When winning is the only option, who do you partner with?

A campaign that propelled the largest mandate in recent history.

Nisheeth Sharan


Abki Bar, Modi Sarkaar!

Since the verdict on 16th, a lot has been said about Narendra Modi’s election campaign, his electioneering style, his oratory, his hard work, his ability to connect with the voters etc. What is being accepted is that whatever he did, had an impact on the body politic of India like never before. No leader, since independence has been met by such euphoric responses, has been reposed with so much faith as the Sardar of Gujarat.

As a part of his core team of campaign managers, I have had the opportunity of closely observing and participating in decisions that made the promise of Abki Bar, Modi Sarkaar a defining mandate.
I must admit, unlike a lot of political campaigns, this campaign was not driving the political discourse. This campaign was truthfully reflecting and amplifying what the man himself stood for. Strategically and tactically dovetailing his vision and stance to the unfolding political drama.
‘No advertising campaign can a sell a bad product,’ is a dictum which many campaign professionals have learnt the hard way. In NaMo’s case, reverse is the truth. A great product can make any advertsing look good and deliver greater results. With that admission, let me share the story of Abki Bar, Modi Sarkaar.

The Scenario: A stagnant political landscape.
To understand what NaMo became for India in these elections, we have only to look at the people who occupy that domain today. Most political leaders who emerged on the national stage in the last 20 odd years are products of lateral entry. They came as part of dynasties, as sycophantic baggage of old fossil leaders who could foist their choice on their parties, as media manufactured glib talkers whose only strength was their television theatrics in studios and who would probably suffer a heat stroke on their first rural sojourn. This breed of politicians, learned their political lessons in the convoluted lab of Lutyens politics. They had no understanding of the voting population, what moved them, what they aspired for, what they wanted to hear, their frustrations and fears. I can't recall even one single leader apart from Atal Bihari Vajpayee who could be called a national leader instead of a political leader. The political stage had stagnated with done to death issues, approaches and political stances which were well past their sell by date. There was nothing that the existing political class could credibly offer. Couple that with a frustrated population, aspirational youth, disappointed middle class and completely fed up rural India where everything refused to change and you have the most primed market for change.  Into this stagnant market rode Narendra Modi, the challenger.

The Challenger: Narendra Modi
In stark contrast to the lateral entrants, Narendra Modi was the product of nationalistic aspirations bread in the shakhas of RSS. A man who had cut his teeth in the poverty ridden landscape of hinterlands, who had worked in the BJP sangathan and understood the pivotal role oraganisational hierarchy plays, what cadres are capable of delivering, what propels their faith and drove them to strive for more. His stint in Delhi exposed him to the backroom treacheries of Delhi politics as much as its soft underbelly. His sudden entry in administrative politics as the CM of Gujarat and what ensued readied him for the bloody battles of power that electoral politics stood for. His travails with a septic media brigade helped him create alternatives to being dependent on main stream media. His unfair villification for 2002 readied him for a foxy opponent which looked independent and behaved like a participant. His experience with intra party one upmanship primed him for the challenges ahead. Being treated as a global pariah educated him on the international influences in domestic politics.
In a nutshell, destiny chose him to learn all his lessons the hard way, quickly. Nobody can fault Narendra Modi for not learning his lessons. His Gujarat experience bears out his learning by being challenged and helped him formulate a model which could deliver 3 consecutive victories as CM of Gujarat on his way to the highest office in India. Circumstances made him the man India had been waiting for.
And Narendra Modi is not known to let opportunities pass by.

Campaign committee: Preparations begin
Right after the results of the 4 states on 8th December, BJP formed its campaign committee. Comprising of Leaders of Opposition Arun Jaitely, a veteran of many strategic campaigns, Sushma Swaraj, the articulate voice of Loksabha, Amit Bhai Shah, Narendra Modi’s confidante, master strategist and meticulous manager, Sudhanshu Trivedi, BJP spokesperson and Piyush Goyal, MP & BJP Treasurer.

The committee met for the first time in the third week of december and decided to invite advertising agencies, media professionals and communication professionals for a pitch. As Sushmaji told me then, “We want to engage professionals that understand the ethos of India. We are not going with international companies who bring bandwidth but need to be educated on BJP or India”. The first briefing happened in the chambers of the Leader of Opposition at the parliament house on Jan 1st. The brief was clear… Amplify the failures of Congress, position Narendra Modi as the solution, generate hope that things can change and resonate the aspirations of young India.

