Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Can excessive election advertising backfire?

Marketing or advertising should not create a hype that is impossible to live up to

A 17 June Press Trust of India (PTI) report said that the information and broadcasting ministry will study the impact of the government advertisements on people. The initiative comes ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, for which the government is expected to reach out to the people and highlight the work done by it in the last four years, the report said.

In fact, the advertising blitzkrieg talking about various welfare schemes of the government has already started. Tune into any FM radio channel and you will be bombarded with ads from the government. The radio commercials have been cleverly recorded in the voice of a child who extols the virtues of the schemes promoted by “Modi ji". And this is probably just the beginning of an advertising avalanche one is likely to witness in the coming months. Obviously, the overall advertising expenditure by the government on communicating its achievements to the public will also go up. According to the PTI report, it had spent nearly 1,286 crore in 2016-2017 on ads about government policies, schemes, projects and events, through various media.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the decibel level of marketing by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government will only go up. So how much is too much marketing? Do consumers (voters in case of election advertising) switch off if they are bombarded with too many ads? Does excess marketing put people off?

‘Excess’ or ‘over’ marketing really is over-spending to create excessive exposure. According to Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consultancy, if one has almost limitless resources at one’s disposal, it would be wiser to err on the side of over-marketing rather than under-marketing as long as the majority does not view the message with incredulity.

Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer (Asia) and managing director (India) at ad agency Leo Burnett, agrees: “My sense is that in a market such as India a high-voltage or a high-frequency campaign is indeed advantageous. Visibility, top-of-mind are drivers of purchase intent. It is seen as a surrogate for confidence and commitment." Also, as far as elections are concerned, they involve the masses—who, unlike the intellectual minority, do not access data or opinions on their own. “They largely feed on what’s being fed. So in many ways, excessive communication may not essentially be a bad thing," he says. “On many national brands we see that the moment we pull out the media-weight, there is a decline in sales. Here, visibility is leading to familiarity, hence driving preference. The (Donald) Trump campaign in America, too, was very high voltage and provocative, and it delivered the goods."

Yet there are others who feel that there is a point beyond which increasing one’s marketing decibel level creates diminishing returns. That is caused by the saturation of the audience’s attention, which renders incremental noise levels increasingly ineffective. Consumers have the facility to tune out noise and messages which are not relevant to them. Too much marketing could backfire for a couple of reasons. The first being that if the same message gets repeated ad nauseam, it can get irritating, thus giving rise to negative feelings towards their source.“For any brand to register in a consumer’s mind, research suggests that brands follow ‘optimal media strategy’, whereby ‘X’ number of impressions over ‘y’ days are good enough to create awareness. More than that can lead to irritation," says direct marketing expert Raj Bhatia.

Besides, marketing or advertising should not create a hype that is impossible to live up to. “Disappointment is the gap between promise and delivery. An overpromise only widens the gap leading to dissonance," says Alchemist’s Sinha.

So you have to be very clever in the choice of messaging. “If, as a citizen, I feel that my life has gone worse and you are celebrating ‘India Shining’ then it will backfire. However, if I have benefited from the programmes, if roads and toilets have been built, if the electricity situation is better…and the advertising is helping build an association of the benefits with a political party and a leader, then it will work. Here again, the way Indians are, people aren’t really seeking 100% delivery. As far as there is a palpable movement, people will give you credit," feels Sinha.

It’s easy when you are a new entrant and you are banking on a promise for the future. It’s tricky when you are an incumbent and you are counting your achievements. “So, overall, high visibility is good if the messaging is congruent with the reality on the ground, to a large extent. But, if the messaging is counter to the dominant reality on the ground then it will backfire," he adds.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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