New Delhi: In less than two months, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has splurged in excess of Rs.55 crore on advertising, first to celebrate the completion of its first year in office and then to promote International Day of Yoga—a pet project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government opened up its wallet in May and June after stinting on advertising in the year ended 31 March, when its ad spending fell 42%.
In an advertising overdrive to mark its first anniversary on 26 May, the government spent Rs.50 crore on print and television advertisements as well as radio and outdoor ad campaigns, according to data from the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP).
The event was marked by 250 public rallies and 500 press conferences by NDA ministers and members of Parliament.
And to promote International Day of Yoga on 21 June, which featured a demonstration of the ancient spiritual and physical discipline by tens of thousands, led by the prime minister himself, the government spent an additional Rs.5.5 crore, according to data from DAVP, the nodal agency for advertising by various government ministries and departments.
The outlay for the latter event was limited because many television channels and newspapers carried yoga-related advertisements free of cost, according to two government officials close to the development. Most of the money was spent on outdoor campaigns and radio spots on private FM stations.
“Broadcasters and print media took up the campaign voluntarily to support the national cause of yoga. We are very grateful to them,” said one of the two officials. Both requested not to be named.
To be sure, the Modi government made a concerted attempt to curtail ad expenditure during the year ended 31 March. According to DAVP, in the financial year 2014-15 , the NDA government spent Rs.750 crore on advertising, a decline of 42% from Rs.1,300 crore spent by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the previous year.
Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign, launched on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on 2 October, cost close to 30% of the total advertising budget of Rs.170 crore allocated to the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) in the last fiscal year.
MIB launched six commercials on the programme, including an ad film by advertising agency Grey Group India, two partly animated videos by Akash Deep Films, a New Delhi-based production house, and three radio anthems, including Swachh Bharat ka irada kar liya hum ne (we have pledged to make India clean) composed by lyricist Prasoon Joshi.
“There is a concerted effort to make the process of disseminating government messages more structured and refined. A policy decision on the same is still in the wings, but the government wants to ensure that rather than all ministries bombarding the country with ads, the ad volumes are more sharply focused and content gets highlighted as opposed to the leader,” said a government official cited in a Mint news report in September.
The government says that it will try to reduce its full-year ad budget by 10% in the year to 31 March 2016.
“We want to focus on advertising through social media as much as possible,” said the first official cited above.
Political observers and media specialists do not think the NDA will be able to curtail advertising expenditure. Instead it may be preparing for a massive media blitzkrieg this year.
“Like the UPA, they will get into heavy advertising. The sheer din that new media as well as multiplicity of voices creates forces the government to push the pedal on its advertising campaigns,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.
N. Bhaskara Rao, chairman of the Centre for Media Studies think-tank, said expenditure is less important than the content of advertising and its target audience. For instance, he said, it doesn’t make sense to publish Swachh Bharat ads in English-language publications when the target audience is in small towns and villages.