Despite having run one of the largest pre-election campaigns in India — the India Shining blitzkrieg of 2004 — adman Prathap Suthan finds himself in a lonely corner in this busy season for spin doctors. “The cross of that campaign still hangs over my head. Wherever I go, people still say ‘O, you are the guy!’,” says the national creative director of ad agency Cheil SW Asia.
But that’s not stopping a gaggle of admen, management experts and public relations agents riding the proverbial tiger all over again. Catchy slogans, clever copies and, above all, winning ideas are in great demand at the largest election exercise of the planet.
And no segment is left uncourted. “From bullock carts to blogs, we are going to use whatever it takes,” says Manish Tewari, spokesperson for the Congress, which will have the ‘Aam aadmi ke badhte kadam (The march of the common man)’ slogan on top of every other poster.
Some others would rather keep the campaign close to themselves. “The BJP doesn’t have any image consultant, no PR agency. I think I am enough,” says Sidharth Nath Singh, a newly-appointed spokesperson of BJP. This alumnus of the FMS business school who manages an engineering firm when not managing his party’s campaign, is trying to work out his party’s pitch for the elections. Whether it’s through ‘Congress ka bantadhaar (Congress’s mess)’ in Madhya Pradesh or ‘Jeetega Gujarat (Gujarat will win)’ in another part of the country, Singh has to use every catchy phrase that seems to work.
Agrees Kunal Lalani, director of Crayons, the agency handling the Congress campaign. “The days of simply pasting a leader’s photograph and attaching a ‘Vote for Congress’ tag are over. There’s a spurt in organised media, so there has to be a story that connects with the audience,” says Lalani, who also handled the campaign for the Delhi state polls countering the BJP’s ‘Mehengi padi Congress (The Congress proved costly)’ line.
But what works at a general election? Suthan says, “People don’t want to know what governments have done in the last five years; they want to look ahead. People don’t want rhetoric — the aam admi wants to know where he can park his car.”