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BJP's Lok Sabha ad campaign cost was minuscule fraction of the number bandied about: Sam Balsara, Madison World

Saturday, 24 May 2014 - 11:30am IST | Agency: dna

While there's no doubt that it was Narendra Modi who led the Bharatiya Janata Party to victory, there were many who worked backstage to create the message. Shobhana Nair spoke with Sam Balsara, chairman & managing director of Madison World, the media planning and buying agency that worked along with Team Modi to pull of what was the biggest ever political campaign the country has ever seen. Excerpts from the interview:

How did the mandate come to Madison? Who from the BJP called you and how and why did you decide to work on the campaign?
We were first contacted by Prashant Kishore in Ahmedabad through our client Lodha. Subsequently, we were contacted by Ajay Singh and Arun Narendranath. Then we met Piyush Goyal and Arun Jaitley. We entered the fray late. All major agencies were competing for the account. What won us the business was a lot of detail work revolving around media reach in different constituencies, grouping them in three priorities and summating the whole strategy in an elegant 10 pillar strategy. Our reputation for transparency and integrity sealed the deal.

When you took on the mandate, or any time during the campaign, did you get any direct brief from Narendra Modi?
Lara has met Narendra Modi. I haven't, yet.

When you took on the job was there any apprehension about delivering it?
We were confident of delivering on our product not just because of faith in our own experience, expertise and capability, but we knew we had a strong product, compared to competition. Advertising works brilliantly for a good product but kills a bad product fast.

For the first time ever in India a political party was presented as a brand. Was BJP open to this idea from the beginning?
Yes. That was the very reason they reached out to professionals and then played a supportive role, not an interfering role. I must say the people at BJP are not the politician stereotypes; they are smart, savvy and intelligent managers who have left their corporate jobs to help the nation catch up on lost time.

Reaching out to media-dark markets like UP and Bihar seemed to be a big challenge for BJP. How did you resolve that?
These markets did pose a challenge and obviously got our greater share of our attention. In addition to mass media these markets got intensive below-the-line support.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while executing the campaign? We have heard in many regions district magistrates refused to cooperate.
Outdoor in UP especially, posed huge challenges because of unfair play by the ruling party in granting permissions for putting up hoardings. The other challenge was negotiations with media, some of whom artificially inflated their rates for political campaigns. Random numbers floating around in the media of the budget of our campaign made our task more difficult. Ultimately, it worked out well and we were able to do our job without fear or favour and I hope the media owners are also happy.

Going forward, will you continue to work for BJP or the new government? Has there been any discussion?
We hope so. In addition, what I would really like is for the Government of India to appoint us as media advisors for all their advertising. We could make a huge difference in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. Communication is a very important element in nation-building process. Most political parties unfortunately think of it only at election time.

A number of people said BJP spent close to Rs 5,000 crore for the election ad campaign. What do you have to say to that?
That is the finest compliment that Madison Media has ever received. The actual is just a minuscule fraction of that number, but I am not at liberty to reveal the number. Some professionals have put the mass media campaign at Rs 1,000 crore. I am offering a prize to anyone, mass media professionals included who can guess or calculate the exact number spent in mass media. The BJP campaign has once again proven that mass media has the power to move mountains; that mass media is not expensive as it is thought to be and multi-media is essential for effectiveness. I must also admit that in my view NDA would have won anyway; they had a strong product and the competition was weak. What our campaign achieved is that it cost effectively raised the pitch to a crescendo, constituency by constituency as polling day neared which converted a communication task into what you in media call a Modi wave that resulted in a landslide victory for the BJP.

—In arrangement with MxMIndia.com

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