Over the next fortnight presentations and pitches were heard out. On the 10th January the first shortlisting happened. By end of January the agencies were on board. Soho Square lead by Piyush Pandey as the main creative agency, Madison lead by Sam Balsara for the media buying and distribution and Utopia Consulting, led by Nisheeth Sharan to bring in the political sensitivity and strategic thinking. Manoj Ladwa, Dr. Vijai Chauthaiwale, Hemang Jani and Hitesh Barot joined in to keep the campaign in line with Narendra Modi’s expectation and close to script.

Coining the line Abki Bar, Modi Sarkaar.
As is with every campaign, the first task was to coin the tag line. Sifting through 100 of permutations, trying to capture the essense of what BJP wanted to say to India was a herculean task. If it captured the sense, it lacked the punch. If it had the punch, if was too complicated and not simple enough. For a fortnight whatever was presented to the campaign committee came back rejected and thrashed. In one such meeting, Ajay Singh, Spicejet promoter and the coordinator of the committee recalled his experience of 1998/99 and 2004 campaigns. The line then was Abki Bari, Atal Bihari. The unanimous feedback was that the tag line needs to be as simple, clean and capable of being made into a slogan in the rallies. Cut to the war room. Ajay throws the line to key members Nisheeth Sharan, Banu Nagarajan, Debojo Maharshi and Arvind Sen. Through intense debates the first draft emerged “Is Bar, BJP sarkar. We wanted to bring in Modi into the slogan because studies showed Modiji had 20% lead over BJP across India. Immediately the line was tweeked to “Is Bar, Modi Sarkar.” Sounded like a personal commitment of Modi ji. Prasoon Joshi, celebrated lyricist and adman, who was involved in his personal capacity, suggested a modification. “Desh ki Pukar, Modi Sarkar.” The line was sent back to the committee and approved. It was sent for final clearance to Modiji himself. His observation, “Desh ki pukar”  sounds presumptuous. Get back to the writing pad. Eventually consensus built on “Abki Bar, Modi Sarkar.” Instant approval came from all quarters.

The Campaign Strategy:
It was decided to break the campaign into 4 parts.
Phase  1 was to amplify the failures of the congress government. Piyush Pandey coined the line “Janta maaf nahin karegi” for this phase. Objective was Why you should not vote for Congress.

Phase 2was to offer hope and position Narendra Modi as the solution, the line was “Achhe din aane wale hain”. Objective was What will BJP deliver?

Phase 3 was to address regional issues in regional languages. Consequently almost 30 films and 300 print creatives were produced in regional languages to engage with regional audiences. This level of detailing had never happened in any political campaign ever. Objective was to let people know BJP is connected to all their local issues. Abundant use of Urdu publications and urdu creatives was done to engage with the muslim community. The pitch was always development and prosperity. Vote for Modiji and get your issues sorted. The 7% increased votes from the muslim community shows that addressing their issues was more relevant to them than communalism vs secularism kind of banalities.

Phase 4 was to be tactical, address issues as they happen, embarrass Congress, lampoon them, expose their weaknesses.

Addressing the Media Dark Areas:
With a special focus on UP and Bihar as the regions which can deliver the additional numbers, detailed planning began. Both these areas have significant media dark areas where no newspaper, television or radio reaches. Addressing them and their issues was critical. It was decided to uses video vans with a detailed route plan for such areas which would take the message of Modiji to the masses. Over 600 video vans equipped with giant LED day time screens, audio systems and coordinators was put to service. Imagine  the sight of a villager where TV never reached, on being faced with a 72” video wall beaming the message of the party. Rituraj Sinha of SIP Services under the guidance of Piyush Goyal, MP and Party Treasurer went out of his way to make this task passible. As is likely to happen all such rural backyards had the Samajwadi Party gunda elements who would try to damage the vans. Vigilant security and local karyakarta supported the drive and ensured that over 26000 media dark villages were covered.

Going Deep: Focussing on rural communications:
With the urban mindset enamoured of satellite channels, it was a difficult task to bring the focus back to the masses. In a market where socio economic data has little media planning value (every man is one vote), reach was of paramount importance. Given that, lions share of the campaign was placed on the state owned Doordarshan and All India Radio. This paid rich dividends.

