Voting for the first time:
I remember voting for the first time in the year 2009 when the 15th general elections were held in India in the month of May. I vividly recollect that there was no folklore, no bitter campaigns and even after over 50 years since independence the manifestos of the parties in the contest were hardly any different. The contest was between the ruling UPA-1 which was then trying to get a second term under the prime ministership of Dr. Manmohan Singh and the BJP which fought the election under the leadership of Mr. L K Advani. UPA-1 could overcome anti-incumbency and won the election in 2009. However, the campaign for both parties revolved around door-door campaigns, public rallies and news paper advertisements.
The general elections in the year 2014 were a completely different ball game. They were fought between personalities and the traditional party politics took a back seat. The election saw the rise of brand Modi who was greatly assisted by the digital marketing campaigns that were designed much before the elections. The BJP roped in Prashant Kishore to do an image makeover of Narendra Modi who apart from the blot of Godhra Riots enjoyed an image of a pro-development leader. The party used multiple tools of digital marketing one of which was online reputation management. The social media teams of BJP posted content on channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter which influenced people’s perception of Narendra Modi.
In all posts, he was projected as a leader who was pro development backed by his impressive record in governing the state of Gujarat. Campaigns such as “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas” meant development for all, and appeasement to none attracted youth who had lost interest due to the traditional communal and caste politics played by parties earlier. Channels such as WhatsApp and Youtube were used to spread the message which was heart of the campaign,” Abki baar Modi Sarkar.” This line became extremely popular and was shared widely on social media in the form of political manifestos, agendas, memes and satire. The Opposition on the other hand failed to understand the growing popularity of this new and an important marketing platform.
Narendra Modi’s digital teams used search engine optimization extensively to suppress negative content relating to Godhra riots and his estranged wife. The BJP campaign team made brilliant use of technology when hologram was used by Narendra Modi to address multiple rallies at one time. This enabled BJP and Modi to develop a huge following on the social media. Later, we saw the advent of user generated content for the first time in politics. A number of pages in support of Mr.Modi were created and they outnumbered the number of pages which communicated messages against him and the party. BJP tapped this opportunity of user generated content and developed brand loyalists who would swear by and defend any strategic move which the party undertook then.
The BJP replicated the success of its social media strategy effectively in the state elections which followed in Maharashtra. Their digital outreach program targeted properly segmented population in the state under the campaign “Kuthe neun thevla aahe Maharashtra majha.”This slogan signified the falling growth and shoddy state of development in the state. The digital teams after doing on ground surveys could effectively segment Maharashtrian population based on their development needs. Every segment was targeted through specific WhatsApp messages underlining BJP’s development vision and highlighting shortcomings of the government of the day. BJP made significant gains in this election and emerged as the single largest party by winning 122 of 288 seats. The BJP formed a minority government in the state and later allied with Shiv Sena in December 2014 to form a majority coalition government.
Delhi and Bihar Assembly Elections:
Interestingly, the BJP continued with the social media strategy in Bihar and Delhi election but was handsomely trounced in both. In my opinion, Lalu Prasad Yadav used his political acumen to stitch a political alliance with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) . Nitish Kumar roped in Prashant Kishore to handle his digital outreach. However, the JD(U) was measured in its digital marketing strategy considering low internet penetration in the underdeveloped state. In Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal was aiming for a second term as the Chief Minister after a 49 day stint in the first term. He realised that many people in the state were upset at his hasty exit in 49 days. He used Twitter and Facebook to apologise to the people of Delhi and campaigned for a second term. This small step helped the Aam Aadmi party greatly in the Delhi 2015 state elections and the party won 67 out of 70 seats in the election. This social media outreach helped Kejriwal improve his image. From the Delhi example, we learn an important marketing message, “Customers are willing to forgive brand’s mistakes as long as they are perceived as genuine.”
I believe that gone are the days when elections were fought by distributing pamphlets to households and by using tampered manifestos. Digital marketing has left no voter untouched and voters form perceptions about candidates and parties every day on the web. The digital marketing outreach has to be specific and targeted for parties to achieve maximum gains. Online users are smart enough to segregate leaders with good potential from under performing ones. Be it a ruling party or the opposition, digital marketing has created platforms where voters can now hold their leaders accountable. Importance of marketing your work on social media, making use of user generated content and prompt action on voter feedback is the need of the day. I am excited when I read what citizens share about Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Railways. These two ministries have set the bar for other ministries to follow. The domain of digital marketing has certainly transformed the way elections are fought in India.