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Programmatic advertising and political campaigns: The Mahagathbandhan for general elections 2019

Industry speaks on what programmatic advertising means to political parties this election

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MUMBAI: Programmatic advertising is revolutionising the advertising industry. Programmatic ad spends accounted for a whopping 90 per cent of total spends by Fortune 500 brands worldwide in 2017 and has evidently taken centre stage of the digital advertising industry today. The ecosystem is on a steady rise in India as well and a number of brands are leveraging the reach it provides them within the consumer heartland based on efficient integration of their products via automated processes using codes and algorithms.

With the general elections just a few months away, the political parties are also using this trend to attract the voters to their vote banks. Indiantelevision.com interacted with a few industry insiders to understand what programmatic advertising means to the political parties and what impact it may or may not have on the upcoming polls.

Why programmatic?

“Through the use of its unique targeting capabilities and advanced data crunching techniques, programmatic advertising is the perfect solution for politicians to reach the right voters. Voters can be targeted as per different criteria like - gender, age, location, party affiliation, political ideals, financial status, ownership, business, education and so on. Programmatic advertising facilitates crafting a data-driven campaign strategy. This helps to reach only those voters that have a possibility to vote in favour. This helps to reduce inefficiencies and bloated campaign budgets,” says Vertoz founder and CEO Ashish Shah

He further adds, “Geo-targeting can be used to reach out to the voters of a particular region with a highly relevant and effective message. Dynamic Creative Optimisation (DCO) can enable adjusting the campaign creatives on the go in real-time, dynamically changing the copy as per their interests and affinities or for retargeting them.”

iCubesWire founder and CEO Sahil Chopra gives the example of the previous general elections in India where current Prime Minister Narendra Modi made exceptional use of Twitter and other digital mediums to connect with his supporters. He said, “During the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2014, the digital medium was touted as an efficient and effective way by most of the political parties of India. In fact, when the election results were out, Mr. Modi didn’t declare his victory over the television, or even before his supporters. He chose to tweet about it. This message became one of the most retweeted messages in India, receiving more than 70,000 retweets. Such is the potential power of digital.”

Similar thoughts are reflected by Ashish Shah as he notes, “Reaching out to the voters on digital platforms assumes supreme importance and has become a major aspect of political campaigns. Trump’s victory in the 2016 US presidential election was largely attributed to its digital campaigns. Closer home, digital media played a significant role in BJP’s landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.”

He further adds, “With rising technological advancements, Indians are spending more and more time on digital media surfing the internet. As of 2018, India had about 500 million internet users, as per a report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Kantar IMRB. The number of urban users accessing the internet daily stands at 295 million, while in rural areas the number stands at 186 million. Further, with affordable handset prices and low-cost data penetration, they are spending more and more time on mobile. Thus, reaching out to these voters on digital platforms assumes supreme importance and has become a major aspect of the political campaigns.”

Highlighting the core benefits of incorporating a programmatic approach to political advertising, Logicserve Digital co-founder and CEO Prasad Shejale notes, “Since programmatic advertising offers hardcore and precise consumer behavioural insights, even politicians have realised the distinctive importance of this and have started implementing the same for their election strategy to target voters based on the analysis done. Political parties target and plan their election campaigns by specifically addressing their issues and pain points analysed through this form of advertising, and increase awareness and influence potential voters. This automates the bidding process and delivers ads to match their voters’ criteria.”

What role can programmatic play in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls?

The biggest democracy of the world, India is all set for its Prime Ministerial polls, which are scheduled to happen in April-May. All the political parties will be putting their best feet forward in alluring the voters to their camps.

According to the contribution report that BJP filed with the election commission post the 2014 polls, the BJP spent Rs 714.28 crore on election campaigning, the major chunk of which went on to media promotions. Digital accounted for a massive chunk of this expenditure and certainly the results reflected the power of effective poll advertising. This year, the expenditures are only expected to grow and with its manifold benefits, programmatic will surely play an important role in the process.

Speaking about what could be the trend in the upcoming elections, Chopra contends, “It is certain that the digital medium will be used again in a big way during this election period. Industry estimates suggest that there will be a rise of 15-18 per cent of spends in 2019 during elections and cricket period; wherein programmatic will also be a beneficiary amongst other mediums. Precise targeting, wider reach options, and transparency will be one of the reasons advertisers will embrace programmatic as one of the mediums to create awareness and reach out to people.”

While it definitely is a powerful tool to woo the voters, the trend of programmatic might have some repercussions in maintaining the sanctity of the voting process in a democracy. Fake ads, delusional narratives, and targeted approach might potentially impact the election results. While the industry doesn’t comment much on the greater impact, it contends for the need for transparency and cautiousness while executing such campaigns.

Shejale says, “Well, it’s difficult to make an exact statement about this. I wouldn't be able to comment on whether programmatic will play a decisive role since multiple factors contribute to the decision when it comes to political campaigns. But yes, programmatic can help enhance the efficiency and efficacy of the campaigns. It's the responsibility of advertisers and agencies to have responsible marketing in mind since the consumers, over time, read through if there is any wrongdoing.”

Shah continues the same trail of thought as he states, “One needs to be cautious of issues concerning brand-safety and wrong ad placements. If one is not careful, this can wreak havoc on the campaign. Also, problems like transparency and ad frauds have to be considered. These can leech off the campaign budgets and have a detrimental effect on all the efforts. Campaign managers should ensure that they partner with a programmatic platform which has the right mechanisms to protect the campaigns form such problems. It is advisable to on-board a platform that has brand safety, ad fraud detection, and ad fraud protection mechanisms and provides a good level of transparency.”

“Many parts of our country especially the tier 2 and 3 cities are experiencing digital transformation. Thanks to low data rates and widespread availability, more and more people from smaller parts of our country are getting acquainted with the vast plethora of possibilities of the digital realm. A recent study by Google stated that the consumption of YouTube on mobile devices has increased by almost 400 per cent and 60 per cent of the total watch time is outside the top 6 metropolitan cities. 70 per cent of internet users from these cities are bypassing desktop and are using mobile for accessing the internet. Any strategy which is made in mind keeping a mobile-first approach will definitely be beneficial for the brands (political parties). Like any other medium within the digital portfolio, programmatic needs to be used in a constructive way,” mentions Chopra.

While political parties and agencies are advised to be watchful in their conduct while creating political ads, platforms like Google and Facebook are taking their own steps to ensure that the election process remains fair. Ashish Shah shares, “Facebook - the social media giant - has taken notice of it and has recently announced a special offline verification policy for the 2019 General Elections. Google also said that it will introduce an India-specific Political Advertising Transparency Report and a searchable Political Ads Library to provide information like who is purchasing election ads on its platforms and the amount of money being spent.”

Thus, while programmatic is going to be one effective and sought-after tool in poll promotions, the parties, as well as the advertisers will have to be sensitive about what they put online. At the end of it, the voters are smart and can read through the campaigns that might be malicious or false.

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