Press Release

Industry leaders on political communication and the role of professional advertising

23 February 2015

 At a session held on the occasion of the Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook report unveiling, eminent marketers discussed how political parties and the government could make better use of advertising opportunities on an ongoing basis with help from professional agencies.

The panel included Sam Balsara, Chairman, Madison World, Piyush Goyal, Minister of State with Independent Charge for Power, Coal and New & Renewable Energy, Girish Aggarwal, Director, Dainik Bhaskar Group, Raj Nayak, CEO, Colors, Sanjay Gupta, COO of Star India and Arunabh Das Sharma, President of Times Group.
Taking the examples of past election campaigns, the panel argued that it was not enough to just have communications during the time of elections and what was needed was an ongoing communication strategy. Every citizen wants to be kept abreast of the ruling government or a political party's philosophy and developments. Having a professional agency advice and guide the process could make the entire process more efficient and effective, the panel opined.
Balsara, who was moderating the session, gave the examples of previous elections involving BJP, Janata Dal and Congress, which had made use of professional agencies to run their campaigns but had failed to win. He asked the panel for their opinion on what made BJP's win in this Lok Sabha election so different. The other point that the panel argued on was whether political parties should indulge in continuous communication via advertising instead of just limiting it to election time.
Das Sharma stated that there is no question whether advertising works or not. Giving his view on why the BJP campaign as so successful, he said, "I think this time they went after a couple of messages and spread them through all touchpoints. It was a single overriding communication objective and it worked for them."
Balsara interjected that the party also used TV very well; something usually not seen with political advertising.
"I buy something on brand promise and give myself a time frame to decide whether I like it or not. Even in politics, you have a brand promise and people expect it to be delivered. This time there was a clear identity and people connected with him. Advertising fundamentals are the same," opined Nayak. He further argued that there is no problem about spending money on advertising but the money has to be spent wisely. "BJP spends a lot of money but it needs to be channelized. It is more important for the government to create a conducive environment for industry so advertising spends automatically grow," he further opined.
Aggarwal opined that political parties are not corporates and make do with makeshift brand managers. He argued that this was the wrong approach. "They face some or the other election technically every year. Just winning one does not mean that you will win everything. They need to understand that this is an ongoing process," he argued. Giving his view on why this happens, he further added that there are different leaders at different levels; comparing it to having many different brands under the same umbrella.
However, Nayak argued that continuous spending by political parties on advertisement was also not seen anywhere else in the world. Giving the example of the IPL, he said, "Forget the public sector, even the IPL goes to sleep in off season."
Das Sharma gave an interesting analogy. "Advertising does not necessarily have to be through mass media. Even political party has its ATL and BTL—during elections ATL kicks in, between elections it is BTL," he said. "Sell your product by saying it is good and not that the competing product is bad," was the advice Das Sharma gave political parties.
Gupta also agreed that it was important to continue to communicate the party's promise to the stakeholders. "Because they come and promise only during elections is why they do not succeed," he pointed out. "If they have a credible promise, there is no reason why they cannot succeed," he further said. Taking the example of the "India Shining" campaign, he opined that there was a fundamental disconnect in the messaging. "Brand building is not a one off project but in politics it is thought that it is," he opined.
This is because, said Aggarwal, that the Indian mentality is geared towards thinking that elections happen only once in 5 years. "Unlike corporates, they had no accountability till now, but this is now slowly changing," he said.
Goyal, when asked about his views on the matter, agreed that communication is something that should not be done only during elections. He gave the example of the army and how they stay prepared even during peace times to highlight this point. However, he also said that a lot of communication does happen through non-advertising mediums like press conferences, interviews, etc. "We need to have a judicious mix. A holistic media plan is needed by any organization. We want to have better communication with media and a greater degree of transparency. Communication is a very powerful tool," he said.
But, he also pointed out that media owners also had a responsibility in this. "As soon as I try to communicate through ads, people will discount it. It has to come through a neutral avenue. Whenever I have approached media house for advertising, they jack up rates and apply political ad rates even though this is not during election time," he said.
The panel agreed that this was a fair point and promised to look into the matter. However, Aggarwal also questioned the Minister why there was no full time brand manager while Gupta also said that people would like to hear the government's point of view directly without the lens that a stakeholder might inadvertently apply to the communiqué.
Goyal agreed to the suggestion. "I do see some merit in experts guiding us through the process as well as in continuous engagement. I am happy to think and reflect on it and we will have to see how it dovetails with various other mediums like social media, radio, etc.," he said.
On being asked by Nayak, whether BJP was looking to spend continuously on advertising over the 5 year period, the minister said that this was initially the idea and the party had been looking for long-term deals. "But we were not getting a good deal. It is not about the money but how holistically we can reach out to different sections in India," he said.
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