Winning Pitch

Written by Anushree Bhattacharyya | Updated: May 28 2014, 03:26am hrs
The secret of all effective advertising is not the creation of new and tricky words and pictures, but one of putting familiar words and pictures into new relationships, said the legendary advertising wizard Leo Burnett. Burnett could not have been more right. On May 16, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made a remarkable comeback, thanks to a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha election. The BJP alone won 282 seats; and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336. While the political partys prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi played a crucial role in swinging the votes in favour of the former, the secret recipe for the BJPs triumph is the media campaign created by three advertising veterans. Piyush Pandey and his team at Soho Square, Prasoon Joshi and his team at TAG and Sam Balsara along with his team at Madison World scripted a new relationship between the people of India and the BJP, which helped the party win the general election by a huge majority.

Interestingly, the BJP began readying its media strategy much earlier in January this year, when the party got in touch with Piyush Pandey, executive chairman, Ogilvy and Mather. The BJP was familiar with my work as I had worked them in the past on Gujarat Tourism. Piyush Goyal, member of Rajya Sabha and national treasurer of the BJP, persuaded me to take on the work. My only condition was that the party would have to work with Soho Square as Ogilvy does not work on political campaigns, said Pandey.

Similar was the case for Prasoon Joshi, chairman and chief creative officer, McCann Worldgroup India and president, South Asia, who had earlier worked with BJP veteran and one-time prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and was brought on board to create campaigns that touched upon the philosophy and ideology of the BJP. We acted as consultant as well as worked as a creative agency. While we played the role of consultant for tactical campaigns, philosophical campaigns were created by our agency TAG, said Joshi.

However, Madison Worlds story is a bit different. After being contacted by Prashant Kishore, a health specialist and a former United Nations mission chief in Africa, who has been working with Modi since December 2011, the agency met several party leaders including Piyush Goyal and Arun Jaitley in Ahmedabad, and participated in a pitch, which needless to say it won. We created the media plan in great detail for each constituency and that is how we won the business. Our reputation for transparency and integrity sealed the deal, said Sam Balsara, CMD, Madison World.

After the debacle of its India Shining campaign in 2004 and the Mazboot neta nirnayak sarkar campaign in 2009, the BJP did not want to make a blunder again, hence its brief to the three agency heads and its workforce was a straightforward one. The brief was to highlight the issues being faced by the public and talk about their hope and aspirations, says Pandey.

Madison Worlds Balsara agrees, saying that one of the reasons behind the success is that the party was able to read the mood of the nation. The BJP campaign offered what people were looking for, and that was change in terms of growth and prosperity and no subsidies and tolls, he added.

In fact, the BJP divided its campaign into two kinds of messaginga tactical one that focused on the issues being faced by the people and provided solutions to their problems; and conceptual which was about the partys philosophy. As part of his mandate for the latter, Joshi created an anthem called Saugandh, which featured Modi, who also lent his voice to the video. One first needs to understand the brand, its beliefs and the belief of its founders. I was fortunate to spend time with former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee back in 2004. Atalji was very fond of my writing and had also used my poem Irada naye Bharat ka in his speech.

It was this understanding of brand BJP that help me in writing the lyrics, said Joshi.

Joshi adds that the main idea was to highlight the kind of change the party planned to introduce and reinforce its sense of nationalism and patriotism. For example, one of the lines in the anthem featuring Modi went like this: Desh nahi jukhne dunga (I wont let my country kneel down), which showcased his determination to preserve the culture, heritage and prestige of his country.

For the tactical part of the campaign, Pandey and his team delivered many popular catch-lines, most of these being penned by him. Campaigns such as Janta maaf nahi karegi (the people will not forgive you)a series of ad films that talked about issues such as inflation and safety of women and pointed out the failure of the incumbent government, animation-based films that promoted the tagline Ab ki baar, Modi sarkar (This time round, its Modi government), and musical ad films titled Ache din aane wale hai (Good days are coming), were created to talk about the incumbent governments inability to understand the peoples changing needs, hopes and aspirations. I have used the language spoken by people on a daily basis to communicate with them. Whether it was Ab ki baar or Ache din aane wale hain, such sentences are part of our daily life. The idea was to create nothing too clever, and something that will remain in the minds of people very easily. Personally, I have always believed in drawing inspiration from everyday life and putting it into a context in the form of an ad, said Pandey.

