Political advertising landscape: Spending on Google ads surges to INR 2.4 billion from Jan 1

Controversy surrounds some BJP ads as party leads with INR 924 million spend

Politics

Society

May 16, 2024

/ By / New Delhi

Political advertising landscape: Spending on Google ads surges to INR 2.4 billion from Jan 1

From January - April 10, BJP ran a total of 76,800 ads on Google, data from the tech major showed

In the dynamic sphere of India’s political arena, a notable surge in digital ad spending has emerged, almost entirely through Google ads, with a staggering total expenditure of INR 2.417 billion since the start of 2024 and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party claiming a lion’s share of 35 pc of total ad spend.

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With the growing importance of digital media in the country and following the footsteps of general advertisers, political advertisers are also now increasingly turning to online advertising in India to reach out to the voters.

This trend has become more evident since the beginning of the year and as the dates of Lok Sabha elections approached.  In this vibrant tapestry of Indian politics, the realm of online advertising has witnessed a dynamic surge, and market leader Google has taken a large share of it, with total expenditure by various political parties on Google ads soaring to INR 2.417 billion since January 2024,  according to Google Ads Transparency Centre.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leads the pack with INR 924 million, followed by the Indian National Congress with INR 368 million, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party of Andhra Pradesh with INR 128 million and Biju Janata Dal in Odisha with INR 103 million. 

In terms of geographic spend, Andhra Pradesh, which is seeing a tri-lateral contest between the Congress, the ruling YSR Congress and the BJP-TDP alliance, leads the pack with a total expense of INR 298 million, followed by Tamil Nadu at INR 271 million, Maharashtra at INR 211 million, Odisha at INR 207 million and Uttar Pradesh INR 185 million.

According to Google, while video ads on social media accounted for 80.4 pc of the total expense, still images accounted for 18.4 pc and text 0.125 pc.

From January – April 10, BJP ran a total of 76,800 ads on Google, data from the tech major showed. The ad on which it spent the maximum amount was a Hindi language image ad promoting the Centre’s Jan Dhan scheme. This ad ran for 49 days from February 10 to March 29. 

Controversy over content

However, amidst this spending spree, controversies have arisen, shaping the discourse around political advertising.

Screengrab from video

Screengrab from video

One such controversial advertisement by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) depicted a woman portrayed as a bride, reducing her to a matrimonial object amidst political rivalry. This portrayal not only perpetuated sexism and misogyny but also highlighted troubling themes of regionalism and xenophobia, drawing criticism from various quarters.

The advertisement shows actors portraying INDIA bloc leaders arguing over who would be the ‘bridegroom’. According to netizens the ‘nari shakti’ promoted by the Prime Minister and the BJP stands exposed, as their purported respect for women fails to materialise in their advertisements.

“The latest ad of BJP is a pathetic example of how they look at women’s role in society. The typical stereotype of a woman being all dolled up to impress a groom in an arranged marriage setting. That is how they see an Indian voter a woman seeking a groom rather than a government. A woman knows the difference in her political vote and what makes love float,” Priyanka Chaturvedi Leader of Shiv Sena UBT posted on X.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate condemned the ‘dulha kaun hai’ video and called it ‘obscene’. “BJP has again proved that in their eyes, the existence of a woman is to wear a lehanga, become a bride and impress a groom. But there is a difference between finding a groom and choosing your representative in a democracy,” Shrinate posted on X.

Among the flurry of BJP advertisements, one particular advertisement has sparked widespread ridicule and disbelief among netizens, emerging as the year’s most egregious farce. The ad in question,  “War rukwadi Papa!” depicts a female student returning to India after purportedly being stranded in the midst of the Ukraine war. In the video, as the student embraces her parents, she credits Prime Minister Narendra Modi for halting the conflict in Ukraine and facilitating the safe return of all students.

Screengrab from video

Screengrab from video

These claims have been made earlier also especially when the war had begun over a year ago, but there has not been any ceasefire or stoppage of war at all and the students who returned home were soon out on streets asking the government to regularise their studies in Ukraine so that their education and money is not a complete wastage.

