The BJP ad strategy was smart, savvy, shrewd and superior.
Never in the annals of political advertising in India has such heat and dust been generated as in Election 2014( All three players, especially traditional rivals Congress and the BJP, pulled out all the stops to turn on the heat, blitzing all conceivable traditional and new-age channels, including social media, to offer a 360 degrees whammo, like there was no tomorrow.
Yup. The NaMo-RaGa slowdowns were show-stoppers all the way, but as the results rolled in, the Congress blamed its advertising agency Dentsu for its poll debacle. No doubt, the inside track of the blame-game will undoubtedly take on a life of its own — losers are always bad news — and clearly the strategy to position Rahul Gandhi as a young and dynamic leader out to empower the common man, didn’t work.
The BJP recruited two of the biggest and finest ad practitioners in the business, Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, and Prasoon Joshi, chairman and chief, South Asia, at Ogilvy and Mather. They both come with a dazzling track record and a proven connect through their insightful understanding of the mitti of the land.
Joshi explains that the BJP communication demanded two kinds of messaging: Tactical, embracing the here and now. Conceptual, playing out the party’s philosophy. For the latter, the multi-faceted ad-man (who is also a celebrated Bollywood lyricist and a fine, published poet in his own right) created an anthem called Saugandh, to which the prime minister designate gave his voice. Joshi’s deep understanding of the party’s brand values helped him pen the lines, which formed an intrinsic part of the overall communication, used in digital and TV film, as well as audio-track to enthuse, motivate and inspire party workers.
Regarding the now famous tag line Ab ki baar, Joshi confides that his preference was Desh ki pukaar, Modi sarkar to emphasize the disappointment, disillusionment, frustration and the feeling of being let down by the general public, but Team BJP over-ruled it, going with Ab Ki baar, Modi sarkar, because Ab ki baari, Atal Bihari had worked brilliantly in the past. Joshi had no hesitation in admitting that they struck target because their version was direct and simpler.
Both Joshi and Pandey were clear from day one to not confuse political campaign with regular brand-building campaign. Joshi lays it on the line when he explains that a product has no personal voice. Political parties, however, are live, throbbing, vital entities, consumed by their constituencies, all the time. They communicate to their target audience across a wide variety of forums, with rallies, interviews, speeches, press conferences, debates, etc. on an overdrive. Most of these today are telecast and on the net, so they work like ads. Secondly, unlike a product, where you interact only with the product’s marketing and brand managers, here, tons of party workers are on your radar and their suggestions — many brilliant — need to be considered and sometimes executed, because they are the foot soldiers, umbilically connected with the flotsam and jetsam of the public mood. Egos and arrogance — major issues in adland, especially with creative mavericks — also need to be under a tight leash, because this is a different ball game and the insights of non-expert party functionaries are likely to carry more weight than conventional advertising wisdom. It also needs to be understood therefore that this brand of communication is a collaborative venture, where chest-thumping by a single genius plays no role.
Pandey says there is a popular misconception that political parties are usually clueless about the art and science of advertising, the perception and positioning aspects, which direction the communication will pursue, why and when to garner what kind of specific result. He was startled by the detailed homework the BJP team had done in terms of research, locating and understanding their target group’s mindset, what to say, whom to say, including tone-of-voice. The brief — the best he has come across in his entire career — was simple: Prepare a message around the sad state of affairs the country faced during the UPA regime and communicate it simply, but engagingly, across the country.
It was all brilliantly structured, strategically sound and totally clear. The BJP core team leveraged the creative talent available from the right creative teams, comprising writers and musicians, picked their partners judiciously and divided and compartmentalized responsibilities in amazing fashion.
Regarding social media, Pandey explains that despite the ridicule and mockery from some sections of the Congress Party regarding being a conservative, old-fashioned lot, ignorant of new-age digital communication, fact is, Team BJP was there well before the basic brief was culled and ad agencies selected. Why? To understand the critical issues and problems plaguing the common man before addressing them with passion and purpose in their quest for vote support. Ultimately however, both Joshi and Pandey agree that the product advertised needed to be solid and credible with a brand promise that rung true and a credible solution. A bad product is killed faster with good advertising, because it generates excitement and curiosity that belies the performance slot — an unforgivable marketing sin.
Compared to the brilliant strategic and tactical ad campaign of BJP, the Congress campaign was listless, tepid, boring, uninspiring and lacking credibility. Sans style, substance, form, content, the Rahul Gandhi-specific campaign (Har haath shakti, har haath tarakki) was a giant leap in the wrong direction. Unlike the BJP narrative, it had no new, urgent story to tell, churning out a tired combination of old slogans about empowering the have-nots and new fantasies about the young. No wonder people fell, in large numbers, at seductive slogans like Achche din aanewala hain and Ab ki baar …
When you goof up on the four basic principles of effective advertising — Attention, Interest, Desire, Action — then your achche din turns into a nightmare. Perhaps, agli baar?