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The average age of the Indian watching a T20 cricket match would surely be less than the average watching any other form of cricket. So BJP has ticked the target audience box too quite cleverly. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
The average age of the Indian watching a T20 cricket match would surely be less than the average watching any other form of cricket. So BJP has ticked the target audience box too quite cleverly. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Cricket cartoons and ‘garibi hatao’

Both the Congress and the BJP are running ad campaigns during the T20 World Cup

I was watching the TV commercials that the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are running during the ICC T20 World Cup matches, and I can’t help but admit that to me, the BJP’s ads seem smarter and likely to be recalled more strongly. I think the idea of using a cricket-based theme for commercials that will run during the World Cup and the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) is a great idea. It’s basic advertising strategy: fit your message into the media ambience round it. The use of animation and tongue-in-cheek content is also good thinking. Every pundit and political party is shouting from the rooftops about the ‘youth vote’, so isn’t it best to talk to them in a way they can relate to, with a bit of a fun element tagged on? The average age of the Indian watching a T20 cricket match would surely be less than the average watching any other form of cricket. So BJP has ticked the target audience box too quite cleverly.

In comparison, the Congress TV commercial that I watched is sober straightforward election communication. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi are shown talking to underprivileged people from various regions of the country. The commercial is very professionally photographed and edited. The music is nice. But I have a few problems with the ad. It shows only poor people. It is an out-and-out Garibi Hatao ad, the message being that the Gandhis would haul vast numbers of Indians out of poverty. But, at the end of the ad, though we see many smiling poor people, they don’t seem to have got any less poorer. Also, do even the poor want to see so many poor people in an ad? If one considers the biggest Hindi blockbusters of the last 10 years, not a single one of them features poor people, except peripherally. They are about injustice and revenge and action and mindless slapstick, and at the most, a bit of genteel poverty. In 3 Idiots, which, in its time, broke all box office records, the extreme poverty in which the family of the Sharman Joshi character lives, is filmed as a purely hilarious sequence. We are not talking good taste, bad taste here—the point is that the audience loved it, and 3 Idiots did not earn the gazillions of rupees it did only from the upper middle class multiplex audience.

Secondly, shouldn’t a party which has been in power for a decade highlight its achievements a bit more? Perhaps the Congress communication team is haunted by the failure of BJP’s we-are-rocking India Shining campaign. Perhaps they know that there is much that the two United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments could have done, but didn’t. Yet, highways have been built, wireless communication technology has become ubiquitous, poverty has gone down (whichever measurement method you choose to follow), the Right to Information Act has definitely been a great empowering force. Shouldn’t the Congress ads also mention these? What about Bharat Nirman?

I am sure that designing mass communication when you are in the opposition is a much easier task than when you are in power. But even then, the BJP’s cricket ads stand out. They are very simple animations that cut the clutter. Each ad is just 15 seconds long, while the Congress commercial is closer to 90 seconds. Each BJP ad uses a comic cricket situation to make a caustic point. One has the wicketkeeper cunningly moving the stumps so that the batsman gets bowled. Another has the umpire and a captain coming out for the toss but the other captain is nowhere in sight. A third one has a batsman unable to take stance at the crease because other players are sitting on dharna around him. So, the BJP is against corruption and cheating, has a strong leadership, and wants to get things done rather than go on agitating endlessly.

These are of course not the only TV ads the parties have released. A few months ago, the Congress ran a campaign featuring some young party workers talking directly to the camera. The BJP has reacted with a series of black and white ads with close-ups of men and women complaining about the state of the country and ending with the line Janata maaf nahin karegi (The people will not forgive). Last night, I learnt from news television that the BJP has also released a music video in which, at the start of every stanza, Narendra Modi grimly tells the viewer that he won’t let the country break, he won’t let the country bow down, and so on. Slightly scary stuff, but then, how long could the satire and humour have lasted?

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