According to netizens the advertisement not only fails to align with reality but also exacerbates the pervasive issue of misinformation and disinformation plaguing India and by perpetuating such unsupported claims, the advertisement not only misleads the public but also undermines the credibility of political messaging in the country, further fuelling skepticism and distrust among the populace.

During second phase of voting in Karnataka on May 7, BJP Karnataka released another animated video ad that featured Rahul Gandhi and the Chief Minister of Karnataka K Siddaramaiah engaging in an activity involving eggs. In the video, Rahul Gandhi and Siddaramaiah are depicted placing a large egg labelled ‘Muslims’ alongside eggs labelled ‘SC,’ ‘ST’ and ‘OBC’ in a nest. Following an explosion, a large hatchling with distinct features such as a skull cup and beard emerges and appears to dominate the other hatchlings. Subsequently, Gandhi is portrayed feeding all the ‘funds’ to the large hatchling, causing it to grow larger and eventually displacing the other three from the nest.

According to the critics, the video demonised Muslims and was in line with Modi’s false claims about Congress’s ‘plans for wealth distribution’, which included claims that it would redistribute wealth among Muslims and make them stakeholders in the country. In their speeches, various leaders of the BJP, including Modi himself, have often targetted the country’s Muslim citizens, calling them invaders, infiltrators, and people who form large families in order to overtake the Hindus as the nation’s largest religion, aggravating the situation of the an already marginalised community.

The Congress party was quick to lodge a complaint with the Election Commission of India (ECI) against the ad in Karnataka and the ECI ordered removal of the video.

But some advertising professionals say that political ads should not be taken personally or seriously, as they often revolve around humour and satire to engage audiences.

“I believe advertisements have always revolved around humour. The ads airing currently feature unique characters and are portrayed

exceptionally well. None of the ads criticise anyone personally,” Ashutosh Sharma, a veteran of the advertising industry based in New Delhi, tells Media India Group.

“In the past, advertisements were limited to pamphlets, posters and billboards. However, there has been a dramatic shift in recent years. A new trend has emerged, with social media becoming a prominent platform for advertising. Every year, we witness something novel and innovative. Nowadays, campaigns are being conducted using drones

and even autos, reflecting the increasing influence of technology and the changing preferences of consumers. The rise of social media and the proliferation of mobile connectivity have paved the way for these new advertising methods. People crave novelty and are eager to see something fresh and exciting. As a result, advertisers are constantly evolving their strategies to captivate audiences in this fast-paced digital age”, he adds.

Congress punches back

Joining the fray, the Congress has also unleashed bite-sized content across social media platforms, highlighting perceived shortcomings of the ruling party and there approach focuses on analysing the BJP’s governance and policies through satire and critique.

One such instance is an advertisement featuring the INC hosting a press conference, symbolically employing laundry detergent to make a statement. Notably, the ad incorporates posters of FMCG giant P&G’s Tide, an American brand of laundry detergent, bearing Modi’s image, adding a layer of visual critique to the narrative. 

In the video, a Congress worker puts a white t-shirt with words like ‘fraud’ and ‘extortion’ inside a washing machine, that is branded as ‘BJP Washing Machine’. Once the t-shirt is washed, it comes out if the machine donning the works ‘BJP Modi Wash’.

Another scene in the video showcases, a poster similar to that of Tide, with the PM’s picture on it with the tagline ‘Modi Washing Powder’.

In their advertising strategies, both the parties employ different tactics to appeal to the electorate. While the BJP has continued to attack the opposition parties over their supposed weaknesses and shortcomings, the Congress has opted for a more direct approach, highlighting the perceived failures of the ruling party.

Artificial intelligence in the fray

Besides advertisements on social media and television sets, artificial intelligence is also being capitalised on by many political parties, especially by BJP.

Many posters and videos can be seen where Modi with the help of AI is being compared to Gods. “A realistic AI-generated image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, styled as Bhishma Pitamah from the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, was boosted as a political advertisement on Instagram. This Instagram image was created by the right-wing page Hokage Modi Sama and first posted in 2023,” said a report by Qatari broadcaster, Al Jazeera.

“Over the past three months Hokage Modi Sama promoted nearly 50 pieces of AI-generated images of Modi, making it the leading advertiser of AI-generated Modi images on Instagram,” it added.

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