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Key takeaways for brands from political marketing during Election season

Political parties often look at understanding the perception of the voters and accordingly build a strong communication strategy before starting to campaign. This has led to a trend sweeping the nation referred to as ‘Political Marketing’, writes Prateek Kumar, CEO & Managing Director, NeoNiche 

The rise of Political Marketing in India

One of the core aspects of political marketing is the idol-centricity of leaders. If an individual has a significant brand name in themselves, political parties have started to promote them more so than the party they support. A prominent example is Donald Trump winning the 2016 US Presidential elections where the Republicans focused on positioning Trump as a capable leader who can hold the reigns of the government instead of focusing on the nature and key ideologies of the Republic party.

When it comes to marketing during election season, geography can make the difference between winning and losing. The mindset, concerns and opportunities require different messaging and mediums for a dense urban population vis-à-vis a mass rural campaign. Targeted campaigns can certainly help connect with different strata across the vast sub-continent.

In 2014, after the votes were counted, it came to light that 8 states, namely Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh accounted for more than 75% of the BJP’s tally in Parliament.

All too often, professional marketing agencies are enlisted to build a campaign after understanding the core target demographic. Using creative and attractive visuals with strong campaign slogans and messaging can convey trustworthiness, ability and other traits of a dynamic leader.

Read more: NeoNiche Appoints Vivek Pandey as Vice President: Business Development

Technology – the key to increase reach and awareness

Technology has also been advancing at a rapid pace in India with smart phone and internet penetration exponentially increasing, especially in the rural regions. Designated websites can act as a digital portfolio and amplify interactions with the media, public and other officials. Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses his own website (www.narendramodi.in) to showcase his key activities, foreign relations and vision and mission for India going forward. For the rural market, SMS campaigns might be one of the most cost-effective solutions to reach a widespread population.

Since we are talking about technology, social media, one of the biggest developments in the past two decades has been growing exponentially within the country. Statista measured the number of Facebook users across countries and according to the data, at approximately 300 million users, India claims the highest number of users during January 2019. Social media also gives political parties a platform to reaching out to voters, answer their questions and explain how they plan to help India develop.

The flipside of technology can be seen through the 2014 elections itself. Whatsapp, one of the biggest messaging apps in India, was at the epicentre of substantial controversy when the service was reportedly being used to propagate fake news and slander about political leaders. Fake news even featured in the 2016 US Presidential Elections, where Donald Trump attributed a number of defamatory claims to websites which imitated news platforms and due to the nature of the internet went largely unverified.  

Marketing gimmicks to bolster votes

While the 2014 election campaigns focused on rallies and roadshows for the rural market, television for the average Indian and internet ads on YouTube and social media for the youth, the BJP led government focused on customising their campaigns and reaching out to locals at a grass-root level.

One example of innovative campaigns executed was based on crowdsourcing, where the party reached out to Indians and asked the voters themselves to understand their views and challenges and collaboratively work towards a solution. As mentioned earlier, there is also a designated website which allowed people to keep up and interact with the Prime Minister even today.

Another key feature was the localised naming and branding of rallies which helped connect with local voters. For example, his rallies in UP were branded as Vijay Shankhnad Rallies, whereas the rallies in Bihar were called Hunkar Rallies. In Karnataka, there were Bharatha Gellisi rallies while in Maharashtra it was called Maha Garjana. While these campaigns were largely successful, the action plan for this year’s elections is likely to change.

Global Think Tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reported that from past election results, Indians have strong anti-incumbency sentiments which makes securing back-to-back terms difficult for the ruling party.

Understanding the difficulty involved in retaining the voter base, the BJP looked to expand their presence in North-East India (wherein historically the Congress and other smaller parties held power). After a series of state-level victories, they targetted the lucrative 25 seats available in Parliament for the region.

A distinct advantage for political parties already in power is the ability to form legislation and choose the direction of spending at the annual Union Budget. During the announcement of Union Budget 2019-20, the Modi government introduced several populist spending measures including several tax cuts which would benefit farmers and the urban middle class. Another fairly common measure is to ramp up government spend on infrastructure to showcase progress on the development front.

During the 2014 elections, for prominent states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, political parties used databases to work on reaching out to the people at a grass-root level. For the 2019 elections, these databases will likely be the centre of more political campaigns using focused communication and region-specific promotions.

According to the Economic Times, in the week leading up to the first phase of the elections, the BJP had already spent Rs 1.21 crore to promote itself on platforms like Google and YouTube as compared to their main opposition, the Indian National Congress who had spent only Rs 55,000 during the same period. Social media profiling and data analytics will be able to provide actionable insights on which regions and areas to target (using physical and digital promotions) to maximize ROI during campaigning efforts.

In the build-up to the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been in the limelight campaigning for his second term in office this year. The Modi-led BJP party recently launched his ‘Mein Bhi Chowkidar’ campaign to signify that the nation will stand strong against corruption and social evils while banding together for the progress of India. This campaign was the follow-up to the hugely successful ‘Ab ki baar Modi sarkar’ campaign, which helped him win the elections.

On the other side, Rahul Gandhi, a prominent member of the Congress, had stated that he would reserve a third of government jobs for women. Targeting progressive change in an era of digitisation could help garner the support of women and urban youth to make systemic changes in the functioning of the government.

Amidst the slew of election campaigns, a significant amount of controversy arose when both a biopic and web-series based on Modi were scheduled to be released in the run-up to the elections. The Press Trust of India mentioned that releasing content focusing on the current Prime Minister so close to the election would sway voters’ opinions which seems plausible especially considering the nation’s affection for filmography.

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