One of my favorite characters in Hollywood was played by Arthur Kennedy, the legendary American actor in the 1962 cult classic – Lawrence of Arabia. Arthur played an American war correspondent by the name of Jackson Bentley who publicised Lawrence’s exploits, making him world famous. On further research, I realised that the character was inspired from a real time war correspondent named Lowell Thomas.
When the United States entered World War I, Thomas was part of an official party sent by President Wilson, to “compile a history of the conflict.” In reality, the mission was not academic. The war was not popular in the United States, and Thomas was sent to find material that would encourage the American people to support the war. Propaganda at its best! Commissar Danilov, in William Craig’s 1973 non- fiction book “Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad”, also turned the tide of battle at Stalingrad through his motivating articles and propaganda of Vasily Zaytsev’s achievements. These reel examples of using propaganda to change the tide hold immense relevance in the real political scenario of contemporary India.
Political outfits now employ and harness their own Lowell Thomas & Commissar Danilov in the form of industry experts, content writers and of course, ‘PR managers’. PR managers play a significant part in the pre and post- election roll out of politicians, covering a variety of avenues including branding, perception mapping, image management, PR pegs, pre & post interview briefings, online campaigns etc.
The recent Assembly elections held in India are an indication of this evolution of the propaganda phenomenon in Indian politics. The shift from organisation centric marketing mix of 4P’s (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) to a target centric mix of 4C’s (Customer Value, Cost, Convenience & Communication).
The following breakdown helps us understand how the 4C’s helped the winners in last year’s State elections:
Customer Value: West Bengal
Rather than focusing on the core values of the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), the party decided to adopt the values dear to the public of West Bengal. The core communication revolved around two most popular brands of Bengal poriborton (change) and Ma, Maati, Manush (Mother, Motherland and the People). AITC’s TV commercial and radio campaigns, crafted by Shibaji Panja- the entrepreneur behind Chirag PCs and Kolkata TV, became hugely popular, with many people still humming the tunes of the TVC jingle. The campaign also took a 360- degree approach with an explosive online campaign spearheaded by Sabeer Bhatia, founder of e- mail service provider, Hotmail.
Commenting on the AITC Campaign, celebrity quizmaster Derek O’ Brien said, “If Mamata Banerjee is considered as a brand, the core value would be her struggle to meet people’s aspirations.” O’Brien, who joined team Trinamool in 2004, provided Mamata’s campaign with a credible voice that people could empathise with.
A blitzkrieg of values enamoured by the janata, reiterated over and over again, ensured the mandate’s swing in AITC’s favor. The janata wanted change; they wanted practical administrators as compared to experienced politicians. Mamata’s response to that demand was Amit Mitra, former Secretary General of FICCI, giving it a much-needed industry-friendly face. The campaign, which bordered around Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can” & “Change” communication planks, ensured that the media does not lose steam even after the election results. Reports in national magazines and newspapers highlighting Didi’s labour during the first 48 hours on the job far beyond the swearing in ceremony is exemplary of post- campaign PR.
The conspicuous packaging of all the values sought by the janata in a 360 degree campaign over print, electronic, radio and online helped create a positive perception of AITC and vanquished the 34 year old rule of the red in Bangla land.
Cost: Tamil Nadu
Learning from the on ground marketing gurus of Self Help Groups (SHG) the AIADMK modeled their summer election camping on the fundamentals of highlighting cost benefit. SHGs offer products, which although little inferior in quality, are a great buy because of two reasons:
- They are very competitively priced (cheap)
- They are sold right at your doorstep.
Going to the polls, Karunanidhi’s Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK) was already in troubled waters due to allegations of corruption at the Centre, party’s first family embroiled in one of the biggest scams and visible cracks in the second rung leadership. These problems had led the pendulum mandate to already predict the verdict in Amma’s favour; however the AIADMK was not ready to take any chances.
Realising the opportunity, Amma had to make the people understand and believe the heavy price Tamil Nadu had to pay for choosing the wrong party to power. Thus, AIADMK campaign adeptly drafted by party veteran O Paneerselvam, had a sole purpose of pointing out the incumbent Government’s mistakes. In other words, highlighting the burden (cost) of choosing the wrong option to power was the goal.
The communication had clear focus on two cost criteria:
Firstly, highlight the cost people had to pay for electing DMK to power. Exaggerating monies involved in various scams and stressing upon the exorbitant burden of debt on the state for projects which would not directly affect the lives of Tamilians.
Secondly, the cost of development, which included all the gifts that Amma promised the Tamil nation, free cable, free TV etc. With a line of freebies announced in the party manifesto, Amma was able to bargain a good price for her return to Chief Minister’s office.
Amma also launched a campaign CD, distributed from door to door, containing information regarding the 2G spectrum and the failures of the DMK Government on various fronts. It also contained portions of Jayalalitha’s speeches fuelling the peoples’ faith with her promises of freebies and a cleaner Government. The Dravidian politics gave a completely different meaning to the phrase “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.” Game-Set-Match Amma.
With the INC in power for two terms in a row, it would have been logical for Assam to vote for a change. But Assam seemed to be in a mood for another West Bengal, handing the reins of the state to the INC for the third time. The party has been successfully able to retain its power, and the Chief Minister was able to retain his post.
Since 2001, when Tarun Gogoi became Chief Minister of Assam for the first time, not much has changed in the State. At the advent of the new century, an Assamese’s per capita income was only 30 per cent of an average Indian’s. Inadequate infrastructure, ineffective governance, poor policies have led to the grossly accumulated debt of the State. With minimal investment rolling in, a falling agro- growth index and a stagnant per capita income irrespective of the inflation, there was a lot the Chief Minister had to worry about. Add to that other severe issues such as illegal migration from Bangladesh andMyanmar, corruption and last but not the least, the armed rebellion of Maoists. Over the past decade, Tarun Gogoi has even earned the title of “gaonburah” or “village headman” since most of the towns have started looking like villages.
Despite this endless list of disappointments, there seemed to be no major discontent from the public, and even from the fragmented Opposition. What helped the INC win over the Janata third time around was the Government’s peace process with the Maoists. Even though they haven’t been able to provide the much-needed development to the State across, the INC’s success in providing stability to a fragmented State and a troubled public has helped establish the credibility.
On the campaign trail, the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee ensured tremendous focus to highlight stability and peace. It leveraged a 360-degree approach of print, radio and electronic channels to establish the same as its overarching message, and emerge as champions of the people’s cause. Assam’s largest opposition, Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), just about entered a paltry double- digit figure of 10 seats, while the Saffron Brigade and other smaller groups managed to secure scanty pockets. The reason was simply that the meager Opposition had nothing to offer, not a dream, not a vision, or not even an empty promise.
In the end, INC’s success in providing stability (if not development) to the State resulted in a convenient win for the incumbent leader. The Opposition was once again banished by the people’s mandate, the reason simply being no plan, no communication, no connect. n
(Written by Rishi Vaidya for Image Management)