Delhi Assembly polls: AAP, BJP bet big on social media, digital marketing

(Left) AAP’s campaign focuses on Arvind Kejriwal and schemes and freebies, using Facebook and rickshaws as campaign billboards; (Right) BJP timelines mock AAP and celebrate festivals
Twenty-five-year-old Rehan Mohammad from Hardoi district in Uttar Pradesh plies his auto-rickshaw in the national capital, speeding with equal ease though its grubby alleyways and power-greased swanky neighbourhoods. Painted boldly on the back of his trademark green and yellow three-wheeler is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) campaign slogan for the upcoming 2020 Assembly elections, ‘I Love Kejriwal’. 

Like Rehan there are several hundred rickshaw drivers flying the AAP banner down the streets of Delhi—his community forming a significant part of the party’s electoral machine for the polls due in February 2020. The party has also used hoardings, community gatherings and social media handles to project what it believes is its trump card; Arvind Kejriwal, the man they believe will help them hold on to Delhi.  

Unlike AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not announced its chief ministerial candidate yet, though the bets are on the present president of the Delhi party unit, Manoj Tiwari. Their campaign has taken on AAP’s obsessive focus on Kejriwal, expressing mock horror at the fate that awaits a city that he loves. So far the BJP Delhi unit has not come out with a city-specific slogan or an online campaign, but focused on dismissing Kejriwal’s claims.  

Both parties are borrowing heavily from the digital marketing playbooks of brands aiming for the mass market, say several political observers. Consider for instance, the manner in which the social media teams of both parties have cashed in on ‘occasions’ or ‘moments’ on their timelines. The party pages on Facebook and Twitter handles are filled with posters around Diwali, Govardhan Puja, Karva Chauth and so on. AAP also has an ‘Arvind Kejriwal app’—much like the NaMo app that was launched before the general elections in May this year. 

The AAP campaign includes distribution of pamphlets that highlight the achievements of its government in Delhi with a number that promises a direct line to the Delhi CM, who has said that he will personally field all complaints. Aggressive, feisty and a call to action, that is the popular format of all digital campaigns today, says a senior advertising executive. Add to this street-side chats and free metro rides and a formula emerges, one that helps build a brand with mass appeal. 

“Mediums such as television or newspapers mostly run campaigns allotted by the Central government. Outdoor is the only medium that helps us in reaching out to numerous people directly,” a spokesperson for AAP said, while speaking to the media recently.

The genesis of this type of campaigning lies in the whistle-stop tours of American presidential candidates, says Sandeep Goyal, founder, Mogae Media. “They would travel by rail and address voters at every rail stop (till the whistle would be blown for the train to move on, hence whistle stop). Street style campaigns make the candidates more familiar,” he adds.

In contrast, the BJP has dipped into its vast reserve of slogans to counter the AAP offensive, a tactic that has worked for them in the past believes N Chandramouli, founder, Trust Research Advisory. But he sees a need to change the playbook, especially since in Delhi the incumbent government has managed to steer the conversation around education and health. “I feel that AAP's campaign will have a better connect with the voters as they have seen a tangible change by the policies of the Delhi government,” he said.

 Chandramouli notes that the AAP campaign is unique in the way it has used an English slogan (I love Kejriwal) to appeal to voters in a Hindi-speaking constituency. Also, the campaign does not promise anything. Instead, it “shows the effect of AAP's achievements. It is almost like a citizen-endorsement of AAP's programmes,” he adds. 

This is a sign of a maturing electorate, points out Goyal. He sees a shift in the way political parties are now addressing the electorate. For instance during the recently concluded assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, politicians and political parties used Twitter to communicate with citizens. There were 3.2 million tweets around the assembly elections in these states according to Twitter, with politicians rallying support for the schemes while audiences talked about the development agenda with contesting leaders. 

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