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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