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The Splash: What keeps the Narendra Modi marketing machine ticking?

A top Modi aide says that the idea is that constant exposure to the quiet yet prominent logo will help it seep into the subconscious of the voters.

Written by Archna Shukla | Updated: May 1, 2014 10:49 am

It’s hard to miss the white lotus on the famed chhappan inch ki chaati as BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addresses one rally after the other. The flower, strikingly different from the BJP’s official saffron-and-green lotus, made its debut on the lapel of Modi’s trademark half-sleeve kurtas on April 7, the day polling began for the 2014 general elections. “The white lotus is a replica of the lotus that appears on EVMs (electronic voting machines). It has a strategic purpose,” says a top Modi aide.

The idea, he explains, is that constant exposure to the quiet yet prominent logo will help it seep into the subconscious of the voters and they will go for it instinctively when they stand in front of an EVM on election day. This is subliminal advertising, the science of influencing consumers at a subconscious level, a relatively new domain of marketing.

While the Modi campaign’s use of social media has been much talked about (the 40,000 tweets and Facebook entries every day, Modi’s exclusive YouTube channel and the live streaming of his public addresses), behind the scenes, it has rolled out an elaborate offline, or traditional, poll drive that has employed every trick in the marketing trade: subliminal advertising, catching ’em young, going glocal (a global brand learning local tricks), crowd-sourcing, analytics, primary and secondary market research, above- and below-the-line advertising, brand placement, content integration, activation and consumer engagement. These are conventional and contemporary marketing practices that brands across the world use to become the favoured choice of their consumers. Add to these the smart use of technology (3D holograms used in Modi’s rallies or the use of DTH services to address voters in remote areas) and the result is that you can’t shut out Modi this election season.

“In an era of information overload, you overload an already overloaded people. This isn’t great marketing,” says Congress leader and Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari.

Modi’s strategists, however, insist that this was what they intended. “Every touch point with voters was critical for us. We aimed to connect with them wherever they were, and hence the use of TV, print, radio, hoardings, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, DTH, cable TV services, on-ground and off-line people-connect initiatives,” says the person leading Modi’s marketing and communication brigade.

The giant marketing machine hasn’t stopped since it was turned on last September, only shifting gears when needed. The use of diverse platforms ran the risk of sending out disparate messages but team Modi claims to have driven the communication in a manner that it has always been a unified message that came from all platforms at every stage.

When Modi began his campaign with attacks on the UPA, it was because his analytics, research and on-the-ground teams had gone through several sets of economic and social data that showed people across the country were unhappy with price rise and corruption, while poverty and women’s safety were their top concerns. So his mainstream media slogan — mehengai, garibi, bhrashtachaar aur naari par atyachaar – janata maaf nahin karegi (people will not forgive inflation, poverty, corruption and exploitation of women) — echoed that message. The online team co-ordinating discussions on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and on-the-ground group managing events such as chai pe charcha picked up the theme. Chai pe charcha, incidentally, has so far been organised in more than 2,000 locations across 600 cities.

From attacks on the UPA, when Modi moved to the topic of good governance, the line of advertising promptly changed to‘achche din aane wale hain (happy days will be here again) and ‘Modi aane wala hai’. The conversation on other platforms too shifted. Since last week, he has been speaking of the need to have a stable government and his new advertising tagline is, ‘sthir sarkaar, Modi sarkaar (stable government, Modi government)’.

Any guesses why after giving the media the slip for a long time — with the exception of a select few interviews — Modi gave out a flurry of interviews to a host of newspapers and news channels last week? The interviews were scheduled after a survey has revealed that there was greater acceptability for Modi in the mainstream media.

Team modi


Political strategists

Instead of relying on party machinery or deliberating with senior party leaders, Modi works closely with a handful of people borrowed from the RSS and three of his trusted ministers from Gujarat.

Backroom boys

Administration and coordination with different Modi teams is carried out by three of his secretaries operating out of Gandhinagar — chief principal secretary K Kailashnathan, additional principal secretary A K Sharma and principal secretary G C Murmu — and resident commissioner in Delhi Bharat Lal.

