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Ad agencies eye poll campaigns

Suvi Dogra & Saubhadra Chatterji in New Delhi | September 29, 2008 15:22 IST

The unmistakable excitement of general elections can be felt in the offices of political parties. Once the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal is in its bag, the United Progressive Alliance is expected to push for elections by early-2009, by when inflation is expected to cool to single-digit levels.

The buzz is palpable in the offices of the country's top advertising agencies as well. With the economy all set to enter a recession, they hope to make good money from political parties which are soon expected to mount large and expensive campaigns.

Already, two agencies, JWT and Crayons, are in the final lap for the Congress account. Both the agencies made presentations to the party's poll managers and spin doctors last week. The account is pegged at around Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.50 billion). Crayons, incidentally, did the Bharatiya Janata Party campaign in 2004.

Not to be left behind, the BJP too has got its act together. It has called agencies like Lintas and Graphic Ads for a pitch. Ad agencies expect this account to be anywhere between Rs 120 crore (Rs 1.20 billion) and Rs 150 crore.

"Overall, it is a large opportunity for the communication world with political parties setting aside huge ad budgets. It will also be about adopting various new media," says Sandeep Vij, president, Mudra Communications.

The involvement of a professional ad agency for a political campaign in India dates back to the 1980s when Rajiv Gandhi used one. But it was only in the last ten years or so that political parties seem to have understood the value of planning and adopting marketing techniques as they go into elections.

Not just the national round, even state elections have become a sizeable business for ad agencies. Agencies not only help them design campaigns across print, television and radio but also help in cost-effective media buying.

Also, campaigns now need to be launched across platforms. Last general elections were the first time that political parties opened up to the new media. The BJP, for example, used the internet extensively under the guidance of the late Pramod Mahajan.

The message of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then prime minister, was played on the mobile phones of countless people. This needs expertise which party campaign managers do not have. Ad agencies have thus become the key to any modern-day poll campaign.

So what should the ad guys look forward to this time? According to All India Congress Committee General Secretary and Campaign Committee Member Digvijay Singh, the campaign will highlight the achievements of the UPA government.

"The UPA government has made some landmark legislations like the Right to Information Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act." Says he, adding: "We will also highlight how the states have been benefited by the Centre. And of course, there will be a major emphasis on the nuclear deal. The campaign will focus on how the nuclear energy will benefit the common man."

The common man theme, to be sure, had worked well for the Congress and its allies in the last elections against the BJP-led government's "India Shining" campaign.

Wiser from the last round, BJP on its part is absolutely clear on what it sees as major issues which concern the voters. "We are going to highlight the three 'I's, that is inflation, internal security and incompetence of the government," says BJP Campaign Committee Chief Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, adding, "It will be much more than just posters and banners. SMS, MMS and the internet will all be used." The party also seems impressed with the Obama and McCain website campaigns.

Most ad agencies feel that in order to communicate the political agenda of a party, it is important to move at various fronts together. Blogs, web communities and social networking sites seem to fit the bill. "Word of mouth will reign supreme and this is where the opportunity is. Agencies will try and move beyond classic marketing," says Prasanth Mohanachandran, executive director (digital services), OgilvyOne & Neo@Ogilvy.

"Consider 37 million internet users at any given time; it is a sizable audience one can reach out to. By using simple display advertising, one can capture at least 30 per cent of the base which again is a good number," he adds.

Though mid-size and smaller agencies seem bullish on the opportunity, some bigger agencies seem skeptical. "We still don't know how much revenue it will actually translate into and there have been problems around payments in the past," says an industry expert.

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