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With 900 million registered voters out of which 15 million are aged 18-19, India’s upcoming General Elections are slated to be one of the biggest elections in world history with the total electorate being larger than the population of some continents. Needless to say, the promotional campaign for this particular target audience is bringing a huge influx for the Media and Advertising fraternity in the country. With estimated advertising spends of Rs 2,500-3,000 crore on the polls alone, the industry will see an increase of around 30% in terms of actual ad spends as compared to the last General Elections in 2014. “Talking about mass media – and not taking into account rural – election advertising spends would be in the vicinity of Rs 2,500 crore. That includes paid digital ad spends. According to some estimates, this figure could touch Rs 4,000 crore,” says Shashi Sinha, CEO of IPG Mediabrands India.

In fact, election advertising is pitted to be the second Indian Premier League (IPL) of the year in terms of size and revenue perspectives. While each medium is likely to gain, spends on Digital are estimated to double from Rs 250 crore in 2014 to around Rs 500 crore this time. “Spends this time will certainly be more because media costs have gone up. Also, this time, the usage of media will be very different. Digital and mobile will play a much bigger role. And of course Outdoor is always very important for elections because it’s a very localized medium,” says Ashish Bhasin, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) Greater South & Chairman and CEO of DAN India.

Another media agency expert, who did not want to be quoted, said, “Overall, my understanding is that parties like the BSPSP and Congress will spend substantially. As far as I know, the Congress has not appointed a media agency but is planning to do some deals directly with the publications, and the publications are quoting haphazard, highly exaggerated rates. Regional parties will spend some amount of money, but it may not necessarily be a huge amount as was originally thought.”

“In 2014, Digital was finding its feet. Now, Digital has really got going. So, Digital will definitely see substantial ad spends this year, but certainly not higher than traditional mediums like Print, TV, Radio, Outdoor, all put together,” the expert adds.

According to media reports, Sam Balsara-led Madison Media is handling the media buying duties for the Bharatiya Janata Party for the General Elections this time, with the account size reportedly around Rs 500 crore. Madison had managed the account during the 2014 elections as well. As for creative agency support, the BJP has apparently stuck with Piyush Pandey-led Ogilvy, like last time. Agencies handling the Congress Party’s account are as yet undisclosed. The Congress had hired Dentsu as its media agency in 2014.

The political parties have increased their spending and sharpened their communication strategies for the elections over the years. In fact, the ramp-up has already been visible in Print advertising over the last three months with a big burst from the incumbent Government talking about its achievements over the past four years. Also, most Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) under the ambit of the ministries have been releasing large Print advertisements supporting Government programmes and using images of the Prime Minister and other ministers. In fact, the BJP became the Number 1 advertiser on Television in the run-up to the recent Assembly elections in five States, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) data in the week ended November 16, 2018.

 “The frequency and size of Government advertisements have increased dramatically since February as political parties expected the Election Commission’s notification in March and once elections are notified by the EC, the code of conduct comes into play,” says Lloyd Mathias, Angel Investor and former Asia Pacific Marketing head of HP Inc.“The Election Commission of India’s Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates came into force as soon as the date of polls were declared on March 10, 2019.”

“There is big hope that the financial year 2019-20 will get the additional boost of election advertising. But I am surprised that the real campaign is yet to start. The Election Commission has just announced that Parliament Elections 2019 will be held from April 11 to May 19, 2019. And as of March 11, none of the major parties have unleashed their ad campaigns. What we are seeing is a lot of Governmentsponsored advertising of the various successful schemes launched. I suspect this would have given a boost to the Feb March 2019 advertising spends. So in a sense, the political ad campaigns are going to peak only in April. And if we take two weeks of April for the major burst, I am not sure how much these spends will contribute to the overall ad growth. Unlike in the US Presidential elections, where mass media advertising runs for a much longer period, I think Indian Parliamentary election advertising seems to be getting packed into a few weeks,” says Ambi M G Parameswaran, Brand Strategist, Founder Brand-building.com.

