AgVoice | Can advertising' help a political party to win seats?

Just as a footnote to history, the first time a political party ever hired the services of a professional agency was in 1977, when the Congress Party had assigned Clarion Advertising Services. The total budget was 25 lakhs, primarily Print, and the money was paid by some corporate who shared the budget.

It was, by advertising standards, a great creative campaign: “you vote for yourself when you vote for Congress” (perhaps the AAP could have used this line!) but this was the election after the Emergency, and no matter how good the campaign, we all knew the results. Yes, the Janata Party too ran their ads in Indian Express, and it may have been more effective, even though it may have been a “home made” job.

Since then, we have seen a spate of ad campaigns by political parties, the Rediff work for Congress is talked of even now and today we have this story of the Congress having hired “big” agencies, with a budget of Rs 500 crore.

The concept of advertising has changed over the years and today you just don’t have an ‘ad campaign’. There is a mix and match of mass media, PR, events and what have you. If rumours are to be believed, Narendra Modi too is being helped by “spin doctors” (whatever it means) who are advising him on his quest to be the next PM. Political party campaigns are big budget, big money and I know for certain, a lot of work has to be done to be the chosen agency. Some are above board, some not. I say this with conviction, as I have actually worked on one and led the pitch team unsuccessfully twice. I have talked about my experience in my memoirs, Life in a Rectangle. I also know of agencies having lost their money since the party they worked for lost the elections. This is big money, hence big risks. And not just money, working on a political party campaign brings you closer to the powers that are, and if you are on the winning side, it can change your life.

The issue that I wanted to deliberate on is can an ad agency change the fortunes of a political party?

To start with, as the old adage goes, no amount of good advertising can sell a bad product. Yes, it can create a positive perception but ultimately, it is the quality of the product that matters. We have numerous examples in Case Study books to support this view. The same goes for a political party. I saw this from close quarters in 1977, when I worked as the chokra boy in Clarion on the Congress campaign. The BJP campaign done by Prathap Suthan (India Shinning) and his colleagues in 2004 was a remarkable piece of advertising work but somewhere, lacked credibility. 

I am venturing to state that the 500 crore campaign by the Congress will make the agency richer and the party poorer.The fault will not be with the agencies. It will rest with the party.
First, the credibility. Right now, the Congress is a party for their workers, not the country. You can’t sit and preside over corruption for a good 10 years, shirk responsibility for the declining economy–price rise and hope that a brilliant campaign will help you come back to power. I don’t need to go in to the Rahul Gandhi factor, but if this campaign is to prop him up, God help the agency!

Second, the political parties, like a number of regular clients, have a tendency to influence the creative process. They are unprofessional and self-serving. It does not help create an effective campaign. Once, I had made a presentation to a panel of Congress bigwigs, including Pranab Mukherjee, the late Moopanar and such worthies and during the discussion they wanted to include this and include that, show his picture and his picture, and midway I just prayed that we were not selected.

Till today I have not been able to understand this “idea” of having party leaders featuring in ads. All Government ads, no matter run by which party, must feature the photograph of party leaders, ministers, and even, sadly, today the TV ads on the Sardar Patel ‘Unity’ statue also features Narendra Modi. As of this moment, he does not have to do that.
There is yet another element. And this is as far as mass media advertising goes. It is a back-handed pay off to the media, some kind of paid news.

The problem is political parties don’t think long term. As soon as they come to power, the brand building exercise is put on the back burner. What they indulge in is building the Party President and the Prime Minister, other ministers, occupying generous space in the ads and blowing tax-payers’ money. I can understand an inauguration ad, but in reality all ads by Government Departments, Ministries,are plagued by this mentality.
The TV ads on Bharat Nirman currently running on TV channels are a disaster. They are so unbelievable, so badly executed that they actually turn you away. This is the problem.
As a student of advertising, I am waiting with bated breath to see the effect of the 500 crore blitzkrieg. For once I hope I am proved wrong. | By Sujit Sanyal, Ad veteran

About the writer:

The guest article writer this week is ad veteran Sujit Sanyal. In his early days  in Calcutta he was with the theatre group which was the flavour of the day in the early seventies. But by late seventies he had stepped into the world of advertising and moved to Delhi. Calcutta has nurtured and shaped some of the finest minds in advertising, Sujit Sanyal is one of them. He has worked with Clarion Advertising and recently launched his book ‘Life In a Rectangle’ which takes us down memory lane and depicts the highs and lows of his days with the agency. His need to download memories is fulfilled by sitting in front of his laptop when words come naturally to him. A multifaceted person Sujit Sanyal is an adman, journalist, poet, artist, novelist and actor all rolled into one which has made him emerge an enriched human being.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect in any way of Adgully.


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