McCann Worldgroups Joshi, however, says that he preferred the tagline, Desh ki pukaar, Modi sarkaar. I felt this slogan would have helped in creating an instant connect with people. But the BJP team preferred Ab ki baar, perhaps because they had remembered that in the past the Ab ki baari, Atal Bihaari slogan had worked well, he added.

The reason behind the success of the BJPs campaign is that it was based on voter insight. The BJP followed the bottom-up strategy and its campaign highlighted key issues faced by people at the ground level. People are fed up with rising inflation and lack of jobs and they do not care about corruption, and it was this angst that was emphasised by the campaign. The fact that the BJPs campaign focused on the aspirations of the people actually helped in creating a bond, said Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults, a brand consultancy.

Bijoor points out that while the BJP spoke to the common man in his own language, the Congress party opted for a top-down strategy. The Congress party which used the term aam aadmi during the 2004 and 2009 general election and also won the elections, saw it being hijacked by Arvind Kejriwal who floated a party of the same name. Its slogan Har haath shakti, har haath tarakki (Every hand strong, every hand progresses) lacked the appeal of the 2009 campaign which said, Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ke saath (Congress joins hands with the common man), he said.

According to Pandey, another reason why the BJP campaign resonated with the people is the fact that the party had a clear vision and understanding of the brand.

From leaders in the party to the cadres, everyone understood the brand BJP and what it stands for. While we had to produce answers to daily briefs, they were crystal clear on what they were looking for, which made our job easier, said Pandey.

Analysts however say that the media hype also played a big role in building up the popularity of the campaign. According to CMS Media Lab, an independent research organisation, Modi got over 33% of prime time coverage compared to the AAPs Arvind Kejriwal who got 10.31%, and Rahul Gandhi who managed only 4.33%. Voters believe anyone who occupies more media occupies more space in the mind, explained Bjioor.

Joshi however refutes the claim and says, The usage of the words such as hype and gimmick undermine the intelligence of the people of this country and their decision to vote in favour of Modi. People have voted for a stable future.

If on one hand Pandey and Joshis teams were busy coming out with creative products round-the-clock, on the other hand Madison World had created a media plan on the basis of constituencies.

All the constituencies were segregated into three groups based on which a 10-pillar media strategy was created. The first hub consisted of those constituencies where the BJP could win with a bit of push and support. The second hub consisted of those constituencies where the BJP was very strong and the last one consisted of those constituencies where the BJPs chances were very poor. The substantial use of television, print, radio, outdoor and digital worked in tandem to create the Modi wave, added Balsara.

Moreover, for media dark areas in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar the agency relied on outdoor and below-the-line activations such as 3D-rallies and Chai pe charcha (discussion over tea). In case of the former, the party used 3D holographic projection technology at 100 places across the country to relay public addresses by Modi. In contrast, Chai pe charchawas a public connect programme initiated by the BJP to connect Modi electronically with his supporters at tea stalls. For example, as part of the programme the party conducted a Chai pe charcha at the Iskcon Gandhi tea stall in Ahmedabad. The event was broadcast live at 1,000 tea stalls in 300 cities.

Balsara however says that in these markets the dirty tricks of the government in power was in full play which did not allow the agency to carry out its out-of-home campaign plan completely.

Compared to a marketing campaign of a commercial brand that has only one voice and speaks through its campaigns and targets a select audience, a political campaign is a different ball game. A political party has many voices and speaks through its party workers, representatives, etc., and talks to a large group of people. Hence, Pandey and Joshi along with their teams worked to ensure that the message of BJPs campaign reached everyone. The scale of a political campaign is unprecedented. Everyone, from people living in Kerala to people in Assam, is part of the target audience. The campaign therefore was tweaked and created in various languages. For example, the anthem was dubbed in many languages such as Punjabi. In fact, in order to retain the regional flavour, the footage for the video of the anthem was sourced from the specific states, explained Joshi. According to a senior executive of an agency who did not want to be identified the fact that the BJP was able to create a media plan based on its target consumer in each region actually helped in hitting the bulls eye.

According to Balsara, there are lessons to be learnt from the success of the BJPs political campaign. First, it was a great product and advertising added incremental value to the product. Secondly, it proved that strategy, planning and ideas are more important than big budgets and lastly, multimedia works better than the use of single media, he says. Balsara adds that like the BJP, brand owners and marketers should play a supportive role and not an interfering role. Marketers should take ample time to choose the advertising professionals they would like to work with and finally leave them alone.