“We will definitely see the political campaigns in the mainline media, but the real game will be played on the 5x3 inch screen. “I foresee an increase in all sorts of content, from memes to issue based branded content, to unbranded content, to web series, to influencer campaigns,” says Virat Tandon, Group CEO, MullenLowe Lintas Group.

Eros Now has announced a web series on the Prime Minister titled ‘Modi’ showcasing the life of the leader. Produced by Benchmark Pictures and directed by Umesh Shukla, the series will be out in April, coinciding with the elections.

“We are quite certainly seeing huge investments being made in digital advertising by both political parties, at the national level, and by individual candidates as well at their constituency level. Display advertising on large news portals, targeted social media advertising via Facebook, Twitter trending,; promotion of video content via YouTube and influencer marketing, seem to be some of the key opportunities that political parties are leveraging,” says Hareesh Tibrewala, Joint CEO, Mirum India. “There is a lot of emphasis on content creation. Earlier, it was more a spray-and-pray kind of approach where a single creative would get bombarded across various channels. Now, we are seeing serious thinking going into creating engaging content, catchy jingles, etc., and then find a way to promote this content. WhatsApp continues to be an important platform for pushing out engaging content,” he adds.

An important change this time as compared to previous elections is the model code of conduct being released for Social Media (please see box). Whatever content that goes out from the official handles of the parties/candidates needs to follow the content guidelines as well as timelines (campaign to close two days before the actual voting and so on). Also social platforms and publishers are being asked to provide to the Election Commission information about monetary spends.

Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube have committed in writing to ensure that any political advertising published on their platforms will be precertified by the Election Commission’s Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC). Google’s India-specific Political Advertising Transparency Report and searchable Political Ads Library will go live before the April elections.

In December 2018, Facebook started authorising ads related to politics in India by taking details of their identity, location and who placed the ad. Last month, Facebook added “Published by” or “Paid for by” disclaimers that have been specified by advertisers. “People can access a searchable ad library to learn more about ads related to politics, including range of impressions and spends and demographics of who saw the ad. In the coming weeks, people will start seeing the country locations of the people managing pages that run political ads to better understand the origin of the page,” says Facebook’s update on ‘Bringing more transparency to Political Ads in India’ by Shivnath Thukral, Public Policy Director, India and Sarah Clark Schiff, Product Manager at Facebook.

Even Twitter has started to show billing details of political ads as its Ads Transparency Center. It shows billing information, spends, and impression data for each promoted tweet. Political campaign advertisers must go through Twitter’s certification process and provide profile photo, header photo and website must be consistent with the handle’s online presence. The biography of advertisers should also include a website that provides valid contact information, Twitter said in their update on ‘Expanding transparency around political ads on Twitter’ – ‘Political Content in India’.

‘From a market perspective, the advertiser has options this season that he did not have in any of the previous years, as the IPL and ICC World Cup are also taking place around the same time in the year. Some advertisers continue spending only on IPL and some will go only for the elections. Also, there are some advertisers who would be keenly looking at elections as an alternative to IPL and split their money between the two,” says Vineet Sodhani, CEO, Spatial Access.

Another rising trend is that of brands participating with their points of view on the various aspects of elections. Tata Tea had started this trend two elections ago with its ‘Agar aap vote nahin kar rahe toh aap so rahe ho’ campaign under ‘Jaago Re’. Even for the last elections, it had promoted ‘The Power of 49’ campaign to support the importance of women voters and the say they need to have in choosing the Government. “This year, we are seeing a few examples as well. TOI started its campaign on helping voters who have moved away from their hometown. There are a few others. Let’s wait and watch,” says Tandon.

“There will be significant growth coming from regional media investments, given how the elections are so clearly being fought between large regional/ State-focused parties and the two large national pan-India ones. Given the unique cricket environment, some advertisers are spreading their budgets across these three pivots- IPL, ICC World Cup and the Lok Sabha 2019 elections,” says Ajit Gurnani, Chief Client Officer, Zenith Media India Ltd.
“Digital spends are likely to grow in multiples. The fact that there are 1.5 crore voters of age 18-19, each party is going to focus on the youth. And when it comes to digital media, video and mobile will contribute substantially.”

