This Will Be The Costliest General Election By Advertising Spends

Political advertising spend may go as high as Rs 2,500 crore ahead of this general election, say media buying agencies.

A motorcyclist and a pedestrian pass a Bharatiya Janata Party election campaign billboard in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)
A motorcyclist and a pedestrian pass a Bharatiya Janata Party election campaign billboard in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

This year’s general election will be the biggest for India’s advertising market.

Spending by political parties is expected to surge up to 73 percent over 2014 Lok Sabha polls to about Rs 2,500-2,600 crore this time, media buying agencies BloombergQuint spoke with estimated. Campaigning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, Rahul Gandhi-led Indian National Congress and regional parties has already set the tone.

The last time parties spent about Rs 1,500 crore on advertising, Tanmay Mohanty, group chief executive officer at Zenith India, a media buying firm, told BloombergQuint. “There will be a lot more fire and fervour to political advertising in 2019 versus 2014. The stakes are particularly high after the highly competitive semifinal state assembly elections.”

That will make 2019 polls the most expensive by marketing spends. The BJP and the Congress had spent a combined Rs 1,230 crore in 2014 and Rs 791 crore in 2009 on elections including publicity, the Times of India had reported quoting Election Commission data. Higher political spending on everything from billboards and handouts to television, radio and social media campaigns this time will come as India’s $10-billion advertising industry, according to a report by Dentsu Aegis Network, is expected to grow in double digits for the second straight year. The pace is largely driven by digital advertising.

The sentiment is at an all-time high and the election this year is going to be interesting and highly contested, said Ashish Sehgal, chief growth officer, advertisement at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. “In the recent state elections, the parties had gone all-out and doubled their advertising spend compared with the previous polls. That would be expected in general election as well. If not double, at least one-and-a-half times higher than 2014.”

What could help is that Modi’s BJP faces a rejuvenated Congress and the prospect of a grand opposition alliance to stall his re-election bid. Much of the advertising will be personality-driven, provocative and evoking strong reactions and counter-reactions, according to Mohanty.

Political advertising has already been on the rise since September because of state elections, said Sam Singh, CEO-South Asia at Group M, a media planning and buying agency. In the run-up to general election, he said, advertising spends have inched higher.

Higher Rates, Digital Spike

The government usually increases advertising rates ahead of Lok Sabha polls. It hiked the prices by 25 percent for print advertising recently.

Singh said big beneficiaries of political advertising binge have been regional television channels and newspapers. “The net effect will be positive and expect news media, especially vernacular including Hindi and digital platforms, to be bigger beneficiaries from election spending this year.”

Digital spending is expected to spike as parties try to connect with voters through Facebook, Twitter, Google and other platforms. It will contribute up to 35 percent of the total spend compared with 20 percent in 2014, according to Mohanty.

It’s a once-in-four-years opportunity for every media house and advertising rates for political parties will be at least 25 percent higher compared to others, Mohanty said. Most of the spends will target the Hindi heartland–the market with the highest population and contributing the maximum seats to Lok Sabha, he said, adding that rural areas and tier 2 and 3 cities will be in focus.

Prashant Pandey, managing director and CEO at Entertainment Network India Ltd., the operator of Radio Mirchi, agreed. Political advertising drives up the prices by 50-100 percent as parties engage in counter ads, increasing supply, he said.

Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, South Asia at Dentsu Aegis Network, isn’t that optimistic about higher rates. “Advertising rates will not get impacted as political spends are minuscule compared with the overall advertising spends. “Its contribution to the pie will be in the range of Rs 2,000-2,500 crore out of about Rs 68,000 crore.”

(Updates an earlier version to add comment from Zee Entertainment)