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Political campaigns: Marketing and branding

• Dr Mahuya Deb, Prof Bhaskar Jyoti Bora

With the elections occupying the centre stage in the poll-bound States, what is keeping the politicians busy is their aggressive campaign propagating their agendas. The political campaigns are no less than advertising tools. The way the parties strategies their activities is no lesser than the way a product is marketed. The recent elections have seen the emergence of political marketing as a new phenomenon where politicians as marketers use marketing concepts in their campaigning to woo the voters who are their targeted ‘customers’. This concept of political marketing embraces all operations and activities intended to achieve some specific or party goals which the party or political organization or candidate aims to achieve. It guides in developing proposed policy for election, how it could be propagated, how it should be communicated and easily accepted.

Politicians engage in various marketing tactics to distribute their messages to the voting public and create a brand of their self or their party. The factors which channelize this strategy are public appearances, impact of various public policies announced from time to time, linkage between chosen public policy and past performance, media communication, public relations, brand image, and last but not the least, emotional attachment.

The last few years have witnessed a dramatic transformation in the manner in which voters are mobilized. Detailed databases containing information about citizens are developed which guide in formulating effective campaign trails. Every party brings forward its stalwarts as star campaigners with the motive that the citizens actively participate in the political process. They communicate the ideology of the party thereby effectively indicating all utilitarian benefits and the party attributes. They have meals in the house of a downtrodden, go for photo shoots with rural men and women, sing and dance around peppy numbers and what not. The list seems endless. The politicians are personified as a brand which people can associate to as people seek brands with a personality identical with their own. Engaging voters is important in a healthy democracy, and in order to do that, political parties, referendum campaigners and candidates campaign using a variety of communication methods.

The most important tools used by political parties for such communication include social media, slogans, banners, pamphlets, etc., which guarantee transmission of information. Not to talk of the IT cells of every party which provide them a predictive number of voters’ turnout for the place or the way the politicians can position themselves. This marketing of campaigns perpetrates through social media as well. The use of digital media via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., has also taken a toll on the political orientation of individuals. One who was quite unaware of politics has also started showing interest in it and is talking about the pros and cons of various political ideologies which can perhaps be attributed to the strong messages circulated among the wide spectrum of voters. This one-to-one connection between the two personalities (the politician and the voter) establishes the fact that the higher is the voters’ preference and association with the brand, the higher is the voters’ turnout. The success of the party and more specifically the reputation of the politicians remain at stake. Hence, they leave no stone unturned to motivate their ‘prey’.

Thus, when marketing and advertising set the agenda for the sale of anything in today’s world, why should the political domain remain untouched? They too have developed their own matrix which gives them an insight of the loss and gain. The few moments of contact with the mass is critical and can create wonders if it appeals to them.

The very purpose of advertising the tall promises and services offered is directed in creating that public image and to predispose the prospective voters to listen to the campaigners. Every nook and corner of the State is seen as a silent spectator to the ongoing election process. The politicians and their party workers in their eye-catching robes flock around the streets where the common and simple folks get dissuaded by their strong messages. In an age where politicians are employing every other marketing strategy to reach out to voters, billions of dollars are spent annually on political lobbying and advertising, the million dollar question that remains unanswered is whether the policies, image, appearance or communication of the political parties help in transferring to votes? Does it lead to political participation? Does political communication effectively reach out to the voters?

With no malice towards any political party, can we expect that they communicate well and the language crafted by the sharp strategists reach the public ears? If the answer is negative, what is that extra factor that moulds perception while voting? Is it the part of the prefabricated package provided by the party and organizational membership that transfer to votes or the people working at the grassroots level for political parties are the real agenda for political participation? Is it not the need for individuals to inform themselves and others about the goings-on in society and to situate themselves politically?

When the buzz around the societal corners is on elections, what is of interest to the common man is their political understanding of what is being communicated and promised to them. This would surely ensure the best buy or the best catch or the best one in power. Ironically, political intention and political participation stand at a crossroads, seem to interfere each other and the result is a political paradox. Whether the political marketing touches upon the voter or not, what remains the primary concern is the victory of our democratic system which should prevail irrespective of whether we are influenced or not by the marketing strategists.

This whole idea of political promotion sets the stage for future research and can be taken up by academia as a case study to ponder upon in detail.

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