"BJP's creative brief was very structured": Prasoon Joshi and Piyush Pandey

By Ashwini Gangal and Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | May 19, 2014
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Soon after Narendra Modi's victory, we spoke to McCann's Prasoon Joshi and Ogilvy's Piyush Pandey about their experience working on BJP's ad campaigns.

When a brand campaign helps move products off the shelf, it is considered a corporate success. What then, can we call BJP's recent, high decibel advertising campaigns that played a significant role in fetching a delightful result for the party? And for a communications expert, how different is the experience of working on a political campaign - for a party that goes on to win - from working on a regular brand campaign?

Prasoon Joshi

Piyush Pandey

We found some answers while chatting with creative heavyweights, Prasoon Joshi, chairman and chief creative officer, McCann Worldgroup India and president, South Asia, and Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather. Among several other agencies and production houses, Ogilvy's Soho Square and McCann's TAG have contributed to BJP's political communication.

Last month, we did a detailed article on Soho Square's campaign, which included 'Janta Maaf Nahi Karegi' - a hard-hitting series of films, a second, animation-based set of films that humorously promoted the tagline 'Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkar', and a musical titled 'Ache Din Aane Wale Hai, Hum Modi Ji Ko Laane Wale Hai' that positioned Narendra Modi as a harbinger of happiness.

So this time, we decided to speak to McCann's creative supremo, at length, about both, his team's work for BJP and his own contribution to the winning campaign. We also spoke to Ogilvy's Pandey about his experiences.

Mission 'Saugandh'

Joshi explains that BJP's campaign had two kinds of messaging - tactical (about the here and now) and conceptual (about the party's philosophy). For the latter, he created an anthem called Saugandh, the only piece of communication that the PM-in-waiting gave his voice to.

"The anthem was a very delicate subject," he says. What helped him work on it was the time he spent with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee back in 2004. "Atal ji was very fond of my writing and had also used my poem Irada Naye Bharat Ka in his speech," he shares.

It was his deep understanding of brand BJP that put him in a good position to deliver on this assignment... and of course, his penchant for writing lyrics.

He clarifies that he didn't require a "one line brief" before writing Saugandh. "I already had an understanding of the essence of this brand," he admits, saying it was his dual role of communications expert and poet that helped him get it right.

Interestingly, while Saugandh, the video, was used as a digital and TV film to communicate BJP's philosophy, the audio recording of the anthem was used to motivate the party workers, who played it in their vans while on the job.

'Desh Ki Pukaar' to 'Ab Ki Baar'

The tagline Ab Ki Baar Modi Sarkaar became a smash hit (not to ignore the spoofs it pulled in!), but not many people know that Joshi had suggested a different tagline. He shares, "My suggestion was 'Desh Ki Pukaar, Modi Sarkaar'. I felt it would connect with the people. Collectively, they were feeling let down for not getting their due. But the BJP team preferred Ab Ki Baar to Desh Ki Pukaar, may be because Ab Ki Baari Atal Bihaari worked very well in the past."

Any regrets that Desh Ki Pukaar was not used? "No. I think Ab Ki Baar, Modi Sarkaar is simpler," he answers, "And you can't argue that Ab Ki Baari, Atal Bihaari was a very popular line in its time.

Human Brands

Talking about the differences between a political campaign and a 'regular' brand campaign, McCann's Joshi says, "A product has no other voice, but advertising. But political parties and their leaders are throbbing, living organisms that are being consumed by the nation all the time. A political party is a brand that constantly communicates with people through other forums too; advertising campaigns are only one leg of political campaigns. The party doesn't advertise only through the campaigns that you are making."

He reminds us that there are 1,000s of people working for political parties, conducting rallies and talking about the party, nationwide. That is all 'advertising' for the party. A rally is as good as an ad or maybe more. And today's rallies are shot and telecast on TV and the internet, so they are like ads, he says.

