Political Marketing in India By Prof. Gurinder Singh Ahluwalia GJIMT, Mohali. Abstract Political Marketing has already become a subject of serious study and research in the US and the West but not quite so in India in particular. Political parties prefer to rely on the experts from within the party to design its campaign strategy though advertising is outsourced to the professional advertisers.
India’s oldest political party Indian National Congress used the services of commercial advertising agency way back in 1989 and since then most parties have been using marketing tools and concepts for achieving success in the elections. This paper is a desk research to understand the concept of Political Marketing from an Indian perspective and an effort to stimulate research in India in this field. Introduction Political marketing as a subject of research & study has been receiving considerable attention in the US, Europe New Zealand and Australia.
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There has been few research papers on this new discipline based on the study of South East Asian democracies also. But it has not yet caught the attention of scholars from India, a country that prides itself being the largest democracy on the globe. Although Political parties and candidates in India have long been using concepts and tools of commercial marketing to win over the confidence and approval of Indian electorate but no structured study has come out on how the political marketing has thus far been evolved here.
This paper is an attempt to explain the position of this new field of study as a separate subject and stimulate its appreciation from the perspective of India. Politics is normally associated with ideas and ideologies. A political party has a need to communicate with the target audience about the relevance and importance of its policy that may purportedly fulfill the aspirations of the citizens while the party achieves its own objectives. Therefore, Political advertising has been the most pervasive manifestation of the use of concept and tools of marketing undertaken by the political parties.
In the early stages of the political marketing studies in the west, most explanations tend to view political marketing as more concerned with the communication process between voters and political parties and candidates [Lock and Harris, 1996; Wring, 1997] without explaining its impact on the organizational components. Subsequently several studies have enumerated the relevance of particular aspects of marketing theory such as the relevance of marketing mix for political parties, use of segmentation techniques for voter targeting and identifying strategic needs and wants of the voters [Paul R. Baines, Phil Harris and Barbara R.
Lewis, 2002]. The use of marketing theory and concepts has gone beyond establishing effective communication with the electorate only. Marketing concepts and tools like market research, opinion polls and campaign management practices have found strategic approval of the political entities and hence become an important field of study and research. There are some skeptics who while arguing against the influence of marketing on politics generally say that it may be possible to win an election campaign and still lose an election. They look at election campaign as a month long event only, which it isn’t.
A campaign has to be a five years long exercise to ensure electoral victory. Expanding the influence of marketing Kotler and Levy (1969) pointed out that classical marketing tools could also be used in areas other than business, and called for the expansion of marketing to embrace non-commercial entities, such as police, churches and public schools. The use of marketing tools and concepts is not confined to the commercial domain of profit seeking organizations looking to exchange goods for money. Marketing no longer is interpreted in terms of selling alone.
Several non-commercial social, religious and political organizations have deployed marketing tools, techniques and concepts to market their ideas, influence and recognition. Marketing concept is a business management philosophy that propagates the organization wide orientation to focus on customer and competitor to provide a coordinated response to the customer needs (Kohli and Jaworski, 1990; Kotler, 2003). Marketing was born out of the need to have a channel between customers and business firms. The business firms felt the need for informing their customers about products and their uniqueness in comparison (Mauser, 1983).
Later on it was pointed out that marketing tools could be extended to cover other areas besides business firm (Kotler and Levy 1969). Peter Drucker (1973) says, “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself. Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available. ” Various authors in their own way have explained the concept of marketing.
Those who take ‘instrumental’ view of marketing theory see it as one of the managerial function (Kotler 1999). The marketing mix concept based on marketing instruments of product, price, place and promotion is called the 4P approach. Most marketing textbooks taught in major business schools are based on this orientation. This approach has been criticized for serious conceptual shortcomings. The managerial instrumental approach focuses mainly on consumer products (Sheth 1988) without taking into account the unique nature of services such as intangibility and simultaneous production and consumption.
