Cutting the Digital Marketing Cake during the Indian Elections in 272 Ways

Authored by Mihir Joshi, Co-founder of 1702 Digital.

Back in 2015, the top executives of national and regional political parties in India were busy brainstorming with ad gurus across the country to set up digital war rooms. In awe of how the BJP had conquered India in 2014 using digital mediums and how the Lokpal movement was fuelled by the digital natives, political parties were hungry to establish digital infrastructures that would help them in 2019 national elections.  The launch of Reliance Jio that swept the country in a 4G Tsunami further added to the parties’ dreams of reaching out to the masses through new technological means.

Infrastructure was built. Media budgets were in place. Social presence was optimized. Life couldn’t have been more beautiful for the marketing teams of the political parties. They would mumble in hushed voices that managing campaigns for a political party was simpler than running campaigns for corporate - at least engagement rate wasn’t an issue for the parties with the ubiquitous armchair politics enthusiasts blowing up every piece of content produced.

However, if there is one thing that Indian Politics and BMC have taught us, its this: Every smooth road will have a bump.

Millions of miles away, in a country called USA,  a butterfly had flapped its wings in 2017. This butterfly would bring a Typhoon of Digital Innovations to Indian Political Landscape. This butterfly was called Cambridge Analytica.

It was found that Cambridge Analytica used Facebook and Google in dubious ways to influence the 2016 US Presidential Elections and had used Russian Funds for the same.

After multiple Congressional Committee hearings, Facebook and Google were left with no choice but to curtail the influence of their platforms in politics. With India being the next big elections, all focus on Facebook and Google India to see how they would curb such dubious measures.

Overnight, the marketing infrastructure that political parties had set up meticulously was rendered meaningless.

Digital Media budgets had nowhere to go. Not having an alternative way to reach to people digitally would mean losing out on young voters across the country who are digital first natives. Reliance Jio, which seemed like a boon in 2016, seemed like the enemy in 2017 for converting the young, tier 2 television natives to digital natives.

The message was clear for these political parties “Innovate or Die”

And innovate they did.

After being shut out by Facebook and Google, these parties resolved to alternatives that not only changed the landscape of political discourse but also the way “organic” digital is perceived by the industry. These are the things that the political parties did differently

  • Whatsapp Groups: With more than 20 crore Monthly Active Users across all age groups, Whatsapp was a ripe platform for all political parties. Using grassroot resources, Indian Political Parties made over 87,000 whatsapp groups, with a total daily reach of 13 million. Daily messages about the party leadership, speeches from the senior leaders, etc were shared across the groups. The groups further birthed content that would be shared across the “Family Whatsapp Groups”.
  • Sharechat: If US Made Google and Facebook were out of bounds, China made ByteDance came to the rescue of our politicians. Sharechat, an app created by them, which specializes in regional language content, had no restrictions on political ads as they were not under threat by the Congressional Committee. Sharechat claims that it has an MAU of 40 million. With such a fantastic reach, Sharechat became a go to platform for all leaders during the state and national elections
  • Troll Army: Using advanced tools like IFTTT, political parties created a troll army to counter the reach of their opposition. These trolls would also go on to become the first line of counter attack - the core strategy adopted by all political parties in this election. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook would become cesspools for these trolls. While the organic reach of individual posts on both FB and Twitter has been minimized over the period of years, these trolls ensured that each post by their supreme leaders was shared multiple times, ensuring virality.
  • Social Listening: The troll armies would be meaningless without a good sword in their hand. In this case, the sword was Social Listening. Every time a tweet/post/video/article about their political party was shared, trolls shared further content on the same using Social Listening tools. 1702 Digital has done political listening and has made significant inroads into personal branding and political account analytics. After PM Modi referenced Rajiv Gandhi in his speeches, Google showed a spike in his mentions. Similarly, Congress’s mention of the word nyay, spiked its mentions in the month of March.

About the Author

Meet Mihir Joshi, Co-founder of 1702 Digital- one of the fastest growing digital marketing agencies in India. According to Mihir, sky is the limit for 1702 Digital. Within barely 15 months of starting up, 1702 already boasts of revenues and client list which digital marketing agencies achieve after half a decade of starting up. 

His take on the Indian mindset towards digital is “Today, Digital Marketing in India is seen as a more nice to have tool instead of an integral part of your business strategy. This is exactly opposite to the way the West treats digital marketing.”


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