Outdoors, as any mass media professional will vouch for, is the single most corrupt execution where most advertisers loose major reach and resources. Given its notorious nature, it was initially felt that outdoors should be avoided. However, Utopia argued that no other medium could deliver the recall and visibility than hoarding. Challenge was to ensure meticulous execution and strict monitoring and audit so that visibility is not compromised. Consequently, multiple agencies were utilised for their competence and responsibilities divided that so small regions could be managed more efficiently.

The Print Strategy.
Madison, the media buying and distribution agency proposed that the thrust of the campaign should be television and radio. Print was to be used for recall purposes only. Here again, Utopia’s experience of political campaigns bore fruit. Arguing that newspapers are the only invasive and sure medium available, a major thrust of the campaign was placed on newspaper. Devising an aggressive strategy for print, set the task at using a blocking approach. Consequently newspaper communication was of a dominant nature. Occupy all important position in the newspaper and force our competition to move to insignificant position. Newspapers also allowed the campaign to be extremely localised. Content would change from edition to edition and region to region, keeping it relevant and focused. The message for Ladakh was different from the message of Jammu. The message of Bengal was different from the message of Assam. This strategy ensured that BJP dominated the newspaper and wiped out Congress’ visibility.

Social Media negates an unfair English Television Media
Narendra Modi has faced a hostile english television for over a decade. Instead of being objective, a part of the media, newstraders, as Modiji likes to call them had been on a vilification campaign. Realising that he cannot force objectivity into them, Modiji’s Team went about creating a thriving social media presence for him. It gave him the opportunity to engage personally, put forth his views directly and encouraged an open debate on issues. The power of this presence became visible in these elections. While all english news channels put together, command a prime time visibility of around 2.5 million viewers, Narendra Modi’s individual followers on just twitter alone reached 4 million. With his Facebook presence and website being added, the numbers far outstripped the reach out main stream channels. His followers engaged, retweeted, set the record right on many occasions. The sheer presence of his followers forced Congress and AAP to get into the act. But their efficiency and loyalty were of engaged professionals rather than the abiding spirit of NaMo followers.

The Digital Team lead by Arvind Gupta worked tirelessly to amplify his reach on websites, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. Advertising on digital also took the message to relevant audience in a fine tuned manner. A visitor searching for a job on monster or naukri.com would receive the message of employment. Personal reach was also multiplied on cell phones and its applications.

Multiplying Narendra Modi. 3D Hologram Rallies.
Realising that Narendra Modi was his own most potent messenger, it was felt that party should multiply his reach manifold by using his 3D hologram speeches to areas he could not reach. A crack team of technology professionals put together a 3D campaign the likes of which no politician in the world has used. While Modiji physically addressed over 440 sabhas, his 3D sabhas would be held in a further 1350 places. It was quite a sight to find a life like Narendra Modi addressing farmers, rural folks in all corners of the country. Most such sabhas saw 10 to 15 thousand attendance. While no other politician could match his physical rally numbers, his 3D sabhas raised the bar to point which no party could even dream of matching.

Most Positive Campaign Ever
It is a known belief in political communication that negative messaging works. However, BJP insisted that all our communication should be around development, growth, prosperity. And if lapses are to be pointed, it should only be trough the prism of these. Consequently, all campaign material stuck to an approved brief of only positivity, development and good governance. It is heartening to note that India has responded to positive messaging and delivered a mandate of development in no uncertain terms.

The phase 2 of the campaign was to invoke hope and change. Here all iterations were focussed on “achhe din aane wale hain”, signally that times are about to change for the better. This was also the sentiment dormant in the minds of most Indians. Fed up and disappointed, they wanted to hear that things were about to change and change for better. Creating a credible connect.

Why Narendra Modi connects like he does.
NaMo has smartly positioned himself. As an astute political practitioner, he understands what connects with the masses. His brilliantly oratory delivers the content. In the last 65 years, no Indian politician has raised every issue from the perspective of India. He speaks for India. He questions his opponents from the point of view of India. He is pained by India’s failures like most Indians are. He reflects the frustrations like most Indians do. He talked of efficiency. He talked of minimum government, maximum governance. He talked of achieving big results. His questions ring true, because he comes with an administrative record of delivering in Gujarat. He sounds credible, trustworthy.

He questioned Congress and the Gandhi family on its responsibilities and lapses from the point of  view of India. He reflected the dreams and desires of an aspiring India. He asked their vote for a better India.
And India gave itself to him.

Utopia Consulting