There is other profound criticism of this approach owing to its inability to explain business-to-business marketing, which revolves around complex direct and indirect relationships. McCarthy promulgated the 4ps framework in 1960 that is currently taught in b-schools. Identifying and satisfying the needs and wants of target customer has been propounded as the cardinal aim of marketing. Political parties that are fixated on their core ideologies find it useful to employ the marketing mix approach. Such parties have a fixed product in form of their ideology and they want to influence maximum number of people so as to win support for heir agenda. A customer/voter led party would like to listen to the ever-changing demands of the largest group of people to ensure victory in elections. The marketing mix presents an active seller and passive consumer paradigm without acknowledging the embedded interactive nature of relationship between seller and consumer of services. Primarily it relates to tangible products and transactional exchanges only [Zeithamal and Bitner, 2007; Lovelock and Wright, 2002]. The worst criticism of this approach has been based upon the key conceptual issues.
Several authors have criticized this approach for neglecting the cornerstone of marketing theory: customer-orientation. [Dixon and Blois, 1983]. Political marketing approaches The application of marketing theory to the study of politics has its detractors too. Lock and Harris (1996) have suggested that “political marketing as a discipline has to develop its own frameworks, adapting those from the core marketing literature and, second, that it has to develop its own predictive and prescriptive models if it is to inform and influence political action”.
Political marketing has also been interpreted and explained in various ways by different scholars. Some researchers (Stephan C M Henneberg, 2003, Newman 1994) prefer to employ the 4P framework to the study of political marketing. Henneberg further argues, “The literature on political marketing management can gain from a functional understanding without having to relinquish its instrumental analyses and underlying concepts”. Many scholars in the last 20 years have used 4Ps approach to the study of political marketing (Scammel, 1999, O’ Shaughnessey 1990, Newman, 1994) At the core of marketing concept is the consumer.
This identification with customer delight has helped the commercial organizations to shift focus away from the techniques meant to entice and manipulate a customer and focus primarily on delivering great value to her. Customer is the royal reason for existence of a business organization. Lees-Marshment advocates a modern approach based on the philosophy of market-orientation enunciated by Drucker. This approach goes beyond study of the communications, research and campaign management functions to obtain an umbrella market-orientation for the party organization similar to what a commercial marketing organization would set out to achieve.
This school considers marketing as customer oriented approach rather than a seller driven function. A political party, like other not-for-profit service organization must aim to deliver what the citizens want. This alone would lead to achieving satisfaction among the target consumers. While studying the marketing evolution of the British Labour Party over the course of the 1983, 1987 and 1997 elections (when New Labour was ultimately successful) Lees-Marshment argues that British Labour had a product-oriented approach in 1983, a sales-oriented approach in 1987 and finally a market-oriented approach in 1997.
According to Lees-Marshment: A product-oriented party argues for what it stands for and believes. It assumes that voters will realize that it is right, and refuses to changes its ideas or product even if it fails to gain support. A sales-oriented party focuses on selling its argument to voters. It retains its pre-determined product design, but recognizes that voters may not want it. Thus, the party employs the latest market intelligence, advertising and communication techniques to persuade voters that it is right.
Arguably, the ALP employed a sales-oriented approach for the 1998 and 2001 elections, in an attempt to convince voters twice that its anti-GST stance was correct. A market-oriented party designs its behavior to provide voter satisfaction. It uses market intelligence to identify voter demands, and then designs its product to satisfy their needs. Lees-Marshment concludes that those political parties that have adopted a market- orientation have enjoyed significant electoral success. While pplying this framework to Indian political parties it would be pertinent to acknowledge that Socialist left wing parties and religion-cultural oriented parties all more or less could be classified as the sales-oriented approach parties. Whereas the mainstream Indian National Congress would seem to be inching towards achieving the tag of a market-oriented party. Marketing is just not about promoting and selling products or promoting and winning in political context. “The difference between marketing and selling is more than semantic.
Selling focuses on the needs of the seller, marketing on the needs of the buyer. Selling is preoccupied with seller’s need to convert his products into cash; marketing about the idea of satisfying the needs of the customer by means of product and the whole cluster of things associated with creating, delivering and finally consuming it. ” The argument strongly advocates that if a political party subscribes to a market orientation approach, it will seek to meet voters needs and wants, thus promoting voter satisfaction, and in doing so would be meeting its own objectives of electoral victory. A Market-Oriented party is not concerned about changing people’s minds but in following them. A market-oriented party would not ‘promise the earth,’ but as much as possible. ” India’s tryst with political marketing There are major differences between the American and European way of conducting campaigns. In USA you have candidate centered, repetitive, and short advertising messages as against the European way that features party centric, longer duration, and single shot advertisements. India being a parliamentary democracy could learn few lessons from the experience of the European political parties.
