Kya hai yeh drama, Rama! When ads get political

Ritika Saxena takes a look at how the Indian advertising industry is milking politics for all it’s worth.

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In the recent past, the advertising industry has been facing a slowdown for numerous reasons.  Of which, the most obvious one being the global financial slowdown (Damn that recession!). According to the latest Consensus Ad Forecast, by the London-based Warc, India, in 2013, was among the top 3 ad markets in the world. So much for a slowdown, dude! But, to think of it, I am not surprised with India being amongst the top 3. Any guesses, why it is there though? Yeah! POLITICS! Kills us almost everywhere, here though, it has saved the industry!

This year, due to the unfolding election drama, political ad campaigns are on in full swing. Rs 2000 crore. Yes, that is the money the Congress, BJP and other political parties are spending on their advertising for the 2014 elections. And me, on the other hand, I don’t even know how many zeroes there are in that!

With agencies like JWT, Dentsu and Taproot involved, one would expect far better content than what we are seeing. I mean, after creating a sensation like Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai, coming up with Kattar soch nahi, yuva josh” with Hasiba Amin and Main Nahin, Hum with Manish Yadav, really? C’mon! I would rather invest that time in watching the song, Tera Pyaar Hookah Bar!

Spotlight: The top 3 US presidential campaigns

  1. John F Kennedy – For his campaign against Nixon, a veteran in the field of Politics, Kennedy, ensured that his age, 43 at that time, was used to his advantage. While Nixon argued that he had the experience and the maturity, Kennedy attempted to use his connection with the youth.
  2. Richard Nixon – After losing the 1960 elections, Nixon was attempting a comeback for the 1968 elections. Given the situation at that time, with the number of American troops in Vietnam rising, President Johnson announcing he will not seek reelection, Martin Luther King Jr. being assassinated, Nixon had promised the return of stability.  Nixon nailed it with his campaign, a superbly designed promotion, highlighting the issues very blatantly to the Democratic administration.
  3. Barack Obama – The most recent one of the lot. Obama’s campaign was all about change. Obama’s ads were mainly about “values” and “work”, helping him get closer to the working class of voters.  Alongside, the attack ads, where Obama’s opponent, McCain was compared to Bush, worked well for Obama.

But what is the result of these crazy expensive campaigns?

The culture of conceptualising political advertising campaigns in India is still very new. Unlike the West, political ad campaigns in India only came about in the latter part of the1980s. In the US, the concept of campaigns started way back in the 1950s. One of the first recorded campaigns in India was for Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, where they had horrific images, desperately trying to showcase what would happen to India in case the Congress wasn’t elected. Well, Congress lost.

For the 1998 General Elections, both, the BJP and the Congress went all out and ensure media professionals, conceptualising their campaign, demarcated their brands (or more likely, what was left of them at that time). In recent times the campaigns “Bharat Nirmaan” and “India Shining” by the Congress and BJP, respectively, failed to create the stir they expected, and, for some very apparent reasons.

Political parties in India need to realise that, these so-called ‘professional’ ad campaigns are a failed experiment.

From buying copyrights of songs like “Jai Ho” and using the Aam Aadmi messaging, to hiring International Campaign managers, political parties have tried it all, but, haven’t yet managed to leave an impression in the minds of the voter. However, luckily, the persona of a few of the (so-called) leaders, has managed to help them get noticed. The need of the hour for various political parties is undoubtedly to transform its shape. Perhaps, a size 0 would be perfect.

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