On 8 April, just three days before the start of Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) YouTube channel uploaded a video showing youngsters gyrating to a rap song on why Modi deserves the first vote of young Indians. The video, which went viral, talked about key government schemes including Ujjwala Yojana, Digital India and Skill India.
What BJP did here was to speak to the target audience in their own language, a clever marketing tactic. Understanding the power of social media platforms, the party created customized and relatable campaigns such as ‘Main Bhi Chowkidar’, ‘My First Vote For Modi’ and ‘Modi Hai Toh Mumkin Hai’ for various social cohorts.
Smart personalized content across formats such as short videos, memes and GIFs engaged voters across digital and social media platforms during the elections. The internet population of the country grew by 108% from 250 million in 2014 when the last general elections were held, to 520 million this year making digital platforms an even stronger tool to woo voters with. The usage of social media platforms grew by 155% during this period.
“This election was fought on content marketing across digital and social media platforms. How often do you see a rap song coming out of a political party handle?" said Ashutosh Harbola, co-founder and chief executive of influencer marketing firm Buzzoka.
The BJP outdid Congress not just in the brute power of media money by spending over ₹20 crore on digital platforms but also the sheer number of followers it garnered across platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Add to that a NaMo app and an army of digital evangelists who individually promoted BJP’s content. According to research by digital marketing agency AdLift, the BJP has 142 million followers across both Modi and party social media handles, compared with the Congress and Rahul Gandhi’s with 23 million digital followers.
“The BJP also utilized earned media brilliantly which is neither paid nor advertised. People promoted BJP’s content because they felt connected with the party’s cause or intent," noted Shrenik Gandhi, chief executive and co-founder of digital marketing agency White Rivers Media. “BJP’s strategy was also to let PM Modi kick-start every campaign through his social media handles because it created the desired ripple effect as people wanted to imitate him," he said.
On Twitter, the BJP trended almost every day with campaigns targeting the youth. The party used Facebook to create videos and memes which were shareable. Facebook and Google also came in handy to increase interactions with students, corporate India, party workers and other beneficiaries through live videos. WhatsApp was used to not only circulate BJP content but, through lakhs of WhatsApp groups, convert non-BJP votes into those for the BJP.
Clever use of influencers (both social media as well as Bollywood stars) over key social media platforms helped influence first-time voters as well as humanise Brand Modi.
“The Akshay Kumar interview was a masterstroke as it created a demeanor of the prime minister making him relatable. It was widely shared. The vocabulary BJP used in its campaign resonated with the common man unlike opposition which came across as elitist at times," said Ajit Gurnani, chief client officer at media agency Zenith India.
Videos were the go-to choice for both the BJP and rival Congress. Indians are obsessed with online videos, with average viewings expected to touch 67 minutes per day by 2019-end, according to a report by media agency Zenith. ‘Pun ki baat’, a small format video promoted by the Congress, took apart Modi’s various claims in a sarcastic manner.
“This is a world of video consumption because this offers a deeper connect with users. Comedy videos were a big hit as people love sharing them. While both BJP and Congress heavily leveraged short-form videos (less than a minute long) smaller parties focused on text messages and lost out on the opportunity," Harbola added.
Adding to the fun quotient were hilarious shareable memes with references to anything which was trending on the internet such as the Game of Thrones or ‘How’s the Josh’ dialogue from the war film Uri. The BJP mostly highlighted the work that its government did.
A quick scan of the Congress Instagram handle shows memes inspired by popular trends. A Gully Boy inspired meme read ‘Acche din aaye nahi, par apna time aayega. Register nahi kiya, toh vote ka chance jayega’, while a Valentine’s Day message to Modi read, ‘Are you Anil Ambani? Cos I want to be your chowkidaar’.
“Congress did beautiful and quirky content but it failed to take it to the last mile audience," said Harbola.