With a week left for the Lok Sabha elections, online advertising war seems to have two main sets of players — the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, on the one hand, and regional political parties, on the other, which are spending heavily to lure more voters in their constituencies. The country's largest opposition party, the Congress, is looking like a marginal player in the digital advertising space.
According to Google's Political Ad Transparency report, released Thursday, political parties and candidates have spent Rs 3.76 crore on 831 ads since February 20, of which the BJP spent Rs 1.21 crore and Andhra Pradesh- and Telangana-based YSR Congress was the next high spender at Rs 1.04 crore while the Congress spent only Rs 54,100. Geographically, Andhra Pradesh was the largest spender on political ads, spending Rs 1.73 crore, followed by Telangana with Google ad spends of Rs 72.8 lakh.
The ads would have been displayed on Google Services, like Google Search and YouTube, and on websites and apps that partner with Google, like Google Display Network and Google Marketing Platform partners.
Facebook, which began releasing its political ad spending data since February 21, has recorded cumulative spends of over Rs 10 crore ahead of the elections. As of last week's data, all of the five top-spending pages promote the BJP, and these five alone account for over 40 per cent of the Facebook political ad spends. The next highest spender is Naveen Patnaik, Odisha's Biju Janata Dal chief. The cumulative figure of Rs 10 crore in political ads on Facebook spent so far shows a 22.9 per cent rise over the previous week. The number of ads is up from 41,514 to 51,810.
“Advertising should align with the objective that each party is looking at. Parties want to get more and more people into the conversion funnel. The targeting option is much higher on Facebook,” said Harjot Singh Narang, president, Dentsu One Pvt. Ltd.
He added that the Congress could be waiting to spend heavily when the elections come closer, but if that doesn't happen, regional parties competing with the BJP for top social media ad spend could potentially change the narrative of the election.
With the role of social media and technology giants in influencing elections becoming a talking-point the world over, Facebook, Google and Twitter have released ad transparency reports for political ads for India after doing so for the US and the EU.
The top spends by the BJP seem to have some impact, at least if one goes by search terms on Facebook. Four of the top five most searched terms relate to the ruling party. They include ‘bjp’, ‘bharatiya janata party (bjp)’, ‘modi’ and ‘narendra modi’. The word ‘congress’ does make one appearance, at number four.
Facebook had announced new rules on political and other advertisements in December 2018. They said such advertisements would have disclaimers. Google and Twitter have launched similar disclaimers.
The platforms are also adopting policies that require advertisers running election ads in India to provide a pre-certificate issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI), or anyone authorised by the ECI, for each ad they wish to run.
Meanwhile, Twitter’s Ads Transparency Centre showed some tweets promoted by those involved in the ruling party, though a consolidated figure was not clearly visible.
“As online platforms have different products and display features, information is showcased differently. For political campaigning ads, Twitter's Ads Transparency Center (ATC) shows billing information, spend, and impression data for each Promoted Tweet. Additionally, the ATC shows demographic targeting data by impression, both intended by the advertiser and actually delivered by Twitter,” said a spokesperson in response to a query by Business Standard.