President, Crayons Advertising Pvt. Ltd


In terms of value, election ad spends will roughly add Rs 300 crore to the news television genre of Adex

Television news networks - both Hindi and English put together - are likely to rake up around Rs 300+ crore during the upcoming elections and they are hoping for an organic growth in April-June quarter of 10-15% in Adex. “The average price for ad spots will go beyond 20-30% above normal depending on the channel system. Essentially you will find the revenue growth upward of about 25-30% for the quarter. But for advertising inventory, the growth should be 10-15%,” says Avinash Pandey, Chief Executive Officer of ABP News Network. “In terms of value, it will roughly add Rs 300 crore to the news genre,” he adds. Reiterates Nikhil Gandhi, President -Times Network, “The political climate is already heating up and 40% growth in revenues for the broadcast industry is expected.”
Corporate retail advertising in the news genre by itself is likely to go up by 25-30% says Ashish Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL). This, along with political advertising, will help mitigate the loss due to the impact of TRAI’s regulation on viewership and media spends allocation, he adds.

“It is difficult to talk about growth numbers because of the TRAI regulation impact on overall advertising. We will have to see how much it squares off in the next few months. On one side, there is an impact on the overall TV advertising pie due to the TRAI regulation and on the other side, political parties will definitely spend during elections, which will probably help us mitigate some of the spends coming from other advertisers in other entertainment genres,” says Sehgal. Advertisers have been holding their money because they are not very clear on the viewership numbers and whether it is matching their target audience. “Inventory will now go full on most of the channels and hence we will be able to hike our pricing during this period,” Sehgal adds.

The industry is hopeful that the impact of implementation of the new tariff regime will settle down quickly. However, according to media reports, Free to Air (FTA) channels will witness a growth in viewership but pay ones will be at a disadvantage. Several leading news channels such as India Today Television, Aaj Tak, Times Now, Mirror Now, Zee News, CNN-News18, News18 India, NDTV 24x7 and NDTV India are available on an MRP basis.

“The TRAI regulation may play spoilsport in terms of viewership going down due to blackouts, distribution issues and pricing at some places. But I think the final deadline of March 31 is likely to get pushed as the Government would want maximum reach during elections. However, if this does not happen, then sports channels may be impacted,” says Vineet Sodhani, CEO, Spatial Access.

In the first week of February, the Indian Society of Advertisers, the national body of advertisers which promotes and protects the rights of its members, issued an advisory, saying that the viewership data provided by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) during the transition period while implementing Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) regulations should not be used for media planning, evaluation and buying perspectives for the next four to six weeks as the variants for pre- and post- evaluations will be higher than usual and will be highly unpredictable. However, the TRAI sent orders to BARC to immediately release and publish viewership data for the week ending February 8, 2019 and weeks subsequent to it. BARC India’s website now says, ‘In light of implementation of TRAI’s new Tariff order and on-ground changes, BARC India’s viewership data will be released only to its subscribers until further notice. The regulator extended the timeline for consumers to make their channel preferences up to March 31, 2019.
In the last three months, the Government was using the Print medium to create awareness about 14 most important schemes launched by it, until the model code of conduct set in on March 10, 2019

Advertising revenues for the Print sector will be the same as that seen in the previous elections, says I Venkat, Director, Eenadu Group. “In States that have more parties, chances of revenue for media will be higher and vice versa,” quips Venkat.

Online versions of Print publications are likely to get a fair share of digital ad spends of political parties mainly on the back of credibility and trust factor of Print publications. “Digital will get its fair share as well since elections these days are also fought on social media. However, with fake news becoming a menace, political parties will turn to the most credible medium, Print, to establish credibility and convey its true pitch,” adds Sivakumar.

Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director, Mathrubhumi Group, reiterates, “In case of digital, we expect a growth of 4-5% in our digital ad revenues as political parties will use digital video more for reach with dramatic ad formats used.”

However, whether Print will retain its share in the overall media mix for election campaigns is a question as not many regional parties used the medium during the recently concluded Assembly elections. “Traditionally, elections were fought on Television and Print. This time, the share of Print in the media mix is likely to go down comparatively. In fact, if you notice trends in the last few State Assembly elections in Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, most parties did not use much of Print. However, Government and media publication relations are such that Print as a medium cannot be ignored,” says Ranjan Bargotra, President, Crayons Advertising Ltd. Crayons Advertising has handled various election campaigns for the Congress and BJP earlier.

Even Vineet Sodhani, CEO, Spatial Access Pvt. Ltd., says that Print will maintain its share in the mix because the medium is such. “Political parties can list down their achievements only with Print, the rest of the mediums are used for promoting slogans. So, while some parties may choose not to use it as much as they did earlier, Print will continue to play a very important role,” he says.

Government ads are in DAVP rates and political ads during elections are charged a premium as they are one-off advertisers
Government advertising is a very significant bucket in the overall Radio Adex. During election time, these Government advertisements go down to a negligible level and get replaced by political advertising. “Given the election is in seven phases, the burst of activity will happen across India in a phased manner. So, we will see some Adex growth coming from political parties between now to April-May but there will also be reduction in Government ads during the same period. So, it is yet to be seen as to whether it will be the same thing, as neutral, or it will create a big upside for us,” says Asheesh Chatterjee, CFO, Big FM. “It also largely depends on the national parties and whether they use a high frequency campaign. If they do so, then we could see some upside. Otherwise it would largely be equivalent to the Government spending that would have gone down,” he adds.

Government advertisements are in DAVP rates and political advertisements during elections are charged premium as they are one-off advertisers. “Most of political advertising happens at three levels - national, regional, local - and then candidate. But the candidate and the local ones are very truncated, they come in at the last minute and that is where the highest rate is charged. The national and regional spends are much longer but there you cannot charge premium,” he adds.
While close to Rs 700-800 crore will be spent on OOH advertising, parties are not likely to actually shell out that money as they route ads via authorities such as Municipal Corporations, PWD, Railways, etc., which they control anyway

Outdoor is an effective and economical medium to sustain for a longer period of time. Hence generally during elections, political parties begin their OOH campaigns a little in advance. However, this time around, we are yet to witness these campaigns. According to industry sources, organised Outdoor campaigns are likely to have a short burst whereas, unorganised local level outdoor campaigns are likely to be really big this election season.

According to Dipankar Sanyal, CEO of Platinum Outdoor of Madison Media, “National parties on an average spend around Rs 70-80 crore on OOH. So if we take that as a benchmark, there would be an influx of nothing less than Rs 500-Rs 600 crore on traditional OOH in this election period from when the code of conduct starts to the end of elections in mid-May. Besides, there would be events, mobile branding (vans, etc) that would make another Rs 100-150 crore. So overall, for OOH nothing less than Rs 700-800 crore will be spent.”

Media selling in OOH generally happens locally through State vendors and partners. In case of political advertising, media companies across different verticals take payment in advance. However, in OOH, payment record of parties is an issue. “Sadly, I do not believe the elections will boost OOH media budgets to a large extent. Political parties are too used to freebies and ‘donations’ to seriously look at paying for media over which they hold sway through control of various authorities - Municipal Corporations, PWD, Railways, Waterways, Metro Rail and so on. They have always looked at OOH media as a source of revenue and to imagine that the announcement of elections will automatically change their DNA is expecting a bit too much. The payment record even for parties that officially booked OOH media through various media-buying agencies has been rather shoddy, with perhaps 50% of the payment being denied on one pretext or another, mainly by introducing procedures to be followed after the display was over. The position is worse where regional parties hold complete sway over the government,” says Noomi Mehta, CEO, Selvel Advertisers.

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