The Congress-led Government of India has released a highly visible TV campaign to reach out to the masses, a year ahead of the elections.
The current burst of six films is the second leg of a seven-film campaign that was first launched around September, 2012. The first phase (Sakshar Bharat) was about citizens' rights. This time, it talks about issues such as education, secularism, infrastructure, mobile telephony and government schemes and policies. A thematic film that ties them all together is also part of the mix.
Rajiv Agrawal, executive creative director, Percept/H, the agency that has created these films, tells afaqs! that making the ads look like 'regular' brand films was a conscious decision. "Agencies that otherwise create great work for regular brands, when given a 'sarkari' client, suddenly start creating work that looks… 'sarkari'! That is what we didn't want to do." His team focused on people-driven stories and treated the campaign like they would a regular brand campaign. "Ultimately, the principles are the same; both are about classic story-telling and consumer engagement," he explains.
Though these films are being shown in cinema halls, the campaign is largely driven by TV. Print serves as a reminder medium. A year ahead of the elections, the campaign, the agency informs, is not intended as an 'election precursor'.
afaqs! spoke to agency professionals as well as experts on politics about this campaign.
Sujata Anandan, political editor, Hindustan Times, Mumbai edition, says, "This campaign is slickly made, no doubt, but I'm not sure how much it will actually influence the people. Whether it's the Congress or the BJP (with its 'India Shining' campaign years back), I wonder how much these ads work. Does the government really have its finger on the pulse of the people?"
Anandan is cynical mainly because the masses tend to be unpredictable. "These ads have started early probably because they want to give it some time to be absorbed by the public, but you never really know how the mood changes during election time. Sometimes, it changes within a matter of just 48 hours," she says, drawing on her extensive experience as an elections specialist.
Anandan goes on to add that she loved the Telephony film because it depicts the reality of mobile penetration in India and captures little nuggets of ordinary life, like being pressed for time.
Prathap Suthan, chief creative officer and managing partner, Bang in the Middle, sees it as a good thing that the government is initiating a dialogue with the public, engaging with them and "letting people know things that they may not otherwise know, especially people who live far away from 'progressive India'." The campaign, he feels, brings information to the surface and builds positivity and optimism.
Will the 'aam janta' react positively to such films? afaqs! asks. According to him, there are two possible reactions. One, of relief that the government is doing its work, despite all the negativity and two, of cynicism, that they aren't making any effort to rise above popular perception.
From an execution standpoint, is this campaign is a milestone of sorts for this genre of advertising? "They aren't the finest films going around but there's been a definite upward climb in terms of execution. Some of them are forced but goodness is goodness and it doesn't have to be packaged exquisitely," he says.
Public sector ads have touched fabulous levels over the past few years, he says, citing brands like Incredible India, Indian Railways and RBI as examples. He attributes this to the fact that younger people comprise the decision making process today and bureaucrats see the value of better production.