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Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

NDA’s Rs50 crore advertising blitz failed to translate into votes

According to estimates by media buyers, NDA spent Rs40-50 crore on campaign mounted across media including newspapers, radio, TV, billboards

The Bihar elections proved that a party’s advertising and promotional budget has little influence on the final outcome. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) vastly outspent its rivals in a fierce election campaign, but still ended up on the losing side.

According to estimates by media buyers Mint spoke to, the NDA spent 40-50 crore on an aggressive campaign mounted across media including newspapers, radio and television and outdoor billboards.

The Grand Alliance, comprising Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), his one-time rival Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Congress, together spent around 25-30 crore in countering the NDA’s bid for power in the politically crucial heartland state. The Grand Alliance won.

The importance of the Bihar election can be gauged from the fact that the NDA spent a lot more on the campaign in the eastern state than it did in other states that have gone to the polls in the months following last year’s general election.

In October last year, the BJP spent 25 crore on its advertising campaigns in Haryana and Maharashtra, including 50 lakh for the telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Madison Square Garden speech in the US that was aired on seven Marathi television channels.

If the BJP and its allies lost, it wasn’t for stinting on the campaign effort. Senior BJP leaders said the party organized over 500 meetings in the state, with Prime Ministrer Narendra Modi himself addressing around two dozen large rallies.

Around 250 trucks with TV screens airing speeches of Modi and songs traversed the state. The party played two Hindi songs composed for the campaign—Is Baar BJP, Ek Baar BJP and Jai Bihar, Jai Jai Bihar. Both songs were composed by BJP leader and member of Parliament Manoj Twari.

Aggressive electoral slogans characterized the campaign. BJP karegi pehla kaam, jungle raj pe poorna viram (The first work done by the BJP will be putting an end to the jungle raj), Apradh, bhrashtachar aur ahankar, kya is gathbandhan se badhega Bihar (Crime, corruption and arrogance, can this alliance develop Bihar?), went the BJP’s slogans.

The JDU retorted with Bohot hua jumlo ka vaar, fir ek baar Nitish Kumar (Enough of the couplet war, another term for Nitish Kumar) and Jhaanse mein na aye, Nitish ko jitaye (Don’t be deceived, vote for Nitish).

BJP also used regional artists and singers to compose four songs in the Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi and Angika dialects.

“We had formed teams that helped our social media campaigns. According to the internal study conducted by the BJP, people of at least 30% of the districts of Bihar are active on social media through their phones and the party tried to make use of them. A strong force of volunteers and BJP members was created to convey the messages of Prime Minister Modi in every district," said a senior BJP politician who led the online campaign in Bihar. The politician spoke on condition of anonymity.

Both main contestants focused on outdoor campaigning, organizing electoral rallies.

In July, Nitish Kumar started a month-long door-to-door campaign—Har Ghar Dastak (knock on every door)—to reach out to over 10 million households. The Bihar chief minister didn’t leave anything to chance. A non-government organization, Citizens Alliance, led the campaign for Kumar.

Together with Kumar’s party workers, the organization led by volunteers organised Har Ghar Dastak and a campaign called Chaupal Pe Charcha, to promote the work Kumar has done to develop Bihar in his two terms as chief minister. The group also involved intellectuals and university professors in the effort.

The BJP’s billboards featuring Modi and party president Amit Shah were plastered all over—a departure from the Modi-only artwork used in states like Maharashtra, Haryana and Jharkhand.

BJP splurged on print ads as well and spent 20 crore on advertisements splashed across leading dailies in Patna like Hindustan, Dainik Jagran and Prabhat Khabar, according to estimates by media buyers. Hindustan is published by HT Media Ventures Ltd, an associate of HT Media Ltd, publisher of Mint.

From the start, it was obvious that the BJP’s campaign strategy was to attack the alliance formed by the JDU, RJD and Congress to fend off the attempt by the party to make inroads in Bihar—a strategy it also adopted in its radio advertising. The two rival formations bought 50-100 radio spots a day.

“BJP has used radio very effectively in election campaigns. It started with Gujarat in 2012. We saw a similar strategy play out in the Delhi elections. This time, both sides have made strong attacks and counter-attacks through these ads," said Prashant Panday, chief executive at Entertainment Network (India) Ltd, which operates Radio Mirchi, the sole non-government radio broadcaster in Patna.

Gyan Varma contributed to this story.

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