"With regular brands, the plan is more clearly chalked out. For example, you can say 'This is the teaser campaign that will run for two months' or 'This is the next part of the campaign', etc," he says, "But for a political campaign, a speech given by the party leader could very well serve as the teaser campaign!"

According to Joshi, the only brands that come close to being this way are media brands (newspapers, TV channels, radio channels) because "media brands are consumed at various levels, just like political brands."

Joshi cautions that one cannot over-glorify the role of advertising in political campaigns, "because if the product is not promising then good advertising will become a death threat. As they say: Good advertising will kill a bad product faster. So you cannot promise something which doesn't exist."

Ogilvy's Pandey concurs, "If the product is great, it will sell. An ad campaign just helps amplify sales. In this case, Modiji - along with his entire team - was an impeccable product. Our campaign just helped communicate that goodness across the nation."

Some are of the view that BJP's big budget ad campaign practically 'sold' Narendra Modi to the people. Joshi reacts, "We were given a responsibility, a task. It is up to the politicians to decide how much advertising is right or not right. Frankly, that argument is not for you and me; it is a different debate. A political party is more than just a product or commodity. Equating a political party with a product is too simplistic a view. Here, you are dealing with people's hopes and aspirations."

"Egolessness and Openness"

Talking about the second big difference between a political campaign and a product-centric campaign, McCann's Joshi adds, "A political campaign doesn't work like a typical assignment where you deal with only the marketing manager and the brand manager. Here, since there are so many party workers and stakeholders, suggestions come in from everywhere. For example, somebody from Varanasi would chip in with an important observation and we would go out and execute it."

Which brings him to his next point - about why leaving one's ego back home while working on a political campaign is crucial. "You should realise that you might be an advertising expert but there are people in the party who have got a better sense of the land and know much more than you do. These are people who are living the truth. You cannot scoff at the suggestions that come from them. So 'egolessness' and openness to suggestions are must-haves for those who work on political brand campaigns," he elaborates.

In a political campaign, an agency or creative individual's role "may be limited to giving an idea, that eventually gets executed by another team. At other times, you may be executing an idea that was incubated somewhere else." With such campaign, he insists, it is difficult to say 'This is sharply mine'. It is a collaborative effort, we gather.

BJP's Brief - "Structured" and "Researched"

It is said that compared to corporate brands, a political party functions in a very un-structured manner when it comes to dealing with its ad agencies. But apparently, this was not the case with BJP. Recalling how clear the BJP officials were when it came to giving out the campaign brief, Pandey says, "They did their homework pretty well."

In fact, he goes as far as to call it the best brief he has ever come across in his entire career! "They knew exactly who their TG was and what their communication was going to be," Pandey recounts, adding, "Hearing the brief, it was quite obvious that a massive amount of research was done by the BJP team to understand their TG before investing money. They knew exactly what they had to say and to whom."

The brief, Pandey shares, was to prepare a message around the bad state of affairs the country had seen during the UPA regime, and to communicate it in simple language across the country.

On the subject of BJP's brief, Joshi couldn't agree more. He says, "In the case of BJP it was pretty structured. There was a lot of clarity. BJP's core team has been organised, strategically sound and well oiled. As and when required, they took help from the right creative teams, musicians and writers. They have picked their partners in a very judicious way. The BJP team divided and compartmentalised the responsibilities very well."

About BJP's social media plan, Pandey tells us that the party was present on the medium long before they planned the ad campaign, which he shares, was not just about asking for votes. The state of the country was such that the demand for votes would solicit the question 'Why?', Pandey says, going on to explain, "The campaign had to highlight the issues and problems of the common Indian."

Professional Detachment

Finally, we wonder how important it is for a person to share the ideologies of the party he/she is creating a campaign for. Over to Joshi: "It is important to absorb, understand and simplify the brand ideology in your head and see the relevance of it, but to not forget that ultimately, you are doing a professional job. Strategic clarity is paramount, and that it's different from working 'in' a party. So that distance has to be there."

"Did I need to start running like an athlete every morning before writing Bhaag Milkha Bhaag?" he counter-questions.

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