#ExpertSpeak: Was Digital really the hero of General Elections 2019? 

General Elections 2019 social media marketing strategy

Experts discuss the role of General Elections 2019 social media marketing strategy and digital play, understanding the true power of the medium as a marketing vehicle.

Call it the Great Indian Elections or the longest election or the most important one – all the superlatives lead to an expensive affair with a magnetic momentum proffering engagement opportunities in the Ad World. Political parties thrived on it, brands latched on, and consumers, well they enjoyed all the attention.

The spends game – Is digital really winning?

What was probably made into a practice by Obama, became an oxygen tank during General Elections (globally and Indian) – digital media! All the memes, the trolling, the trending, and the campaigns and yet experts opine that digital media was grossly underused.

“While there was speculation that there would be increased spending on digital media and the battle will be fought digitally this year, the real sense is that almost all parties have underspent in digital,” opines Gopa Kumar, COO, Isobar India.

In terms of hard numbers, media reports suggest 139,000 poll ads were done on Facebook and Google. BJP obviously topped the charts with INR 17.11 Crores spent on Google alone. 62.5 per cent of the overall ad spends were raked from elections.

Similarly, on Facebook, BJP was the largest spender and it clearly reflected in their social media presence and dominance. Between April 16 to April 30, BJP held 71.5 per cent of the total share of voice on Facebook also leading in the trending hashtags chart with #PhirEkBaarModiSarkar and #NaMoAgain.

“Approximately 500 crore is said to have been spent this time on digital media, which is 70% more than the 2014 elections,” shares Akshay Gurnani, Co-Founder & CEO, Schbang.

The importance of phases in the General Elections reflected in the Ad Spends as well. According to a report by News18, political parties amped up spends before the third phase of elections. Reported, INR 7 crore was spent on running political ads on Facebook and Instagram in the first 20 days of April.

Bindu Balakrishnan, Country Head, DCMN India opines that there were more than 84 million new voters and 300 million voters of Facebook, so the tilt of spends had to be heavy on social because this set of audience spend a lot of time on social media. The increase in spends towards trolls and memes however is to be noted.

“One thing needs to be taken into account here is the amount of money spent on troll armies, WhatsApp groups and Social Media pages promoting different ideologies, leaders and parties. There were thousands of such groups collating information, creating memes across languages and circulating them across the country,” Balakrishnan expresses.

However, the spent on these activities cannot be calculated but they are way above than the accounted spends on the medium.

A definite part of the digital plan was also the well-articulated content strategy containing the movies and web series around political leaders. While they couldn’t release before the election results were announced, their released being postpone was newsy and engaging enough (of course going by the adage any publicity is good publicity).

Aanchal Arora, Founder 1702 Digital tells Social Samosa, “The crafty strategies employed by political parties in this general elections included investing in movie marketing followed by heavy spends on different digital platforms. Political parties spent a whopping Rs. 53 cr between February and May in promoting themselves in the digital sphere with BJP owning more than half of the share of that pie.”

Arora further shares that with spends more than INR 17 cr on Google and INR 8.23 cr on Facebook, BJP successfully used the different platforms and the fan pages set up to reach out to the Indian audience. In contrast, Congress did not go heavy on digital spends and focussed more on the tried and tested methods of fanning the ire of the common people against the ruling Government. At a time when no publicity is good publicity, the effect of this decision was disastrous.

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The Brand Angle

Given the sheer size of the momentum created by General Elections 2019, giving it a hard pass was definitely difficult for brands. Thus, the election season witnessed many neutral and responsible campaigns. The likes of Comedy Central and McDonald’s took to social media. The general messaging was around the responsibility of casting a vote and making the right decision.

“Most of the brands tend to keep away from elections as they would not want to get into any incessant controversy or tick someone in wrong way. The environment of brand and political point of view is still evolving in India and is in a very nascent stage,” Kumar comments. “Brands who do have some communication tend to be neutral and they tend to stick to asking people to come out and vote. I did not find any striking campaigns.”

Echoing a similar view, Sabyasachi Mitter, Founder & Managing Director, Fulcro shares that brands tend to avoid controversies. And to a great extent brands need to avoid controversies, for the Ban XYZ brand and its ambassadors and anyone who was ever associated with it circus can be tedious and not something brands can afford.

“Most youth brands have taken advantage of this heightened interest on social media as well as news websites and apps. However, given recent controversies when brands got into trouble during Holi with their digital content, the number of brands who released election-related content has been unexpectedly low,” Mitter tells Social Samosa.

One of the most important General Elections for India has concluded and with it concluded a great marketing phase. As experts stay divided on the role of social media and digital on the results of elections, it brings us to a few questions – how do we define “low spends” when it comes to digital? Comparing it to Television & Prints numbers certainly wouldn’t be fair due to the medium’s mass appeal. Second, do spends impact the results? Had there been better results if the spends were North of where they’re now? Also, on the brand side – are brands shying away from digital due to the fear of controversies or menace for trolls?

Like any other campaign, it is difficult to calculate hard RoI on the election spends, but social media can definitely be termed the supporting actor for the party that ruled the socialverse also won the elections.

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