AdStand: Government as Advertiser

India’s largest advertiser is not any brand or organization, it is the Government of India, and if you add all the state Governments to it, the sheer volume of advertising will be staggering. I am not adding the campaigns that the Government does for tourism or vaccination or cleanliness or any such cause or business. The communication that Governments do for themselves is phenomenal and keeps scores of agencies busy all round the clock.

Despite popular perceptions and some ordinary creative quality Governments are skilled advertisers. They have a clear idea of what they want to communicate and to who they want to connect with. They craft the message with a good sense of audience, their receptivity and political leanings.

Advertising by definition has to connect with the core audience and say one thing. Both these rules are not applicable to Government. They are not selling a product or a service. Government is not selling anything, they are showcasing their ability, their acumen, their achievements. They have to showcase a lot, create a positive influence and make the audience feel everyday that their choice was the correct choice and they should exercise the same choice in next elections. All this without showing the party symbols. Being everything to everybody is not easy. Being an all pervasive campaign is not easy. Being able to have multiple subjects where the citizens find what appeals to them by themselves is not easy. The Government ads have a different challenge.

The current regime in the center has elevated the art of Sarkari advertising to a new level. They haven’t done this by improving the quality or by better art direction or by better copywriting. None of that has changed in the ads. The ads remain plain and information driven.

What they have done is better segmentation. Each subject the Government wants to convey is a campaign. Each subject has its own slogan. Each campaign has the PM posing in the right context. Each campaign also has its hashtag, presumably for digital conversation.

Take the three years of NDA campaign that is going on currently. From GST to Skill India to Swach Bharat, the campaign has many subjects. All the campaigns have been unified using one slogan: Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas. This has been the Governments continuing slogan from the campaign which transitioned from the BJP election campaign.

What the Government has done is understood the Indian mindset. The success of brands in India is built on Sachets, every brand that sells a large pack uses Sachet to drive penetration. This is the Government that has driven the messaging in the same way. If you happen to catch a flight from a smaller airport in India (managed by AAAI) you will see boards proclaiming how the Government has ensured that fares have fallen in last 3 years. This has not been done by any Government ever.

For me, as a communication professional, there are many lessons that Government campaigns do teach me.

Originally published here:


Adstand: Going cashless

In last one month or so, India has learnt two new words. Both can be treated as a stimulous, the response to both has a deep sense of patriotism. One is ‘surgical strike’; the other is ‘cashless’. The two are interconnected. It’s the surgical strike that has aided the rise of narrative of cashless.  Surgical strike has not made it to the brands’ arsenal as yet, cashless has.

We know that India loves cash. Our cultural reference to riches is golden chest with piles of cash in it. Our symbol of someone being rich is someone who sits on pile of cash and carries not just a golden hue, but wears a lot of real gold. With such cultural reference, its tough for brands to build narratives around being cashless. What is helping the brands is the context. The country has gone cashless, not by choice, but driven by circumstances.


Cashless is new tactical opportunity

Snapdeal is running large print ads for what they call ‘unbox cash free sale’. For all ecom brands sale is a strategic reason to advertise, unlike brick and mortar brands that treat sale as a tactical activity. The cash less sale is mere branding for another of many sales that Snapdeal keeps announcing. The promise of keeping the transactions alive even if you dint have cash is a but too brand speak. It would have made far better sense if they had nit made it so transactional. Did the brand miss a big opportunity by not being strategic about it?

Toyota is the other brand that has made cashless the theme of its advertising. Every day finance offers are tactical activities for an auto brand and that is exactly how Toyota has treated the subject. Car brands have offered 100% financing for a long time, even if they don’t offer 100% financing, they rarely accept cash. The brand has just used the plank to be in the current context. Make My Trip too has jumped on the wave of cash crunch, and like the others has just mentioned the word.


Government’s public service ads

Surprisingly it’s the Government ads that seem to be doing a better job of connecting the issue with how it impacts people’s lives. The series of radio ads detailing how phone can be used for everyday transactions are doing a good job. Government’s entire campaign is to connect with the lowest common denominator and instill a sense of confidence. The campaign may have started late, but does the job. The narrative currently for all the ads is instructional. All the ads are about one urban erudite person telling the other person about how they can make use of phone to transact. May be the next phase of ads will become more conversational and less instructional.


