Do election time feel-good ads work?

20 May,2013

 

By Ananya Saha

 

While every government wants to showcase their doings and achievements, campaigns such as India Shining by NDA, Bharat Nirman by UPA or Mera Bharat Mahaan have also been surrounded by criticism. Do such campaigns work? Do they neutralize the negatives and help showcase the good? Or do they put people off (given the scams and corruption charges faced by the current government or criticisms by previous governments) rather than fostering the sentiment of nationalism and patriotism?

MxMIndia spoke to industry professionals and analysts for a better picture.

 

Dilip Cherian, Founding Partner, Perfect Relations

Great political advertising, by definition, must be political. It can’t be general. So, in some senses, neither the NDA’s “India Shining” in 2004 nor the UPA’s ongoing “Bharat Nirman” campaign should really be called effective or great political advertising. One flopped and now questions are being asked whether this one is headed the same way.

But the bigger thought is that even great advertising cannot reverse a mindset. The BJP calculated that India was “shining” and hoped to take the sheen to a higher level. The “Bharat Nirman” campaign is clearly an attempt to halt a violently negative public sentiment, at least in much of the target audiences that are being addressed. Can this change their perception? With a campaign this size, I would be worried. Can the image damage be reversed? As an image guru, my answer is, “Very tough.” So, is this good money being spent after bad image?

Governments notoriously walk the fine line between advertising and information campaign. If it is an information campaign, then more power to it.

 

Rajiv Desai, Chairman and CEO, Comma Consulting

Well, I do not know. The ad series launched by UPA is called the ‘Story of India’. I can only speak on the ‘Story of India’ campaign because I know something about it. The idea of this campaign is to simply remind people – because of the complete shallowness and sensationalism of the media, especially television – the story doesn’t get out. It is highly irresponsible and a blatantly sensationalist media. So this series is intended to tell the story of India from the point-of-view of the government and what has been done, what has been accomplished, how the govt sees it.

India Shining was some sort of a boastful campaign. It was a flop. There was no substance to it. The Story of India is backed by solid facts and statistics. The point is all media, including your kind of media, tend to slot things according to their personal predilections. So you put these campaigns in the same breath. It’s not. One was a campaign that was launched (India Shining) in anticipation of a mid-term election, which there was. NDA never completed its term. It was meant to influence the thinking of people, voters in the knowledge that they were going to call elections early.

As far as The Story of India is concerned, it is an attempt to tell people that it is not all scams, and actually not scams but allegations of scams. In India, everybody jumps to conclusions. Even these three cricketers are innocent until proven guilty, in the court of law. Given these allegations of scams, they are given manufactured outrage especially on the television channels. The government seems to believe that there is a lot of noise and we need to cut through that noise to tell The Story of India.

The story as it is told is that the rural employment guarantee scheme, which media has always seen as a job scheme – it actually isn’t. They are actually building some infrastructure in the rural areas and actually it’s a rural poverty alleviation scheme rather than a job scheme, which is how the media has portrayed it. I think it talks about the telecom revolution from 2004-2013, I think there is a whole series of ads with focus on higher education, and there is series of ads that focus on enrolment in primary and secondary sectors, of education that is at an all-time high, there is a series focused on agriculture. We are going to be breaking all records of wheat and rice production this year. Not to mention things like oilseeds, where increases have been upto 86-88 percent, and these are the value-added crops. The government is trying to tell the story that not only are we trying to grow rice and wheat, but that their strategy was to encourage farmers to grow value-added crops and how yields have grown dramatically.

This is the kind of story that the government seeks to tell, because the media would not have it. They want to know who raped whom, and who stole from whom, and all random stuff. And I think that is the focus of this whole advertising campaign. It’s not comparable to India Shining at all because this government will have elections when they fall due.

 

Shashi Shekhar, Chief Digital Officer, Niti Digital

We need to draw a distinction between a campaign funded privately and a campaign funded by the government at the taxpayer’s expense. We also need to draw a distinction between “direct impact” on voters and “indirect impact” on influencers. As the Radia Tapes had revealed, a sizeable ad-spend budget can be used as leverage to exercise influence on media houses. In the present context, I would consider that more than the “direct impact” of Bharat Nirman ads on voters we need to pay more attention to the “indirect impact” resulting from the leverage the party in power is able to exercise on media houses through this sizeable “ad-spend” by the government.

As far as “direct impact” goes I don’t believe it will be substantial as the Bharat Nirman ads are currently not targeted. As an example running a quarter-page ad in English in major English newspapers on NREGA will not fetch any incremental votes from the demographic segment to which NREGA is intended. To your question on “nationalism” and “patriotism” I think Bharat Nirman or India Shining has a zero impact on fostering either sentiment for the same reason as above – lack of targeting. The same, however, cannot be said of campaigns run by some state governments which tend to have a narrower focus and hence better targeting.

On the whole we need to move away from the direction of spending taxpayer money on what is barely concealed propaganda by the party in power. This tendency to spend taxpayer money on propaganda seems to have originated during the Indira Gandhi regime in the Emergency years. It is shame that it has become an institutionalized practice irrespective of the party in power.

 

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