Campaign strategist

The blueprint of Modi’s marketing and communication strategy has been drawn by Citizens for Accountable Governance. CAG is the brainchild of Prashant Kishore, a former UN mission chief in Africa, a public health exponent and a statistics whiz, who has been working with Modi for the past three years. CAG employs 200 full-time and more than 1,000 part-time volunteers.

Communication managers

Modi’s digital strategy, including his social media campaign, is managed by his former OSD Hiren Joshi, a former RSS man. The mainstream campaign — TV, print and radio ads — is managed by Manoj Ladwa, a London-based mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer , said to have played a crucial role in getting the UK to open its doors to Modi. While the media planning is handled by marketing communications agency Madison and advertising veterans such as Piyush Pande and Prasoon Joshi are providing creative inputs for the campaign, Ladwa supervises the whole process from an office in Lodhi Road, New Delhi.

Nuts &  bolts

Analytics as a tool

A bunch of engineers and statisticians analyses data of the past six elections, fuses it with demographic, socio-economic and their own opinion poll data, and slices it to the level of polling booths across 400 constituencies. This is analytics, a tool employed by hardcore market research and digital companies, and the Modi team says it helped them get a nuanced picture of patterns, issues and voters’ inclinations. The analytics team is in constant touch with other teams, using their real-time inputs, blending them with its own data and updating all teams on any changes in public mood, trends and issues. The analytics team even decides the routes to be taken by the Modi cavalcade, besides keeping an account of vehicles and drivers. “At any point in time, we have exact information on which vehicle is placed where and who is driving,” says a member of the team.

The big brains

The Citizens for Accountable Governance is a think-tank spearheading Modi’s marketing and communication push. It’s a central research team of policy analysts, economists, foreign policy experts and graduates from leading institutions across the world. The team has prepared reports on national policies and social and economic issues that have been discussed this election. It provides constant inputs for Modi’s speeches, social media conversations and chai pe charcha.

Mind reading

On-ground surveys and interviews spot electoral patterns and preferences — in short, internal opinion and exit polls. The information gathered is passed on to the analytics team that fuses it with its own data and other inputs from the research team. The team then analyses the data for trends and aberrations. This effort results in a Rapid Action Report, which presents a constantly evolving picture of a constituency. These inputs are passed on to Modi’s team and they use it to fine-tune his campaign.

Fanning out

Beyond TV commercials, print ads and radio jingles, the strategists conduct several events and programmes across the country, especially in rural areas, to build a direct connect with people.

The mainstream: A team of professionals operating out of New Delhi supervises commercial messages released to the mainstream media, besides buying space and time on various media platforms. Recently, it released a 75-second (the norm is 10 seconds) TV film during nine shows on Star Plus. Called ‘Roadblock’ in ad lingo, it was the only ad aired on those shows, blocking all other commercials. “It was an excellent way of capturing consumer mindspace without getting lost in the cacophony of commercial messages of various brands,” said a Star Plus insider. Besides, Modi’s messages play during popular TV shows on youth channels such as Channel[V].

The IT factor: A dedicated IT cell at the party level and Modi’s own team use Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube to spot friendly voices, reach out, train them and make them stakeholders of Brand Modi. Twenty lakh volunteers work to keep the Modi buzz alive online. Many are young and mid-career professionals from financial services, marketing, media and IT who have quit, taken sabbaticals or are simply devoting a few hours every day to the cause. ‘Modi4PM’, ‘NaMo4PM’, ‘NaMoChaiParty’, ‘Pledge4Modi’ are some of the campaigns they run.

On the ground: Several exercises help reach out to voters, such as chai pe charcha; the ‘Statue for Unity’ project; Sankalp, an initiative to address gender disparity; Manthan, an online and on-ground event with students asked to present “innovative solutions” to 14 “critical challenges the country faces”; Samvad, where volunteers interact with farmers; and Ivote, an initiative urging people to vote. The team running the project is also filing RTIs and organising online petitions to keep the buzz going.

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