How can brands advertise during elections 2024?

Advertising during elections could be tricky as political tension mounts. Experts weigh in on the complexities of election marketing, advising brands to tread cautiously.

Sneha Medda
New Update

During elections, there are a few common concerns in public discourse. Citizens wonder what qualities make for an ideal candidate; Do their qualifications, work experience, and credibility make them a good fit to run the country? Tata Tea's iconic campaign, ‘Jaago Re,' which was released in time for the election in 2007, aptly addressed these apprehensions among citizens. By showing a young man raising important questions to a politician while he drank tea, the brand not only emphasized the importance of voting but also seamlessly integrated its product into the advertisement.

Come election time, citizens are heavily invested in finding out who will be the next leader. From arming themselves with data on social media to watching news on television, citizens are politically charged and more divided than ever. As consumer sentiment shifts, this presents an opportunity for marketers to advertise themselves. However, brands also face challenges in leveraging this media opportunity as political tensions mount.

Understanding your audience is crucial for developing your brand's approach. Are your target audiences looking for moments of calm and comfort as anxiety increases leading up to June? Do they expect your brand to take a clear stance on political issues, or would they prefer you to avoid such discussions?

While different sets of audiences will have different expectations from brands, it is important to get your audience research right. It is equally important for elections to match your values and tonality. 

Tata Tea is one such brand that has been able to get its timing, context, and connect right. It has mirrored the audience sentiment in its campaign during elections over the years and has been able to get a high recall for its relatability. 

As elections begin later this month and brands shift their media gears, marketing consultants told us how to get storytelling right and if it is wise to advertise during elections. 

Ajay Gahlaut, Independent Creative said that brands can seize this opportunity during general elections to connect with their audience. 

“Brands are free to leverage any major event to put out their messages. And elections are probably the biggest event in the largest democracy in the world,” said Gahlaut.  

Brands that stand for nationalism and address social and political issues can find the election period as a valuable marketing opportunity that fits into their ethos seamlessly. 

Dilip Cherian, Founder, Perfect Relations & Image Guru has advised over 280 Indian and global brands on how they should maintain their profile during election season for the past six elections. He said that domestic brands can take advantage of this time. 

He said, “Use the time to understand that there is a gap in probably high-decibel, business voices at this point in time. So if you're a domestic brand, it's a great time to get organic visibility, often at low rates, as long as you avoid crowded media buying options.”

And this year, BL Agro's Bail Kohlu, a homegrown brand is among the first to join in election marketing. Their Chuno Sahi campaign urges citizens to make informed decisions, both in their kitchens and at the polls.

Brands that fail to see a common thread between elections and their ethos should stay away from this marketing opportunity. 

Sharing categories of brands that can associate themselves with elections, K V Sridhar (Pops), Founder & CCO, Hypercollective said that only government-undertaken companies would choose to talk freely about elections today. 

“They [government-undertaken companies] are at liberty to do that, but corporate companies may not do that. The only narrative corporate companies will speak about is encouraging people to go out and vote,” said Pops. 

He further said that timing is a key factor during elections and brands should latch onto it but choose to use indirect methods to market. He advised brands and said, “People can advertise for causes, like ‘know your candidate well’ or ‘the basics of voting’. I feel brands should take this route. Brands have to take an indirect approach in this case. Either endorse a purpose or endorse any initiatives.”

Is it worth the risk? 

Over the years, brands have often faced controversies when taking political stances. In 2019, an Indian detergent brand encountered backlash from netizens for depicting a Hindu-Muslim friendship during the festival of Holi, right before the elections. 

The advertisement was launched just a month before the scheduled dates for the 2019 general elections. After facing backlash, the brand decided to rename its campaign and discontinued it in 2022. 

Experts also believe that elections are a risky area to market and advise brands to avoid taking that route. 

Sai Ganesh, Brand Consultant said, “Concerning brands, the election is a high-risk space to market. I think brands should avoid any kind of messaging during this time.” 

Sridhar Ramanujam, Founder & CEO, Integrated brand-comm thinks that the challenge with taking advantage of elections and trying to do a campaign around it is that it can easily backfire.

He said, “This is the reason why more companies generally tend to be wary of it and may use the time of election to release their brand message, but I don't see too many of them doing specific messaging for the elections.”

In 2019, the tagline for Zomato’s election campaign read ‘Predict the next PM’. The food delivery app allowed its users to win cashback if they could correctly predict who the next Prime Minister of India will be.



Six years after this campaign, the internet has become a highly polarised space. And although brands were willing to be vocal some years ago, Sai Ganesh thinks that brands are no longer willing to take this risk. 

He said, “I feel brands today are going to be a lot more careful than they were 2-5 years ago. The main reason I feel this is because polarisation has increased.”

Cherian also thinks brands should avoid marketing during elections unless it is to encourage voting. 

He said,I think they should totally avoid being part of any election marketing except for one key thing — where they are running campaigns to encourage larger voter turnout. Besides, public interest campaigns where brands are focused on the broadly democratic issue of higher voter turnout during elections, it is in the best interest if they avoid being seen as part of anything election-oriented.”

As brands plan for April-May-June, agency pitches might sound enticing but Cherian advised not giving into the temptation. 

He said, “sometimes what your agency pitches might sound right at other times, but may not be perfect during election time.”

Explaining why, Cherian added, “If you think that you're disguising your brand messaging towards a stronger India, even that will be seen as supporting the government in place. Sometimes what your agency pitches might sound right at other times, but may not be perfect during election time.”

Elections and humour: A deadly combo

Integrating humour into marketing campaigns has repeatedly shown to be a winning strategy for brands. With the emergence of meme culture within the advertising industry, it's becoming more plausible that humour will also be utilised during elections. Even BJP has partnered with marketing firm Acquaint Consultants to leverage meme marketing. 

Experts believe that brands might try their hands at doing light-hearted content around elections. 

Sai Ganesh said, “We may see some brands doing quirky and fun messaging around elections. But beyond that, nobody is going to do anything about elections.”

He also thinks that although brands might refrain from directly talking about elections, closer to the dates of elections, brands will post about the importance of voting and educating citizens about that. 

Although Ajay Gahlaut feels that seriousness and sincerity of purpose are more important than ‘cleverness’ in a matter as important as the general elections, he thinks humour can play a part here.  

He said, “Interestingly enough, sometimes the best way to convey a serious message is through the use of humour. As long as the consumer understands the sincerity behind the brand’s message there is no question of it landing in trouble.” 

On the other hand, Dilip Cherian advises brands to avoid humorous content during elections. He said, “Try and avoid anything that verges on humour. Emotions and tempers are very high and it's best to avoid attempting to be funny. Leave humour either to experts or stand-up comics.  

When asked what are some dos and don'ts of marketing around elections, Sai Ganesh has a profound piece of advice. 

Don’t do anything around it,” said Ganesh. 

Instead, experts suggested focusing on positive messages such as encouraging voter participation and addressing valid citizen concerns. They said any brand initiative should aim to unite people rather than further divide them. 

As experts advise against being too political during elections, brands should focus on spreading positive messages that bring people together and encourage participation in civic duties. In the ever-changing world of advertising, it's crucial for brands to find the right balance between engaging with their audience and showing respect for the importance of elections. By paying attention to what consumers care about, brands can navigate this challenge with authenticity and effectiveness.

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