Congress, BJP tune into voters with radio ads

Congress, BJP tune into voters with radio ads

New Delhi: India may not allow news on FM radio, but here is some news for you.

A recent decision to allow political advertising has seen a dramatic surge in songs, jingles, ads and paid-for conversations on the country’s airwaves, and especially in the nation’s Capital where a heated political battle is under way for the state assembly.

Radio station owners are predicting a sharp spike in revenue from the on-air political slugfest that is unfolding on India’s mushrooming private radio stations as the country heads into national elections sometime in early 2009.

For now, the two main spenders are the two key rivals, the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both of whom seemed rather prepared ahead of a formal change in rules that allowed political ads on radio for the first time.

In New Delhi, for instance, barely 24 hours after the Election Commission (EC) approved the use of radio ads on Friday, both sides were airing ads deriding each other.

The Congress chose to highlight its 10-year governance of Delhi with “Jisne meri zindagi badli, mei toh uske saath hu" (I will support the party that changed my life), while the BJP warned its voters saying, “Mehengi padi Congress" (you can’t afford Congress).

The EC nod had come three days after the information and broadcasting ministry cleared the amendments to the All India Radio code allowing radio channels, including FM channels, to air political advertisements.

According to Crayons Advertising Ltd, the agency that is handling the Rs150 crore Congress account for the 29 November elections, some of the party’s ads were already recorded.

“We were ready to go with radio campaigns for the Congress... We just needed the go-ahead from the Election Commission," says Ranjan Bargotra, Crayons president.

Adds Ashit Kukian, executive vice-president of Radio City 91.1FM: “After the ministry gave a clear signal for political ads on radio, it was pretty much understood that the Election Commission would clear it, too. So, the work on the campaigns had begun about 10 days ago. Radio stations were more than ready to accommodate the ad slots, as this comes right after Diwali where there is anyway a slight dip in ads."

According to industry estimates, political ads could mean additional revenue of about Rs120 crore for private FM stations. There are about 400 FM radio stations in India.

“Last year, the radio industry earned about Rs600 crore in advertising and this year we can safely add Rs125-150 crore coming in just from political campaigns," says Sunil Kumar, managing director at radio business consultancy Big River Radio (India) Pvt. Ltd.

The Congress has six different radio spots airing across India while the BJP has three. The ads range from 10-50 seconds.

“Although the parties now prefer print media as its durability is considered a full day, we have budgeted a good amount for radio advertisements, too,... It is cheaper and reaches new voters, around two million in the national Capital itself," says a Congress leader who didn’t want to be identified.

Radio stations are charging between Rs250 and Rs1,200 for a 10-50 second spot.

“Any medium that enhances the prospects of the candidate is touched upon," said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a key BJP spokesperson. “With the Election Commission putting restrictions on expenditure for campaign, parties are looking at less expensive outlets."

Motilal Vohra, Congress party treasurer, agrees.

“Radio is a mode of communication that reaches village to village and now it is popular with youngsters in urban regions," notes Vohra. “It is a good medium to gain the confidence and trust of the voters."

According to two other leaders from the Congress and the BJP, neither of whom wanted to be named, their parties have set aside around Rs100 crore for publicity in the six states going to polls now—Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Mizoram and Jammu and Kashmir.

Mint’s publisher HT Media Ltd also owns the Fever 104FM radio station network, which, too, is airing political ads from both parties.