Sam Balsara on the BJP’s Media Magic

21 May,2014

 

By Shobhana Nair

 

While there’s no doubting the fact that it was Narendra Modi who led the Bharatiya Janata Party to victory, there were many who worked backstage to create the message. MxMIndia spoke with Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director of Madison World, the media planning and buying agency that worked along with Team Modi to pull of what was decidedly the biggest ever political campaign the country has ever seen. Excerpts from an interview:

 

 

Learnings for other Advertisers:

> Don’t under-spend; most brands make that mistake and dilute their campaigns and sometimes waste the entire advertising money

> To change consumer behaviour or establish brand preference - multi-media is a must

 

What the new government must do:

The new government must focus on growth in economy and provide incentives for that, provide infrastructure, make India the toast of the world once again, not focus on giving doles to the poor. Even if you distribute all the money to the poor there isn’t enough money to go around. It needs to focus on growing the economy. Most of India’s problems would get taken care of. In the media area, it must not interfere and allow free market forces to play.

 

How did the mandate come to Madison? Who from the BJP called you and how and why did you decide to work on the campaign?

We were first contacted by Prashant Kishore in Ahmedabad through our client Lodha. Subsequently, we were contacted by Ajay Singh and Arun Narendranath. Then we met Piyush Goyal and Arun Jaitley. We entered the fray late. All major agencies were competing for the account. What won us the business was a lot of detail work revolving around media reach in different constituencies, grouping them in three priorities and summating the whole strategy in an elegant 10 pillar strategy. Our reputation for transparency and integrity sealed the deal.

 

When you took on the mandate, or any time during the campaign, did you get any direct brief from Narendra Modi?

Lara has met Narendra Modi. I haven’t, yet.

 

When you took on the job was there any apprehension about delivering it? Political parties like BJP, RSS are known to be conservative, not open to modern ideas and so on. Was there a problem on that count?

We were confident of delivering on our product not just because of faith in our own experience, expertise and capability but we knew we had a strong product, compared to competition. Advertising works brilliantly for a good product, but kills a bad product fast.

 

For the first time ever in India a political party was presented as a brand. Was BJP open to this idea from the beginning? How did you sell your ideas?

Yes. That was the very reason they reached out to professionals and then played a supportive role, not an interfering role. I must say the people at BJP are not the politician stereotypes; they are smart, savvy and intelligent managers who have left their corporate jobs to help the nation catch up on lost time.

 

Reaching out to media dark markets like UP and Bihar seemed to be a big challenge for BJP. How did you resolve that?

These markets did pose a challenge and obviously got our greater share of our attention. In addition to mass media these markets got intensive below-the-line support.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while executing the campaign? We have heard in many regions district magistrates refused to cooperate.

Outdoor in UP especially, posed huge challenges because of unfair play by the ruling party in granting permissions for putting up hoardings. The other challenge was negotiations with media, some of whom artificially inflated their rates for political campaigns! Random numbers floating around in the media of the budget of our campaign made our task more difficult. Ultimately, it worked out well and we were able to do our job without fear or favour and I hope the media owners are also happy.

 

Will you call this the toughest campaign of your career?

What made it tough were the frequent changes based on feedback from state units communicated to us through BJP HQs that necessitated my team to work almost every night till 3 and 4 am. Work-day timings for the team changed from 9 to 5 to 12 noon to 3am. In many cases we succeeded in releasing jackets in newspapers at four hours’ notice (2am to 6am) and TV spots too at 2 hours notice. We launched the campaign on cricket. You can’t do better than that, based on our experience and the creative also was specially created for cricket.

 

Going forward, will you continue to work for BJP or the new government? Has there been any discussion?

We hope so. In addition, what I would really like is for the Government of India to appoint us as media advisors for all their advertising! We could make a huge difference in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Communication is a very important element in the nation-building process. Most political parties unfortunately think of it only at election time.

 

A number of people said BJP spent close to Rs 5000 crore for the election ad campaign. What do you have to say to that?

That is indeed the finest compliment that Madison Media has ever received. The actual is just a miniscule fraction of that number, but I am not at liberty to reveal the number. Some professionals have put the mass media campaign at Rs 1000 crore. I am offering a prize to anyone, mass media professionals included who can guess or calculate the exact number spent in mass media! The BJP campaign has once again proven that mass media has the power to move mountains; that mass media is not expensive as it is thought to be and multi-media is essential for effectiveness. I must also admit that in my view NDA would have won anyway; they had a strong product and the competition was weak. What our campaign achieved is that it cost effectively raised the pitch to a crescendo, constituency by constituency as polling day neared which converted a communication task into what you in media call a Modi WAVE that resulted in a landslide victory for the BJP.

 

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