The primary purpose of political advertising is to swing the perception of people who have CONFUSION written all over their faces in capital letters, and ultimately, to win votes. Because, for a larger percentage of the politicians, it's all about obtaining and retaining power, fuelled by money and greed.
Past demeanours do not count, and most political parties have cracked the seven deadly sins of Indian voters. To elaborate, here goes:
1. The Indian public has extremely short-term memory
2. Over time, we learn to tolerate anything
3. Nothing comes above religion and caste
4. Political ignorance, even amongst the educated
5. Petty appeasement through freebies
6. Indians love to hate each other
7. Need to hero worship and follow dynasties
Courtesy: Ishaan Mohan Bagga, Editor, Indian Exponent
Having mentioned money, Reuters reports that "Indian politicians are expected to spend around US $5 billion (Rs 30,000 crore) on campaigning for elections next month (April 2014) - a sum second only to the most expensive US Presidential campaign of all time - in a splurge that could give India's floundering economy a temporary boost. India's campaign spend, which can include cash stuffed in envelopes as well as multi-million-dollar ad campaigns, has been estimated at INR 300 billion (US $4.9 billion) by the Centre for Media Studies, which tracks spending. That is triple the expenditure the Centre said was spent on electioneering in the last national poll in 2009."
Media is the largest beneficiary in the arsenal; and all related advertising turns into a medium to deliver promises, attack and counter-attack opponents, and function as the political game changer, swirling on a delicate ideological spindle: "A lie told often enough becomes the truth" - Lenin
So couple greed with the seven deadly sins of Indian voters, stir in tonnes of cash and engage some of India's leading advertising-PR-social media conglomerates to churn out propaganda and you have a volcanic blitz of media madness; where even educated, otherwise-analytical minds can't distinguish between hell or high water.
The year 2014 is a very interesting year for India as the majority of the audience that will be voting this year will be very young. At a news conference in New Delhi, the Election Commission said that the process of voting in the 16th Lok Sabha will see the largest-ever population of eligible voters, led by over 814 million voters, 100 million more than in 2009. This time round, more than 23 million voters are aged between 18 and 19. For the first time in a General Election in India, voters will be allowed to cast a ballot for "None of the Above".
To the extent that the ultimate decision may also be in the hands of India's youth because of the existing majority, the marketer has set up shop in the marketplace, which means political advertisers have looked into reaching out to the audience where they currently "hang out".
With advertising and communication being churned out faster than widgets, there is no thinking time for the creators; hence they all narrate versions of the same story, with different overtones, over different platforms.
The story goes something like this:
Here's the starting point: what does the party stand for? Why does this party exist? What does the PM candidate stand for? There are many causes on offer: secular, development, safety, jobs, prices, pride, honesty and governance. The first-time voter is young, idealistic and seeks a motivating argument to come and vote. The best argument to this group is economic: the promise of jobs and a brighter future.
Similar to brand marketing campaigns, the candidate who presents the best chance in the constituency is a combination of optimising many variables and micro-targeting, that is, "Think national but choose local" being one of the most commonly used engagement strategies right now.
By creating syndromes of fear, uncertainty and doubt amongst the people, political advertising portrays competitors in an unfavourable manner, thereby benefitting the attacking candidate and not marring his image; eventually leading to winning more votes.
Everyone from TV presenters to actors, former diplomats and government servants will start offering their endorsements for the benefit of the voter. Such endorsements will multiply gradually in this election. Parties will rope in influential social commentators and feed them with talking points to build preference, especially among undecided voters.
This election is therefore truly at the mercy of first-time voters and social media targeting, which will decide its outcome; since reliable stats reveal that more than half of the total youth audiences are on social websites.
According to Autumn Worldwide's research, out of a million conversations on social media on elections in September 2013, first-time voters (overall 150 million) led 40 per cent of chats. They discussed the Rupee, prices, women's safety, governance and jobs. Their idea of accountability in politics will define India over the next 20 years.
So 2014 is the start...
What's important here is not which party wins the elections this time, but the power of crowdsourcing and influencing opinion on the Indian social scene. This of course calls for a social and cultural mindset change, which is slowly experiencing what theologians call an "escatological breaking in", or a foretaste of things to come before they actually occur. Talk about bringing colour to Indian politics!
While the political camps pour over rivals' speeches looking for historical inaccuracies and discrepancies in political manifestos, a parallel analysis is unfolding across homes, public and individual spaces alike.
Politics and the youth in India have never seemed to have had a liking for each other so far, the relationship between the two being pre-dominantly passive. But of late, candidates like Meera Sanyal are active on social networks and use their personal pages to promote their "brand" and reach out to the users by actually informing them about what they intend to do or what they are currently doing, which helps them create a following amongst the dominant and previously dormant majority.
This adoption of new media by Indian politicians, even though late, provides a personal connect between the aspiring leaders and the junta, making the game a little more complicated than it was earlier, keeping the users aware about the actual story instead of depending on paid media for biased information.
There is another side to the story as well. Where there's any form of advertising there are advertising agencies and this time they come with all guns blazing on the digital front too!
The best example for this would be Narendra Modi who has managed to carve a decent spot for himself in the cyber space by making complete use of social networks along with the help of his agency by keeping the audience informed about his actions as well as sharing his opinions over different issues. Modi's social pages also boast of web applications which look towards gathering volunteers for various causes as well as send festive audio greetings to his fans on the web.
A bit too much, you say? You be the judge, but you cannot undermine the fact that these are the reasons why the 2014 elections are so exciting. The future of the country is yet to be determined but advertising expenditure is enabling emulation of the likes of Lenin and Goebbels...
Long live the Indian (r)evolution.
Hello, anybody (with a conscience) home?
The author is head, engagement strategies, Raising iBrows and is backed by more than three decades of experience - 18 years in advertising and around 13 in the digital space.