In the new global society of digital-industrial order and promotional professionals, politicians and political parties try to understand the issues that occupy the masses so that they could come up with their plans to resolve those and present before the masses for their support and approval. Citizen consumers compare the solutions offered by the various political parties and appraise the veracity of their claims and subsequently take sides. Political parties make increasing use of professional advertisers, PR outfits, polling agencies and strategic marketing experts from the commercial domain to design their plans.
News management, also referred to as Spin, has become a major legitimate weapon of influencing the public opinion. Political commentators have acknowledged the permeation of politics by the business (Lees-Marshment). Managing elections has become a sophisticated technical job requiring the parties to rope in professionals to carry out the task. Marketing practice, research and teaching generally follows the managerial instrumental approach. But this approach may not lead to the fulfilling of the objectives that a political party shall fulfill in a true democracy.
A political party in a democratic set up cannot restrict itself to satisfying the objectives of its cadres and members only. It has to include in its policy and program the wishes of large number of others who may not have joined the party but still vote for it. Right and left wing parties in India have a strong cadre based organizational set up, that isn’t the case with other large number of parties including the Indian National Congress led by Sonia Gandhi. Service organizations understand the strategic importance given to internal and external marketing.
Therefore excellent companies while giving due importance to the feedback and judgments of their employees never forget to listen to their customers through customized research. Similarly, if a party would depend strictly on the narrow agenda of its cadres without researching what the citizens want it to accomplish for them, it may jeopardize its chances of success in the elections. We know that there are divergent opinions about the role and function of political parties in a democratic set up.
The present day advocates of “participatory,” “direct,” “deliberative,” or “strong” democracy often regard parties with considerable suspicion, on the grounds that citizens should discuss issues and determine priorities within each community, “uncontaminated” by partisan bias [Richard S. Katz, 1997]. It is noticeable that Bhartiya Janta Party chose to forget their extreme right wing agenda called ‘Hindutva’ in orders to form a broader coalition government in 1999. If the BJP had listened to its cadres alone it would not have been be able to muster attractive numbers to form a government.
Political parties do take help of professional research agencies sometimes to understand the mood of the people. This enables a party to customize its offering to the public. It is not the media companies alone who take recourse to the pre poll surveys to assess the mood of the voters and also pump up their TRPs (A measure of viewership), the political parties also resort to use of market research to fine-tune their campaign management. Since these surveys make catchy headlines in the media therefore their impact on the voters and the party workers is significant.
A positive survey finding motivates the party workers to get out and work with more zeal to get the votes polled on the Election Day. In a parliamentary system of democracy the electorate has the choices of approving the candidate, party and their proposed plans for improvement in the general living conditions only. By electing a party/candidate into the office the electorate holds them responsible for delivering on the promises that they make during elections to the public. It has been observed that parties continuously keep modifying their agenda and set of promises to remain relevant to the contemporary expectations of the masses.
It would be pertinent to acknowledge how the Indian National Congress has undertaken a complete reversal of its economic policies after 1990s to remain an attractive relevant proposition to the citizens of India in the emerging global economic order. Don’t the marketers understand the dangers of pushing unwanted products to their customers? Working around linguistic, religious and caste grouping no longer guarantees success for a political party to occupy the treasury benches in parliament and state assemblies. These characteristics serve as benchmark for segmenting the citizens for effective targeting of the message.
The cocktail of religion and politics seem at work all over India and this has produced enormous aftershocks long after the polls have gone. A professional approach in handling such communications could reduce the unsavory aftershocks in the country. The intensity of the competition could be gauged from the fact that socio-religious leaders are prompted to appeal to their followers to influence voting. The Indian National Congress has been the first political party in India to use a professional advertising agency for political advertising in 1989.
Though the debate on the impact of use of professional advertisers for political campaigning is still on but a particular print campaign in the November 1989 elections, under the slogan of ‘ My heart beats for India’, featuring disturbing drawings became quite controversial due to its direct negative appeal. The INC advertising campaign was a designed by a commercial advertiser who also happened to be friend of the then Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, Mr. Arun Nanda of Rediffusion advertising.
These days most national and regional parties and candidates use various commercial agencies to communicate their election message to the undecided voters. Political parties in India are changing rapidly to adjust to the relative change in the profile of the socio-economic conditions of the citizens of India. The expansion of media in India has led to its extensive use by parties to connect to the masses. Besides, Public Election Broadcasts on the government controlled channel Doordarshan, private media organizations play a significant role in delivering the political advertising messages to the voters.
