The 2014 Indian General Elections saw the Bharatiya Janata Party storm intopower at the centre with absolute majority - something that hadn’t happened in decades. The dominance at the turnstiles has been attributed to a few factors, not the least of which was the highly effective marketing and communications strategy implemented by the party.
Political campaign spends for the elections, according to the Centre for Media Studies was estimated to be three times more than 2009 and the total spend is estimated to be close to $5 billion.
The party has continued its focus on communication in its early days in power at the centre, be it on the PR, advertising or digital fronts.Will the government’s focus on communication set a trend? Will it benefit agencies?
Various disciplines within the marketing world seem to be in disagreement on whether or not this election has set a trend. Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, South Asia Dentsu Aegis Network, Shergill and Harshad Hardikar, Chief Operating Officer, Indigo Consulting believe that there is a trend that has been set, though according to Bhasin this trend has pre-dated the 2014 elections.
Bhasin goes on to say, “The difference that this government will make is that they will make spending more effective. In the past we’ve only seen badly crafted ads with pictures of ministers, there for a political purpose as opposed to a communication purpose. Off late we’ve seen the government doing communication that will actually touch the consumer”.
Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman & MD, R K SWAMY BBDO on the other hand believes that there is no evidence of a trend emerging. He reminds us that the previous spent a lot of money on schemes too.
Whether or not a trend has been set, several experts agree that there will be a lot more business coming the way of agencies due to the more focused approach by political parties.
Sonal Dabral, chairman and CCO, says, “It will mean more investment in and demand for professional services that help deliver strategic and creative thinking in messaging, media and measurement”. Shergill adds to this: “Political ‘brands’ and governmental agencies understand that success will be elusive without effective communication”.
Hardikar’s reasons that agency benefit will be based on the increased communication that has led to added expectations from the electorate. He argues that government may not be able to manage this expectation, which is why agencies are bound to benefit.
Talking about the indirect benefit agencies will get out of the way government advertising is carried out, Bhasin says, “I don’t think there will be a significant increase in the absolute amount of government spends as they were already pretty high but what will happen is that it will be spent more effectively in a much more professional manner.”
If we are to see a benefit, will all agencies benefit equally or are some more equal than others? Bhasin does go on to voices his concerns: “As far as agencies are concerned, there are some agencies who have over the years, learnt how to deal with the government much better and they are usually the ones who get their business from the government and it’s usually not necessarily based on the merit of the campaign as we see it in the private sector.” He does however remain hopeful that the selection process in the future may become merit-based.
Hardikar opposes this view as he feels that all end-to-end agencies will benefit.
Shergill, who believes that everyone is bound to benefit says, “This will benefit all kinds of agencies – public relations, advertising and digital. This is also a massive opportunity for research and data analytics”. He ends by making a prediction for the future, “Just as we’ve had dedicated consumer, lifestyle, healthcare, real estate, etc, practices, we’ll soon see teams dedicated to political communication in agencies”.
Harshad Hardikar, chief operating officer, Indigo Consulting
“It’s a very encouraging sign that government outfits want to showcase their work to the larger mass via websites, campaigns etc. and want to have a direct dialogue with public via various social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Since Digital is a two-way interactive medium, it will also help build more transparency in the system over a period of time”.
Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, South Asia Dentsu Aegis Network
“It may not add overall to the kitty but it will be a lot more effective advertising of much better quality and hopefully a lot less wastage. Some agencies will benefit because not everyone can deal with the government effectively”.
Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman and MD, R K SWAMY BBDO.
“I don’t think any trend is evident yet. Even the UPA Government spent considerable sums on promoting their schemes. This NDA Government however does appear to be determined in getting everyone to see them as one in a hurry. They wish to change the way the Govt functions and put India on a strong development track”.
Jaideep Shergill, CEO, MSLGroup
“The candidates that communicated better succeeded. This trend didn’t end with the election. Governmental agencies and individuals in government have understood that communication isn’t a one-time exercise, but a continuous one. Audiences have to be consistently engaged.”
Sonal Dabral, chairman and CCO, DDB Mudra Group.
“It should benefit agencies because political parties, government agencies, ministries and departments will take the principles of brand and campaign management more seriously. It will mean more investment in and demand for professional services that help deliver strategic and creative thinking in messaging, media and measurement.”
(This article appeared in the print issue of Campaign India dated 28 November 2014)