Politics meets podcasts in influencer universe

Other than appearing on Ranveer Allahbadia’s podcast, BJP leaders have collaborated with influencers like Shraddha Jain and Raj Shamani besides appearing on shows like Curly Tales and The Bombay Journey.
Other than appearing on Ranveer Allahbadia’s podcast, BJP leaders have collaborated with influencers like Shraddha Jain and Raj Shamani besides appearing on shows like Curly Tales and The Bombay Journey.

Summary

  • Political leaders are engaging with popular podcasters and influencers to connect with younger, digital-savvy audiences ahead of the general elections

Hoardings, pamphlets and street speeches are so yesterday. Political parties are now tapping popular podcasters and influencers to get their message across as general elections loom, seeking out younger Indians who have grown up with smartphones and wireless internet.

Ranveer Allahbadia, whose Youtube channel BeerBiceps has nearly 7 million followers, has hosted various leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) including Smriti Irani, S. Jaishankar and Rajeev Chandrasekhar. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appeared on Curly Tales, which has nearly 3 million subscribers, Nationalist Congress Party leader Supriya Sule has gone on The Bombay Journey, a part of Mashable India that has 567,000 subscribers.

Several BJP leaders have also collaborated with influencers such as comedian Shraddha Jain, and author and podcaster Raj Shamani.

Industry experts said that tapping a vast influencer base aims to more than just win elections; parties and politicians are using the digital medium to broaden reach, and add authenticity and personalization to ideas.

“With the youth turning away from traditional news, Indian politics is chasing eyeballs and engagement on social media through influencers," said Shrenik Gandhi, co-founder and chief executive officer of White Rivers Media, a digital agency. "It’s about bypassing media filters, transitioning from political rallies and connecting on platforms like YouTube. As far as the 2024 general elections are concerned, one could expect an explosion of niche targeting—memes, micro-influencers, podcasts, amongst other mediums—catering to the generation that has been raised online," Gandhi said.

The influencer wave stems from data-driven outreach and the trend reflects a crucial understanding—young voters seek authenticity and engagement beyond pre-packaged sound bytes, Gandhi added.

According to Prasanth Kumar, CEO, South Asia of GroupM, the coming elections could generate advertising expenditure of 1,500–2,000 crore, of which 55% may find its way to digital media. This marks a strengthening of the trend in recent years where political parties have engaged digital content creators and influencers.

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed nine years in office, the BJP gathered around 500 social media influencers in Mumbai for a celebration. The attendees, boasting followers ranging from a few thousand to millions, were acknowledged for their role in promoting the party's message and were encouraged to organize similar events to engage other significant social media figures, said Neelesh Pednekar, co-founder and head of digital media at Social Pill, a digital marketing agency. Subsequently, it organized similar meet-ups in Jammu and Kashmir, Gujarat, and New Delhi.

Political analysts agree digital content and entertainment forums will be an important part of party campaigns, given that they play on emotive sensibilities easily. "The cultural bent of voters is important in the upcoming elections," analyst Manisha Priyam said.

In 2019, Modi appeared on the Man vs Wild show with Bear Grylls at Uttarakhand's Jim Corbett National Park; later, Grylls claimed that the episode had become the “world’s most trending televised event" with 3.6 billion social impressions.

“This trend is more than a ploy for the upcoming elections; it is a strategic shift in political campaigning, reflecting a better grasp of changing media consumption habits, particularly among younger groups. The objective is to use influencers’ trust and rapport with their audiences to convey political themes in a more personal and engaging way. This strategy not only broadens reach, but also adds authenticity and personalization to political communication, making it more appealing to young people," Pednekar said.

Top communication modes for elections have shifted to Instagram and podcasts, said Danish Malik, co-founder and CEO, Boomlet Group, an influencer marketing and crisis communications agency agreed. Other than influencers at the national level, political parties are also targeting and engaging with names even at the regional and hyperlocal levels, given multiple state elections coming up. Last October, Modi had met Ankit Baiyanpuria, a fitness influencer from Haryana who took to social media to endorse the 'Swachhata Hi Seva' campaign.

“However, even if we focus on content suitable for new-age audiences, politicians won’t primarily target Gen Z, as they are currently ineligible to vote or there may not be significant voter ID card numbers within that specific demographic group. So, there are various talk shows and popular lifestyle influencers that cater to audiences typically aged 30 and above," Malik pointed out.

Influencer marketing often involves financial deals for interviews and collaborations; however, details of political parties' arrangements with influencers remain under wraps. These arrangements can vary widely, from direct payments for content creation and promotion to more indirect forms of support, such as access to events, exclusive interviews, or promotional support for the influencer’s platform.

That said, the Advertising Standards Council of India (Asci) monitors digital and social media platforms for violations of its influencer advertising guidelines, which include non-disclosure of what appears to be paid promotion by influencers.

“Asci’s mandate does not include political or government advertising; we provide self-regulation for the commercial industry’s products and services," Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general, Asci said.

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