As India went to polls for the final phase, an overall amount of Rs. 54.8 crore has already been spent on political ads on Google and Facebook and its sister platforms by political parties across the country.
The Bharatiya Janata Party and its members have spent around Rs. 27.4 crore, which makes up around 50% of the overall amount spent on social media political ads. The Indian National Congress takes the second place with an expenditure of Rs. 5.6 crore.
Political Marketing In The Digital Arena
The staggering amount of money spent on Facebook and Google is a clear indication that when it comes to political marketing, digital platforms are not to be ignored.
In less than six years, the percentage of population in India having access to internet has more than doubled (from 15% to 34%), and it seems unlikely that this exponential growth is going to slow down anytime soon.
Since mid-February 2019, Facebook and Google started publishing reports on political marketing in India on their respective platforms, to step up their efforts at providing transparency on political advertising.
Long before the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed to the world the efficiency of targeting political ads based on social media data, political parties have making use of social media for public outreach.
Prime Minister Modi’s giant social media campaign in the run up to the 2014 general elections has been widely credited as being a crucial factor to his victory.
Five years down the line, every single party from across the political and ideological spectrum seemed to have agreed upon the importance of social media marketing, with the figures on the expenditure being a clear indication.
BJP – The Cash Machine At Work
BJP, being an earlier player in the game and privileged with receiving the highest amount of political donations in the country, have left no stones unturned in showing how seriously it takes social media.
Out of the Rs. 27.4 crore spent by BJP and its members, Rs 10.3 crore was spent on promoting ads on Facebook, while Rs. 17.1 crore was spent on Google.
Congress, having started their social media marketing weeks after BJP, has spent around Rs. 2.8 crore on Facebook and Google, respectively.
While the incumbent ruling party has already been spending crores of rupees on a weekly basis since the publication of the first ad report by Facebook in February 2019, almost every other national and regional party have joined the arena only mid-way through March.
A clear exception would be the YSR Congress Party, which had followed the BJP in making an early start to political marketing on Facebook, albeit with lesser amounts of money. It is interesting to note that YSRCP’s online campaign was largely led by Prashant Kishor, who was hailed as the brains behind Modi’s 2014 campaign.
Southern parties TDP and DMK had each sponsored posts on Facebook and Google to a tune of approximately Rs. 4 crore, although most of these expenditures were made just over a week before the constituencies they were contesting in went to polls.
Meanwhile, AAP and TMC made an expenditure of Rs. 2.4 crore and Rs. 1.2 crore, respectively.
Political ads on digital platforms can be targeted at niche populations, usually based on age, gender and location of the users.
Out of all these criteria, targeted campaigns in the run up to the current general elections have largely been focused on specific locations, which in this case would be states and the union territories.
BOOM summarised the data provided in the “Spending by state” section of Facebook and Google and came up with the following table:
The biggest targets this election season were Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi, with Rs. 6.8 crore, Rs. 5.1 crore and Rs. 4.3 crore being invested in political ads for these states, respectively.
On another interesting note, BJP’s expenditure on Google went from Rs. 14 crore on May 13, 2019, to Rs. 17 crore on May 15, 2019. During the same period, around Rs. 3.5 crore was invested in sponsoring ads that target the state of West Bengal, which saw 9 of its constituencies go to polls on May 19, 2019.
This may as well be seen as a final attempt by BJP to reach out to the netizens of Bengal, the biggest non-BJP state in terms of number of seats in the Lok Sabha (42 seats).
Archis is a fact-checker and reporter at BOOM. He has previously worked as a journalist for broadsheet newspapers and in communications for a social start-up incubator. He has a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science from Sciences Po Paris and a Master's in Media and Political Communication from the University of Amsterdam.