The agencies that ran BJP’s campaign in the two states replicated the strategy used for the general elections
Advertising agencies Soho Square, Ogilvy and Mather, and media buying agency Madison World—the media team that helped Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sweep to power in the Lok Sabha elections with the biggest election victory in 30 years— have delivered once again with the party set to form governments in Haryana and Maharashtra, where assembly elections were held earlier this month.
The BJP’s focus during the elections was on governance, growth and corruption during the 15-year rule by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition in Maharashtra. With an advertising budget of Rs.25 crore and brand Modi still going strong, the odds were in the BJP’s favour.
The party replicated the strategy it used in the general elections earlier this year, keeping Modi at the centre of its campaign. “The election campaign of the BJP in Maharashtra and Haryana was identical to its election campaign for the Lok Sabha. The popularity of Narendra Modi has helped the party win the states,” said Vinit Goenka, the Mumbai-based co-convener of BJP’s national IT cell.
The creative backbone of the party’s campaign was Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director for South Asia at Ogilvy and Mather. “(This was) Yet another statement of a clear and focused strategy by the BJP which we were asked to translate into people’s language in a creative fashion,” he said. “We recommended that we must lead with our biggest strength: Mr Modi.”
Both Soho Square (owned by Ogilvy) and Ogilvy and Mather worked on the campaigns for Haryana and Maharashtra.
From Ab ki baar Modi Sarkaar (this time around, a Modi government), one of the main slogans this time was Chalo chale Modi ke saath (Let’s go with Modi).
The campaigns were good, but they also worked because of the product, said another executive involved in the effort. “At a macro level, the results have once again showed that the media can move mountains, but with one caveat: you need an average-to-good product,” said Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director of Madison World, a media-buyer. “The increase in vote share that the BJP has achieved on the one hand and the decrease in vote share of the Congress show that all advertising done by the Congress did not help it, and the advertising done by other parties at best only helped a little bit in denting the sweep for BJP in Maharashtra.”
The BJP made the state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana into a virtual referendum on Modi, who addressed 37 rallies in both states: 27 in Maharashtra; 10 in Haryana. It was a strategy that made a virtue out of a necessity; the party didn’t have a face in either state.
The party had arranged for 20,000 digital vans to show Modi’s speeches in rural areas of the two states.
“The idea was to reach the areas which do not have much access to newspaper and television so that people know about the message of Prime Minister Narendra Modi through these speeches,” said a senior BJP leader, who declined to be named.
In Maharashtra, the BJP ran one of its most aggressive campaign called Kuthe Neun Thevla Maharashtra Majha? which can be loosely translated as “Where have you brought Maharashtra to?”, a reference to the raft of corruption scandals that characterised the rule of the Congress-NCP alliance. The advertising campaign was run across television and radio. It tried to portray the anger of a common man frustrated by the 15-year misrule of the Congress and the NCP, and who is facing hardships due to corruption, bad roads, power cuts, and water shortage.
In print, the party ran a campaign Shivachattrapati Ka Ashirwad, Chalo Chale Modi ke Sath (with the blessings of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj, let’s go along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi).
Across parties, this was a marketing- and advertising-intensive campaign, Balsara said. “In Maharashtra, there was unprecedented advertising pressure because all parties, BJP, Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena used advertising intensively.”
The Congress relied on the clean image of former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan for its campaign; the Gandhis (Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi) found just a passing mention.
Meanwhile, the BJP listed details of the misrule of the Congress and disseminated it to voters through social media.
“We rounded off the campaign on the last day with an ad on the last page of The Times of India highlighting the admission of corruption by the Congress chief minister himself,” said Balsara—his reference is to an interview given by Chavan to The Telegraph where he claimed that he couldn’t act against his corrupt predecessors and partners due to political compulsions.
The BJP spent Rs.25 crore on the advertisement campaigns in Haryana and Maharashtra including Rs.50 lakh for the telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square garden speech which was aired on seven Marathi television channels.
A member of the Congress party who declined to be named said, “We did a better job than the Lok Sabha elections this time.”
It doesn’t seem to matter: the party has lost both states.