Basics of political marketing to target young voters in 2014 elections

The primary aim of political warfare is to win votes, by building preference and shaping perception. The challenge of preference building has to be accomplished in a short period of time. This is not classic marketing warfare; marshalling the 4Ps. Marketing in politics is more about the 4Cs: cause, constituency, comparative advertising and celebrity endorsements. 

Cause is the start point: what does the party stand for? Why does this party exist? What does the PM candidate stand for? There are many causes on offer: secular, development, safety, jobs, prices, pride, honesty and governance. This election will see multiple voter segments. 
The first-time voter is young, idealistic and seeks a motivating argument to come and vote. The best argument to this group is economic: the promise of jobs and a brighter future. For urban voters, impacted by inflation, safety and job losses, the cause is good and clean governance and accountable politics. The rural poor are a potent vote bank. The best causes of the past revolved around the poor — the best being Garibi Hatao. For the rural poor, the cause is social, the ability of the government to support them via subsidised food et al. 

In marketing, this is labelled consumer promotions. In politics, the voter knows that a freebie or a promotion is permanent and rarely withdrawn irrespective of who comes to power. So, just a sop will not work as a cause, it has to be packaged with another cause. Legacy works in times of good governance and economic results; don’t expect any party to flaunt legacy in 2014.  

Constituency is the equivalent of local markets in marketing. It is crucial for parties to think differently of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. The candidate who presents the best chance in the constituency is a combination of optimising many variables and micro-targeting. The party must manage spurned candidates who play spoilers in at least a fifth of the constituencies. “Think national but choose local” is the best strategy, similar to brand marketing campaigns. 

Comparative advertising is the cornerstone of political marketing. The idea is to portray competitors in an unfavourable way without being perceived as attacking them. Political advertising does this by creating FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt. Research shows comparative advertising lowers the image of the attacked candidate without affecting the attacking candidate because voters believe negative advertising gives them more information to make a better decision. 

Everything is game in comparative advertising, facts that can be represented, revisiting past comments of candidates, the voting record of candidates, past friendships et al. In India, private lives have so far been out of the comparative script, but in this election, anonymous digital identities will play this card too. 

Then we have celebrity endorsement. The initial celebrity quotient was glamour. With rapid media growth in the last decade, we see celebrity commentators like editors, TV anchors, former diplomats and government servants all offering their endorsement for the benefit of the voter.

Such endorsements will multiply in this election. Parties will rope in influential social commentators and feed them with talking points to build preference, especially among undecided voters. Political parties will unleash their teams on TV, print and social media. RTI will be used as a reference check for celebrity commentary. First-time voters, social media targeting and speedy response to unfolding events will decide this election. All three are interlinked. Of the 725 million electorate, 150 million will be first-time voters, and more than half of them are on social websites. This group will be targeted and will respond digitally in equal measure, as they want their voice to matter. 

According to Autumn Worldwide, a social media agency, of a million conversations on social media on elections in September 2013, first-time voters led 40 per cent of chats. They discussed the rupee, prices, women’s safety, governance and jobs. Their idea of accountability in politics will define India over the next 20 years. 2014 is the start. 

(The writer is former chief of emerging markets, Nokia)

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