The windfall for wallet brands

The wallet brands have seen unprecedented growth. The wallet brands have responded by being aggressively building traction. In last two weeks, PayTM has stolen the lead. It has almost become the default mobile wallet brand. The three options that most merchants today give are Cheque, Card or PayTM. This is making life tough for Mobikwik or PayU or Freecharge or even Mastercard who have been spending money. As the category moves on and becomes big, brands will have to occupy distinct spaces. This is the time when the category is in infancy and often the early leaders tend to become stronger. Its time for all the mobile wallet brands to step up. The challenge for them is tougher with PayTM launching payments bank and UPI becoming the new protocol of payments. The category called mobile wallets itself will mutate into something else. What will become even stronger is payment on the go. This is where the opportunity for brands exists. This is the edge they need to build; this is the long-term asset they can build.

May be there is a new wave of communication coming from wallets.

Today going cashless is driven by extraneous factors. Brands have the ability to impact culture, change behavior. Can they do the same with the need for cash?

Original published here:


AdStand: When Sarkar Advertises

India has 29 states, seven Union Territories and one Central Government. These 37 accounts together are possibly the largest advertisers in India. The advertising effort is so large that 37 government-run ad and media agencies have been set up for the effort.

For the moment, do not look at the PSUs, just look at what the Governments spend for promotion. If we the people vote the Government to power, then we the people also have to read about the fantastic work our governments do for us.

Last year, the Central Government spent Rs 840 crore on advertising, at DAVP rates. This is upwards of Rs 1,200 crore in real life. Add 36 more accounts and imagine the volume.

The game has been upped by every party. AAP, just a Delhi-based party, advertises across the country. Akali Dal, a predominantly Punjab state party, is all over newspapers in Delhi. The newly appointed Telangana state is a big time advertiser in Delhi. Even the newly formed Kerala government, which has no achievements to showcase, was all over India announcing that the state has a new CM.

The Central Government is the largest spender on ads. I suspect it might be India’s largest advertiser.

On May 26, to celebrate two years of being in power, the Central Government released an expansive campaign across the country. Every newspaper had the “Ab ki bar…” campaign celebrating the change in India and the progress India is making. There were ads targeting the economy and farmers – ‘Abki bar economy bemisal’ and ‘ab ki bar kisan vikas main hissedar’. The campaign also has 10 long format commercials with #TransformingIndia. From outdoor to digital, I don’t think anyone has not consumed the campaign.

Add to it, leading states also released ads adding to the celebratory cheer. This is possibly the most ambitious campaign that the government has launched. If there is one thing the campaign needs to be complimented for, then it is its expansiveness.

One government that can match the Central Government’s campaign muscle is the half state of Delhi. The state has been splurging (I don’t have a better word for the indulgence that the Delhi Government has been doing) on advertising across the country. From new Kashmir to Kerala, from Meghalaya to Rajasthan, everyone knows there is a government in Delhi! I am not sure if the campaign conveys anything more than that.

The UP Government has been on a consistent brand-building spree releasing large format ads and multiple ads on radio. We all know the splurge from Kerala and how it had to face the ire of netizens for the terrible use of English. I suspect most long format ads from state governments may suffer the same fate if we read the body copy completely.

The issue that all sarkari ads face is the lack of craft and finesse in their execution. They often look like hurriedly put together, badly produced and look amateurish. There is no lack of resources for they do spend a lot of money on media. Nor can there be lack of time, as most dates for campaigns are well known. The government that plans for the growth of nation can plan for the release of campaign.

If I pull back, then each of the ruling party has created much better crafted election campaigns. Each of them has created campaigns that moved the needle and demolished the competition.

There is no escaping the ads from governments now. Not the ads for tourism or education or polio or investment promotions. But ads that build on goodness, ability, thinking and winnability of the ruling class.

Now if we have to consume them, can the State government get better professionals to create these ads?

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