September 18, 2009

Beware of No.1 Advertising

The Haryana number one campaign by the state government may hurt its prospects of winning the next election scheduled for October 13. Though the incumbent Congress government led by Mr. Bhupinder Singh Hooda may have done good work in the state and also the disarray in the opposition ranks certainly would work in favor of party victory but lack of professional handling of political advertising may jeopardize its chances of an election victory. The late august advertising campaign by the public relations department of Hooda government goes against the time tested principles of advertising. Marketing thrives on innovation and freshness of the campaign theme. The present campaign lacked both. It was no different than ‘India shining’ campaign of NDA government.

There are approximately 1.20 Crore eligible voters in the state for ninety assembly constituencies. The august advertising campaign tried to target all of them in the crude mass marketing manner by employing all the traditional media of print, television and the radio waves. The marketing agency responsible for planning and execution of the campaign followed one-size-fits-all approach by bombarding all the sub segments of the electorate with the same message and frequency.

There have been many studies that suggest that the incumbent party should spend less than the challenger party for success in elections. A vast majority of such studies have been carried in America that has two party systems. Similar researches in the European democracies that have multi party systems like India also point to the same outcome. The winner’s curse or what’s otherwise known as anti incumbency also puts the burden of proof of delivering good governance and economic progress for a majority squarely at the incumbent party’s doorstep. Anti incumbency in Indian context operates majorly at the level of party in government than for an individual politician. Study of various factors that influence the probability winning in India reveals that for an election victory the candidate’s own appeal has less role to play in comparison to the party appeal. Similarly the anti incumbency also works more severely at the party level than at the candidate level.

Does the Hooda government think that all sub segments of Haryana population have benefitted equally in the 
last five years of their government? If the answer is how it could be so, then why not take a carefully calibrated approach to segmentation and message appeal and frequency. Large number of eligible voters may have benefitted from the current government but surely a vast majority would still have been left out. And those who are left out may react negatively to the claims of prosperity in the neighborhood and express their disapproval by voting against the incumbent government. Such voters tend to react less sharply if they hear less stories of development and may vote for future promise of good governance. Moreover opening critical message appeal card well ahead of the elections gives the challenger to prepare better in their rebuttal of the government claims. Therefore Congress party in Haryana would do well by focusing less on their past and talk about future plans.

It happened to NDA government too in 2004. The NDA government lost despite good performance and the ‘India Shining’ campaign. Mr. Vajpayee led government had a reasonably good track record of performance but they went overboard in their advertising proclamations of their achievements without regard to the fact that it is not really possible for a government at the centre or states to bring some benefits of progress to a majority of the voter citizens in a five year term. And when the governments go on claiming their high achievements, they actually end up adding insult to the injury, because for the larger segment of the voters the life is not comfortable.

India still remains a developing country with vast majority of poor population having access to mass media that regularly reminds them of their real condition in comparison to the others within the country and globally. The success of saas-bahu serials has queered the pitch for such brash self projection political advertising. The citizen voters’ exposure to saas-bahu serials reminds them of their own poverty and living conditions. Such programming due to its own compulsions has to be about the economically well off strata of our society, so that the viewers could aspire for that living style. It is not the behavior or the moral values of these saas-bahus characters that keeps these serial rolling endlessly for years but their projected life style that attracts the viewers who aspire to live like them. A rich household, expansive saaris and lots of gold jewellery are enough for most of our Indian women to die for.

India has distinction of consuming almost of twenty five percent of the global production of gold every year. But how many Indian households have gold in their possession? So please remember that when you are claiming big in your mass advertising it could lead to severe negative reaction amongst the targeted audience. Had the NDA government used the ‘India Shining’ campaign with a lower frequency and after a careful segmentation of the voters the results would have been much better. The Haryana government could learn from history and also from the Congress party campaign of 2009.

It has become a routine for the union and the state governments in India to release advertisement campaign in the media to showcase the achievements of the party in power. Such campaigns are funded by the public relations department or some other such constituent of the government that has been allocated funds for promotion. Most often the incumbent party goes overboard in its claims of achievements to positively influence the eligible voter citizens. They are being no different than an average commercial advertiser that promises a lot more than they could deliver. But how many products get a successful reception in the market is anybody’s guess. How could an election promise have a different outcome under the same conditions?
Though political and social organizations have taken to advertising for marketing themselves and to promote their programs. But most such organizations have not learnt the technique and skills to use such a potent marketing tool. Therefore even when the party or the individual invests a significant part of their budget on promotions still they have no clue to estimate its effect. Several measurement techniques are available in the business management literature to estimate the impact of advertising campaign effects in the market. The political parties and individuals hardly take the trouble to go for such a study post elections.

An advertising campaign needs to be designed on the basis of carefully laid out qualitative and quantitative criteria for achievement of the planned objectives. Therefore a seasoned professional would be required to manage the promotions. Unfortunately a politician would rather believe the judgments of the party based media managers or professional journalists who certainly may not have any specialist expertise of how the advertising works. Political organizations would do well by outsourcing their marketing completely to an independent agency. That would ensure an optimally calibrated approach to quality and quantity parameters in the communications. It would also lead to a greater efficiency in advertising and fixation of responsibility.

Gurinder S Ahluwalia is a marketing consultant and Director GNAIMT, Phagwara, Punjab. guriahluwalia@gmail.com

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