If the mass media campaigns from political parties are the way to decide on whom to vote for, my hunch is a whole lot of voters will choose NOTA, or 'None of the above' on the voting machine. So terribly boring and uninspiring the campaigns from the defender and challenger are!
Any political campaign is a judicious mix of two factors: ideology and idea. Most political parties have a sense of ideology, but it's the idea that can help any party define the agenda and create the ammunition for the battle. Political parties in the past have won poll battles on the back of a strong idea: from Garibi Hatao to Aam Admi to Ram Mandir.
What is interesting is that ideas are often free of shackles of ideology. They spread on their own, they create their eco system, and they become glue for a diverse set of voters to come together. Ideas strengthen ideology. In politics, therefore, ideology alone is not enough. Strong ideology needs stronger ideas to flourish.
How do the two campaigns that have been unveiled till now hold up to this?
First, the defender. A large portion of the population, especially the urban, connected audience, had a sneer when they first interacted with the campaign. The sole media interview that Mr. Gandhi gave almost destroyed the entire campaign. The campaign has an idea, an idea of being plural, of being tolerant but has been told in a convoluted, confused way. Despite the promise of plurality, the campaign pitches a single individual. Despite the attempt to project an agenda, the campaign leaves you with no sense of direction. The campaign fails to build on the idea, despite having a strong underpinning of an idea.
Now, the challenger. Personally, I was waiting with baited breath, for two of India's advertising icons were leading the process. For a party that has a very sharply defined ideology, I was waiting to see a strong sense of idea. Somehow the campaign falls short on both fronts. There is no ideology in the campaign but worse, there is no idea either. At best, it speaks to committed voters of the party and, maybe, strengthens their resolve to vote for it.
For a party that redefined the use of social media, the unveiling of the campaign itself was a pipsqueak. It almost quietly slipped in through some eminently forgettable outdoors. The radio ads raised more questions, created more derision than liking and the messed-up TV plan that saw release on DD before other channels left a poor aftertaste.
As a party, it should have built on hope it; should have built on the future; it should have built on prosperity. Instead, it tells a sorry tale of despair, hopelessness and resignation. The campaign has a negative appeal, it runs the risk of polarising the voters sharper than the party may have imagined, or actually may have wanted.
This is for the first time probably that both the parties have emulated the US Presidential Election tactics to the T. Yet, both parties have not been successful in telling the stories they gather from their mass contact with the electorate. This is what is needed to give the campaign a sense of participation, a sense of ownership and may even motivate voters to come out in a larger number.
In the end, the two campaigns may become like any opinion poll. They become fodder for news; they generate conversation, but rarely are indicative of results.
We have two campaigns that have scored self-goals. It goes a long way to say that advertising eventually is a powerless tool when it comes to influencing political choices. Personally, I would have wished to see two strong ideas emanating from two different ideologies.
India deserved better from those who will eventually end up ruling it.
The author is chief strategy officer and managing partner of Bang in the Middle.