More than a month after results revealed that the Congress had suffered another rout in the Lok Sabha elections, the reasons behind the massive defeat are still coming to light. Details about the failure of its advertisement campaign and the party functionaries believed to be responsible for it have emerged in an anonymous note that has been circulating within the party since June. The note highlights the major flaws of the Congress campaign. It indicates an opaque selection process for advertising agencies that the party appointed, a poorly conceived campaign that failed to communicate its poll promises, and advertisements that failed to reach the target audience.
In August 2018, the All India Congress Committee constituted three committees for the Lok Sabha elections—a nine-member Core Group Committee, a 13-member Publicity Committee and a 19-member Manifesto Committee. The allegations in the internal note primarily concerned the working of the publicity committee. “No due process was followed when selecting the agency to execute advertisements in media (including print advertisements in newspapers, audio-visual advertisements in TV, radio and cinema),” the internal note stated. “These were unilaterally selected and thrust upon the publicity committee.”
Multiple Congress leaders told me that the internal note was submitted to the party president Rahul Gandhi through an internal process that allows leaders to file anonymous complaints. As a result, I was unable to confirm the authors of the note, though several Congress leaders confirmed that they had seen the note and that it has been circulated on WhatsApp across the party. My conversations with members of the party’s communication department, the publicity committee, other party leaders and advertising professionals involved in its Lok Sabha campaign confirmed several concerns identified in the note. They further showed a continuing disarray within the party rank and file on addressing—or in some cases, even acknowledging—the shortcomings of its campaign.
The publicity committee was tasked with key responsibilities—primarily, to engage creative agencies to conceptualise and design the Congress campaign slogan, its posters and hoardings, and to select advertising agencies to execute the campaign at a national and regional level, across television, print, digital and radio platforms. Advertising professionals refer to the latter as “media execution.” According to the internal note, the publicity committee did not follow due process in selecting the advertising agencies for the media execution.
A member of the publicity committee spoke to me about this selection process on the condition of anonymity. For the creative agency, the member explained, advertisement agencies made their pitch to the publicity committee, on the basis of which they were marked and then selected. Accordingly, the publicity committee selected Percept, a Mumbai-based media and communications company, as its creative agency at the national level, and Niksun Ad World, a Gujarat-based agency, as the creative agency at the regional levels.