Jayshree Sundar
Guest Article

What lessons can advertising learn from an eighteen-year-old election?

Jayshree Sundar, former president-north, Leo Burnett, shares in her own words what we can expect from her recent book ‘Don’t Forget 2004: Advertising secrets of an impossible election victory’.

This story is almost unreal, as it is unbelievable. But it did happen. And the inside story has been tacit information and knowledge. It would not be fair to a whole young generation to not know this part of India’s political history rooted in Advertising and Branding.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Its 2004. And the “India Shining” bullet train has taken off at the fastest speed it could. Elections have been brought ahead by eight months and a victory for the BJP-NDA combine is being taken as a sure shot result. India Today and Outlook are carrying cover stories ratifying the same. No one gives the Congress, who has been out of power for nine years, a chance at all. More than that in the assembly elections recently held in three states they have got a drubbing. Everything looks hopeless and conclusive.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>Jayshree Sundar</p></div>

Jayshree Sundar

They neither have an agency, or a prime ministerial candidate announced. It's already January 2004. The country is set to go into five phases of polling starting April 20 ending on May 13.

On January 6 calls are being made to eight agencies to pitch for the general elections for the INC account. On the 14th pitches are held in the Capital. One agency gets selected, and that process is also extremely interesting.

From January 6 to May 13 what transpired is what this book is all about. It’s my diary explaining the amazing strategy built-up on the basis of solid consumer insights. The research that followed in the tightest of deadlines and the pathbreaking creative idea that emerged is all detailed out. And before you think it happened long ago, well general elections come once in five years so there have just been three in between. The issues are almost the same and are still burning.

This story takes you inside the agency. It puts a lens on the several cubicles and conference rooms, studio and creative huddles that can only take place within an agency. More than that it introduces you to the key players in creative – both art and copy, account management, planning, finance, admin and even the canteen.

This is the story of a medium-sized agency and a written off client who took on the Goliath to make election and marketing history.

Written like a thriller, it’s a fast and racy read. Which starts from receiving no formal brief to building a winning strategy to pitch presentations to creative insights, media planning buying and execution.

Unlike normal FMCG, durables or services clients a political brand has a different set of challenges. For example, the 80:20 rule does not apply here. Every vote is equal. Every consumer, rich or poor, old or young, male or female is equal because each one has just one vote. So unlike other brands where if you are a heavy user, you can contribute more revenue, in political brands it is all the same. How do you select your target audience? If budgets were unlimited, it would be easy. But unfortunately, in the real world it’s never possible. Who do you choose?

They say Cricket and Bollywood are two “religions” in India. Soon a third will join in and that’s Politics. I say Politics is the new Entertainment. What does it not have? Protagonists and antagonists. Heroes and brand ambassadors. Brands with opposing ideologies leading to brand wars. And guess who is watching closely and enjoying it the most? The consumer!

It’s the new spectator sport. And the stage for this was set perhaps in no other election than the 2004 one. Where two global agencies were pitted against each other. Where two great campaigns were created and where the consumer was engaged totally and gave a surprise verdict.

The book will take you into the world of secret rooms, decoy acts, unlisted mobile numbers, phones getting tapped, code words and names and yes shredders.

Just like the cover graphic denotes. How confidentiality was of utmost importance and how papers were destroyed every night.

Most of all this is the first case study on a political brand in India and very few on the global stage which takes you through Brand equity building, strategy formulation, consumer research, creative ideation, the all-important slogan, the blue ocean media strategy and the “Un- art directed” campaign which Asian Wall Street journal hailed as the Cinema verité style of advertising which set the tone for the shock result. “Aam aadmi ko kya mila?” it asked and the aam aadmi responded.

All of it resonates even today. I have written it as a story that unfolded between Jan and May 2004 in the Political war rooms and inside the agency. Many have said its “Unputdownable”

Perhaps you should give it a try. Because it proves: Advertising Works. I rest my case.

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