Alokananda Chakraborty

Lok Sabha Elections 2004: A big media opportunity

The General Elections this year promises to be ‘different’ with more news channels as well as unconventional players such as CHannel [V] throwing their hats into the ring

For the largest democracy in the world, the once-in-five-years (provided, all things go well for the ruling party!) Lok Sabha Elections are an event nobody would want to miss out on. Politicians, bureaucrats, businessmen, laymen - just about anybody and everybody have their systems tuned in to the election process in the hope of seeing their most favoured party in power.

Door-to-door campaigning, public rallies, announcements over loud speakers, distribution of pamphlets, and allied means of propaganda may be de rigueur during any election, but what characterises the Lok Sabha or General Elections from the State or municipal-level elections is the sheer magnanimity and scale of operations undertaken, not to mention the intense media scrutiny that the polls are subjected to.

Indeed, over the years, the Lok Sabha Elections have emerged as a mammoth media activity played out extensively over print, television, outdoor and radio.

According to some estimates, the total expenditure incurred for conducting the Lok Sabha polls in 1999 was in the region of Rs 7,000 crore. This year, the figure could cross the Rs 10,000-crore mark, of which party publicity using various media vehicles would account for about Rs 250-300 crore, say analysts.

Owing to the ban imposed by the Election Commission on television commercials glorifying party achievements, print and outdoor could be major beneficiaries of hard sell by political parties, say analysts. According to Jwalant Swaroop, group general manager - Lokmat, growth in the volume of advertising during elections is between 20 to 30 per cent in the print sector. Again, the language press stands to gain more than the English-language publications owing to the regional flavour of parties and the need to address the audience in the local language. "Voter turnout in the smaller towns as well as in the countryside tends to be higher," he says. "Political parties naturally feel the need to capitalise on this audience," he adds.

From the point of view of the advertiser, election-related spends are primarily aimed at building saliency or increasing visibility, points out Sandip Tarkas, president, Media Planning Group. "Election-related programming does deliver higher rating points. However, brand associations are low," he says.

This perspective becomes clear when viewed in the context of cricket - the other important media event for Indians. Elaborate brand associations by advertisers such as Samsung (Team Samsung) or cola rivals Pepsi and Coke are absent in the case of elections owing to the very nature of the exercise. "It is a very serious business, where the destiny of a nation is decided," says Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants. "Participation is best left in terms of casting your vote," he adds.

Coincidentally, India will see its biggest cricketing event this year just a month prior to the General Elections, and bearing in mind that it is the all-important historic tour of India to Pakistan, advertisers are keen on being associated with it in a big way. According to industry estimates, the total TV spends of advertisers on the India tour of Pakistan, which is being telecast on Ten Sports, is in the region of Rs 50 crore, while spends on the General Elections will be below the Rs 50-crore mark. "The reason for this is that elections are a cheaper buy as compared to cricket and there are a number of news channels that will present the elections in any case," says a senior media analyst based in Mumbai. CVL Srinivas, managing director, Maximize, adds, "Owing to the number of news channels, there will be fragmentation of viewership as well as ad spends during elections this year. Hence, whether news channels can make a killing on elections is a question mark."

What is interesting about the upcoming General Elections, though, is the attempt by players not traditionally involved with election coverage, to initiate election-related programming. CHannel [V], for instance, has unleashed an on-air and off-air exercise titled The Big Vote, aimed at mobilising youngsters, that is, teenagers and young adults, 18 years and above, to vote.

Such activities tend to add to the overall noise-level around the elections, resulting in more eyeballs, and hence, a large number of advertisers. Adds Srinivas of Maximize, "Normally, advertisers of male-centric brands tend to park their monies around election properties. However, this year, the scorecard could change with more audiences sampling election-related properties." © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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