’ by using ‘Bhay Ho’. As the video was not officially released and only floating on the virtual space there was not much left for the Congress to do.
The use of social media has given a wider range of people who can express their opinions. In such a scenario the corporate world is facing a problem in maintaining consistent messages as monitoring the blogs is a difficult task. Thus the advent of digital media has made it harder for the parties to deliver a consistent message through all channels of information dissemination. The lack of control on all the sources is a cause of the problem.

An analysis of the Result
The right segmentation and targeting of the Congress campaign has helped them deliver the right message to the right audience. The message seldom harped on Congress’ achievements over the past 5 years. It concentrated on its proud heritage, culture and history. This left no chance for the BJP to use their own campaign against them as the Congress used the ‘India Shining’ campaign to unseat the BJP in the 2004 elections.
A study conducted by “BrandScience IMRB International” to assess the effect of communication by political parties among urban youth across the four top metros showed that the Congress slogans ‘Jai Ho’ and ‘Bharat Buland, aam aadmi ke badte kadam’ have been far better received in comparison with ‘Bhay Ho’ and ‘Dishaheen’ plank of BJP. Across the four metros, Jai Ho earned 48% in ad liking, while Bhay Ho garnered only 19%. Similarly, the saffron party’s ‘Dishaheen’ was liked by a meagre 28% in comparison to 40% of the participants liking the Congress’s ‘Bharat Buland, Badte Kadam’.
All these above factors along with a vivid, consistent message through the right channels have led to the success of the Congress capturing near majority in the 2009 election.
But elections are more than campaigning and brand equity. Many unnatural factors take away the results unimagined.


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