The parties and candidates are required to obtain prior clearance for each political message from the Election Commission of India before releasing it to the public. But even then there is extensive use of negative advertising during the election campaigns. Some of the advertisements do have advocacy tone. The media cells of the respective political parties continue to believe that voters would buy everything that they have to tell them. When would these media experts realize that we live in times when creating credibility amongst your target audience about the messages is a real challenge? India shining’ campaign of the National Democratic Alliance led by Bhartiya Janta Party looked to be working in the pre poll surveys. But the party lost the parliamentary elections in 2006. A closer study would reveal that there was real merit in the communication strategy adopted as the election theme. Most experts also agreed that the campaign was generally good and effective before the election results were out. The devil did lie in the media planning and targeting. From political marketing viewpoint no one tried to look at the desired level of media reach for an incumbent party.
It was the overkill in media that led to the defeat in the elections. Had the NDA kept its ‘India Shining’ campaign limited to the urban audience on the cable & dish television and designed a more realistic campaign for the poor rural masses it would have succeeded. Another area of study in India would be the use of government advertisements by the party in office. There has been plethora of research suggesting that incumbent party does not gain from higher share of voice, though it gains remarkably from share of mind and share of heart. This would require limited use advertising and leveraging the other promotion vehicles.
But most incumbent parties in India do not seem to learn lessons and keep on wasting resources on government advertising that results in greater discussions on their performance in office which generally fails to satisfy the large number of people due to socio-economic conditions. During the last assembly elections in Punjab, I had the chance to study the campaigning in an intensive manner. Punjab elections of 2007 featured high decibel advertising campaigns, public election broadcasts, road shows, exit polls, news management and a more organized campaign management to get the voters out to vote.
The reverberations continue to be felt in the form of daily dose of news coverage about the arrest & trial of high profile previous chief minister and his associates. The role of media and the media advisors have never had attracted such attention in election campaigns in particular and managing a political party in general. Can we conclude that astute media handling and overall use of marketing tools has become a necessary feature for the success of a political party? The application of marketing techniques and strategies to the political marketplace is a paradigm shift that will continue to change politics, as we know it today.
Media in Punjab, India too, has long been associated with social and political movements. It has been considered as an instrument with the potential to usher in a socio-political change in society. Till recently, major media in India could have been identified with distinct religious, political, social and economic interest groups having a definite agenda to promote without regard to the overall health of our democratic nation. In the current democratic set up media openly seems to side with political parties and other vested interest groups to sway the public opinion in a particular direction.
Therefore news management has become a full time activity for the political players. Success in politics is measured by the ability of a party to move the public opinion in a direction it wants it to move. It is not only the lack of a genuine market orientation but the over dependence on the experts within a party that results in week use of marketing tools and concepts. If congress party in Punjab assembly elections 2007 had succeeded in reminding the loyal voters of SAD in towns about their ‘differences’ with hardcore ‘Hindutva’ forces then the election results outcome would have been different.
If the media experts in Punjab unit of congress party had targeted advertisements on the basic differences within the loyal cadres and voters of SAD and BJP it may have been continued to rule Punjab. It was that core Akali voters who for the first time polled votes in favor of BJP that made the difference to the unprecedented BJP victory in the state. The credit went to the young leadership of SAD for engineering a shift in the voting behavior of traditional Akali voter by very successfully mobilizing and convincing them to cast the votes in favor of Akali BJP combine Persuasion remains the objective for the political players.
The parties stop short of finding out what the electorate wants from them; instead they claim to know what people must expect from them. The parties have generally ignored the need for marketing research to list the issues facing the public. It would be interesting to note that the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh used the most powerful brand endorser in India combined with messages that had top grade production values, but that was not enough to keep the party in power. The party failed to conduct research to find out the real issues facing the people; instead they tried to persuade the people to their own viewpoint.
Use of marketing instruments, concepts and techniques is on the rise in India with every new election. Most political parties, realizing the importance of political communications, have already created in house teams for poll management. These teams are often named as Media Cell and their role is by and large limited to communications management alone. These media divisions within parties generally consist of current and former journalists with strong political affiliations and a smattering of political communications experts.
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