Thought Box



by Monojit Lahiri May 26 2024, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 4 mins, 3 secs

Is nothing sacred in today's media landscape, dominated by relentless election advertising, wonders Monojit Lahiri. He explores how corporate-driven patriotic election ads manipulate voter sentiment and divert attention from critical issues.

As India braces itself for the final phase of the general elections, a deluge of election ads inundated our media landscape, reflecting an intersection of corporate interests and political ambitions. Corporations, recognizing the pivotal influence of media on public perception, pour vast sums into election advertising, often targeting platforms they own or control. This strategic placement of ads not only aims to sway voter sentiment but also to align corporate interests with the ruling government or those predicted to ascend to power.

This symbiotic relationship between corporations and political entities builds an environment where media sanctity is increasingly questioned. The relentless cycle of spending and influence suggests that these ads are not merely about promoting democratic participation or national pride, but also about securing favourable positions in the political and economic hierarchy. The patriotism displayed in these advertisements, while seemingly celebrating nationalistic values, can be perceived as a veneer masking deeper, self-serving motives.

Such a landscape raises critical concerns about the authenticity and integrity of media portrayals during election periods. Are these ads truly designed to inform and engage the public in meaningful discourse, or are they crafted to manipulate opinions and curry favour with those in power? As I navigate through the cacophony of election advertisements, it becomes imperative to scrutinize the intentions behind these displays and the impact they have on the democratic process.

This storm of advertising by media conglomerates and corporations, more often than not, has an adverse impact on the electorate. They mask political agendas, presenting an embellished vision of national pride that diverts attention from substantive issues. By inundating viewers and readers with emotionally charged patriotic content, they overshadow critical discussions about policy, governance, and socio-economic challenges. This distorts the narrative that prioritizes superficial displays of patriotism over the evaluation of real issues and the performance of candidates and parties.

Moreover, this creates an echo chamber where dissenting voices and alternative perspectives are marginalized. By controlling the media narrative, conglomerates steer public discourse away from accountability and transparency, making it difficult for voters to make informed decisions based on factual and balanced information.

Communication specialists often dismiss these ads as "sheer tokenism, sycophancy, and outstanding examples of how not to project events of national importance." However, some also believe these campaigns offer sensitive communication, an opportunity to showcase the nation’s pride and confidence on the global stage.

Veteran ad person Esha Guha elaborates, "Connecting the core values of a product/service with the nation’s vision and values can be a fascinating and exciting challenge if leveraged intelligently. However, there should be a brand-fit - like the memorable, patriotic ‘I don’t want to go abroad’ Hero Honda TVC, ‘Hamara Bajaj’, ‘Mile Sur…’ TVCs etc., otherwise it will appear corny, clichéd, and contrived like most ads of this genre are today."

Political commentator and media personality Paranjoy Guha Thakurta adds his perspective to the debate. He acknowledges the mega-posturing and overt patriotism evident in these ads, comparing them to the over-the-top enthusiasm of certain factions. He notes, "We continue to remain a democracy, surprising the world despite the disturbing divide and disparity that define our complex land. Today, especially in 2024, people, however marginalised, are media literate and they see through the bluff."

Another communication honcho offers a light-hearted comparison, likening this advertising blitz to event management. He suggests that it provides government agencies and PSUs a great, legitimate outlet to spend big bucks, paying homage to the flavour of the day. Normally, as non-FMCG entities, these government bodies don't need to advertise. These events are mere indulgence, also an opportunity to make an extra buck”.

Lloyd Mathias, an independent marketing heavyweight, provides a professional take: "It’s true that during these times, many brands jump onto the nationalistic bandwagon, using empty patriotic slogans and the tricolour to display solidarity. Most times (like the hordes of PSU ads), it’s done without imagination, creativity, or focus." However, Mathias believes that if a brand can anchor itself and establish a relevant and powerful connection with patriotism, "like the fabulous Pepsi Freedom ads in 1997, commemorating India’s 50th year of independence, then it could result in powerful and memorable communication. Otherwise, it’s mostly lazy marketing and a sheer waste of money."

As corporations heavily invest in election ads, often owning the media channels where these ads are placed, it's clear they aim to curry favour with the ruling government or the predicted winners. This cycle of spending and influence raises questions about the true sanctity of our media and the genuine intentions behind such patriotic displays. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.