Politicians as salesmen

Politicians are the ultimate salesmen. They sell abstract concepts like freedom and values, even if they don’t subscribe to or practice them. They know how to break it down in ways that people with little education or intelligence will understand and relate to. They can take stock of a situation and come up with effective ways of communicating it to their voters. Whether through analogies or native aphorisms, they constantly engage in planting thoughts they wish to convey. That it is the opposing party which is corrupt. That they have delivered on their promises.

It’s virtually impossible to get politicians into tight corners because they can frame things in a completely different way and wiggle out. When I met a business journalist a few years ago, he said advertising agencies have no clue as to how well politicians communicate with their constituencies. Agencies look at garish political posters and think politicians need a quick course in design. Far from it – they listen to the feedback at the ground level and the posters are a response to what the voter concerns are. There are times when the opponents get enough fodder and manage to turn the tables on them. In the recent elections in Tamil Nadu, the DMK did all it could to avoid being painted as a family run empire – because that’s what the AIADMK so successfully achieved, as borne out by the election results. Even paying the voters had no effect. People took the money and voted for the party they were convinced about. In the previous elections, the DMK came to power having projected the AIADMK as a corrupt, ostentatious party – when a huge wedding of the then Chief Minister’s foster son provided all the ammunition.

Agencies do market research to try and assess consumer preferences. Politicians have an ear to the ground at all times because they need to know what people’s day to day concerns are. Which is never as trivial as to which brand of soap or shampoo they need to buy next. Agencies stop at selling products and services. But politicians have a profound impact on the lives of the people who elect them. Between the two, agencies and politicians, there is an uneasy relationship when it comes to creating communication. In the last few elections, the major parties like the BJP and the Congress worked with some of the biggest agencies in the country. What emerged were concepts like ‘India Shining’ trying to project a nation that had emerged from the shadows and was firmly on the route to prosperity. The Congress hit back with ‘Aam aadmi ko ya mila?(What did the common man get?) implying that most of the country had lost out on the shine. But trying to package a country’s diverse and distinct needs under one umbrella to build a brand is like chasing a mirage since the image of the parties concerned keeps shifting.