Cracking the online-ad game — the BJP outperforms the Congress

The BJP ran three main campaigns — #MeinBhiChowkidar, #PhirEkBaarModiSarkar and #MyFirstVoteForModi: 1,500 of the 2,600 plus ads in 2019 from the BJP official Facebook page used the Chowkidar hashtag. Photos: Facebook  

Data on online political advertisements on Facebook show that there is a direct correlation between electoral success and online ad spend. Facebook recently released an Ad Library and Ad Library API to make political “advertising more transparent”, which allows for users to see who exactly posted a political ad and how much was spent on the campaign. Data culled from the API by two researchers, Nayantara Ranganathan and Manuel Beltran, on their website offers good insights into the ad spending strategies of political parties and the efficacy of the ads.

Also read: Should online political advertising be regulated?

Unsurprisingly, official pages of India’s two largest parties, the BJP and the Congress, are its two biggest spenders.

Despite the BJP’s 40% more expenditure than the Congress, the Congress has an additional 1,040 ads. Even so, the BJP’s ad outreach, measured in “impressions”, is higher by 10%.

Cracking the online-ad game — the BJP outperforms the Congress


Cracking the online-ad game — the BJP outperforms the Congress


(From 1 January, 2019 to 17 November, 2019; Data reflects ads on official pages only and not on campaign pages, regional pages, etc. Source:

In the States which the BJP won by sweeping all seats, the party was the biggest spender on online ads.

In New Delhi, for instance, the BJP won all seven seats and spent ₹35,058,591 on Facebook ads. In contrast, the Congress spent just ₹6,483,277, one-fifth that of BJP.

Cracking the online-ad game — the BJP outperforms the Congress

(From 1 March, 2018 to 31 May, 2019; Data reflects ads on official pages only and not on campaign pages, regional pages, etc. Source:

There were just three exceptions to this correlation of ad expenditure and electoral success – Kerala, Punjab and Odisha. The BJP, which drew a blank in Kerala, had spent ₹28,166,172.

The Congress that won 15 out of the 20 seats, on the other hand, had spent just ₹3,818,667, which is one-seventh of what the BJP spent.

Campaign strategies

The BJP ran 3 main campaigns – #MeinBhiChowkidar, #PhirEkBaarModiSarkar and #MyFirstVoteForModi: 1,500 of the 2,600 plus ads in 2019 from the BJP official page used the Chowkidar hashtag. ‘Here’s how a doctor is also a chowkidar’, ‘Here’s how the youth are fighting corruption’, ‘Let’s together build a clean India’ and ‘Giving up subsidy is an important contribution’ are some ways that this campaign generated traction.

1,000 plus Phir Ek Baar ads and 30 My First Vote ads, in different formats were also pushed. Most of the 3,700 plus ads by the Congress spoke of the party “delivering” on their 2019 manifesto promises. ‘We promise to reserve 33% of Central government jobs for women’, ‘We will provide 24 lakh private and public sector jobs’ and ‘A minimum yearly income of ₹72,000 to 5 crore poorest families’ formed the content of their creatives.

#AbHogaNyay, which was the Congress’ war cry on other media, was used sparingly, in about 20 ads.

While the BJP pushed ads in English and Hindi, the Congress had at least 100 ads each in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Bengali.

The Congress thus spent lots of little money on lots of different ads and the BJP pumped in a lot of big money to make a few good ads.

The BJP having high impressions despite lesser number of ads, could imply one of three things, says Cyril Sam, co-author of The Real Face of Facebook in India. “The BJP has more followers than the Congress, so post receives high organic impressions and additional money spent brings additional impressions; that the BJP’s content is organically more engaging than the Congress’; that the Congress is optimising for impressions and the BJP for engagement.”

Number of impressions is the number of times an ad was displayed to users. While they were a measure of success of advertisements used in traditional media, impressions aren’t telling on digital media. Someone browsing through their newsfeed on Facebook without really paying attention to the screen would still count as an impression.

Actual engagements in the form of clicks, shares, comments, reactions, etc are better measures than plain impressions.

“When a user engages with an ad on Facebook, it appears on feeds of friends, often not as an ad, but as ‘A likes a brand’, ‘A commented on a post published by a brand’ or ‘Suggested brand’”, says Mr. Sam. This increases the ad’s outreach. In advertising terms, this is called organic reach, different from paid reach, where an advertiser sets a budget and target audience for their ad. Converting paid into organic reach is key.

“The strategy that Facebook suggests is to set up a bunch of different ads for the same campaign and the same target audience and then look at which ones are actually gaining higher clickthrough rates (or engagement). The ads not doing well are then taken down and the one doing well is pushed more,” says Juan Mundel, Assistant Professor, College of Communication, DePaul University.

“If I have a high engagement score attached to my profile, then I am identified as a conversation starter or influencer, and more ads may be pushed to me,” says Nikhil Punjabi, a mass media educator. Remember Cambridge Analytica bragging about its 5,000 data points on each user? These data points are used to label users.

Audience are either hyper-targeted or targeted in broad categories of age, gender, region, etc. Leveraging influencers and curated ads increases the ad’s vitality.

Political consultancy

Political consultants and strategists are increasingly being hired by parties and politicians to run their campaigns.

Rimjhim Gour, a psepholigist with Political Edge, says, “From ideation to implementation, we strategise for our clients (parties/ politicians). We design and ensure their victory.”

Social media campaigns are at least ten times cheaper than on-the-ground campaigning.

Do they have enough followers from their constituency or has an agency given them bot followers, are Influencers following them, do they have a verified page – political consultants pay attention to these factors. “These ensure posts get more organic reach,” Ms. Gour explains.

Content managers take care of the quality of posts. “We push the ideology of the politician through catchy one-liners, pictures and words. We carefully choose the language because it is all about symbolism,” she says.

The real struggle, she adds is in pushing and boosting the posts to elicit likes and shares. “Unless we really hit at the nerve, this doesn’t happen.”

She recalls one particular campaign, in which research showed people in the client’s constituency like jokes. “So, we pushed about five jokes a day. Jaisa desh, vaisa vesh.”

Although negative campaigns are rare in brand advertising, in political campaigns, “we have to talk of the opponent’s shortcomings. Some negative campaigning gets in,” she says. More provocative and reactionary a post, more the engagement.

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Printable version | Oct 17, 2021 10:31:45 PM |

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