As I write this on April Fool’s Day 2014, a Twitter post of an outdoor creative by the Shiv Sena lands in my inbox. It’s been doing the rounds. It says that the Congress party has fooled the public for years. And it urges voters to fool the Congress this April. Clever.
You cannot escape the animated films by the BJP or Congress’ ‘Bharat Ke Mazbooth Haath’ ad film if you’ve been following the T20 Cricket World Cup on TV. I am. One of BJP’s films features the umpire and one of the team captains awaiting the other captain for the toss. The reference of ‘Captain-less team’ is obviously to the Congress.
I was also confronted with a news item on page one of The Times of India. The first reaction was to wonder if it could be an April Fool’s day prank. But the question mark at the end of ‘NaMo, RaGa, Kejri in talks to clean up poll-speak?’ left a lingering doubt. Enough to make the reader turn to page 8. It was indeed a prank.
Jokes apart, one wonders if there is such a thing as too much, when it comes to election advertising and marketing. It certainly appears to be overkill, or ‘over-killing’ when it comes to attacking the Congress, UPA and Rahul Gandhi and his mother. And it’s not just the advertising. But let’s start with advertising.
In a feature published in December 2013, on ads featuring competition or taking them head on, Campaign India asked JK Ansell’s Ranju Mohan and Grey’s Dheeraj Sinha to reflect on how effective these ads really are. X times or Y per cent better work for functional benefits, we gathered, but there were also some watch outs the two gentlemen offered. I’m reproducing some of their comments here, while underlining that they were said in the context of brand advertising.
On the scope for ads featuring competition in categories other than FMCG, Mohan said: “In most of the categories, there is always some reference of competitive advertising. Everyone looks for ways to create a different kind noise at certain times and you look for ideas across categories and then you think, “Let’s try this out?” And you expect it to work. But I think it is more about what you do than what you communicate.”
Asked if head-on advertising featuring a competitor’s brand was a good way to project one’s brand alongside the market leader, Sinha said: “If an Air Asia takes on competition, it’s them as that’s the kind of brand they are. If Tata would take on competition head on – it will look a bit strange. It also depends on the category you are playing in. Is it a category of high noise with innovation happening? Then it may not make sense. But if it’s a category where not much has happened and things are placid then to shake up things it might make sense. It also depends on what you have to offer. Just for the sake of upsetting things you cannot undertake competitive advertising.”
Politics is a ‘category’ where a hell of a lot is happening and continues to. And it is quite expected that the opposition trains its guns on the ruling establishment and its shortcomings. But against whom and how much is the question.
They also need to make promises of what they will do if elected to power. AAP’s promise of change is potent and resonates with people. BJP’s promise is progress under the leadership of a proven Chief Minister, a larger-than-life figure.
So the AAP running a campaign on corruption would be understandable. But one would expect the BJP and its allies to have better stories to tell and promises to make than simply take digs at the Congress.
On the one hand, the Congress seems to be doing what it should be this close to the elections, including making (absolutely scary, in my humble view) promises like job reservations in the private sector (or ‘Affirmative action’ from the private sector towards that end).
By repeatedly framing itself in reference to the Congress, one wonders if the BJP marketing campaign - be it in its ads, in news studios, at public meetings or on online forums - is prompting the option of re-electing the UPA to voters, who might actually be more than willing to embrace change.
Italy doesn’t matter in this election. India does.
(This appeared in the issue of Campaign India magazine dated 4 April 2014. Read the magazine online here.)