Inside the Ad Campaign That Helped Congress’ Surprise Victory in the 2004 Election


We reach Lodhi Estate. A lot of people are busy. The presentation team is inside the annex office. The others sit on chairs on the lawn and porch. We sit down and realize that maybe we will have our chance at 7 p.m. A long wait.

I also look around her and realize that I am the only woman running an agency. Such a world of men, that. Ah, but too bad. When I come to work, I don’t consider myself a woman. Just one person. These are people who put on badges. And I have so many things to say on this subject.

For now, suffice it to say: it’s hard work to be treated as an equal. More on that later. Some people find it difficult to accept women in positions of authority. When I make eye contact with juniors who are men, some are shy, some are skeptical, and some are just plain arrogant. I can smell these categories from afar. I wonder what these guys will look like. Soon I will know.

Paper plates with a samosa, some fries and a sandwich are served to us. Hot masala tea, which is actually very good and uplifting. I look around me. The garden is large and pretty. Large dahlias are in bloom. It’s cold. The teams are waiting. There are still three presentations to make before you can enter.

What I notice is that when the teams come out of the side room, they come out of the long aisle without coming back to where we are sitting. So we have no idea what’s going on inside. I also notice that they appear to be carrying a laptop, nothing else. Are they presenting from a laptop screen? If so, bad idea. How can 6-8 viewers stare at a small screen and get your attention? The screen limits you and puts a strain on them.

6:30 p.m. The agency just before us entered. I now see that no one has brought any equipment. So maybe they already installed it in the room? We joke and smile outwardly. Inside, shivering more than the cold.

It is 7 p.m. when we are told to enter. The first thing I see are paintings on the wall. There are 6 or 7 people inside including a man from a PR agency. All in kurtas and white shawls. Salman Khurshid is the only one we have met before. He says a polite hello. Ambika Soni, the only lady in the team, Ahmed Patel, Jairam Ramesh and Congressman and party treasurer Motilal Vora. They look a little tired. No wonder given the endless presentations they listened to.

“To start up!” we are told. Patience is probably exhausted. I tell them that we would need five minutes to get settled. Please give us this time. What configuration, they are puzzled. Just start over, that’s the order again. It’s late. I hold on. Very firmly, I said, “We have to set up our screen and our television. Our presentation must be seen like that, everything else would be sub-optimal. I politely say, “Please give us five minutes.

They look confused. I’m now sure that no other agency planned ahead and brought the equipment – big screen, et al. They must have assumed that they would go to a conference room with all these facilities available, just like all regular customers. So much for pre-planning.

Our guys are there and we are all rushing to get there. Their guys get up and leave the room. Maybe stretch your legs and breathe some fresh air. Five minutes becomes 10 minutes before we’re all ready and seated.

Ali is standing, he is going to present. I thank them for the opportunity and introduce each team member with a line or two about their credentials. Also, myself. Tell them up front that we did the full package and went beyond the brief. I don’t know if that makes sense, but they are listening carefully.

Basically, I repeat that we are going to show you all the ads. Ali begins. It sets the context. The situation in India. The competition. The consumer. Go to the problem statement. What are we up against? Now he gets to the heart of the matter. Our thinking processes. Our defined target consumer. Our message. Our slogan. The four phases of the campaign.

Before showing the creation, he says, “Let’s bring the consumer to you. The Vox Populi will be played, which has a sample of our research. The television screen comes to life and consumer after target consumer (semi-urban and rural) appears in the room, literally, and tells how their lives have been bekaar over the past five years. How they never heard of India Shining or Bharat Uday.

They are amazed. A group of tired people suddenly come alive. They look at each other and exchange excited glances. Jairam Ramesh asks us as soon as the image fades. “Is it real?” And before I knew it, I was like, “No. We were pointing a gun to people’s heads and making them say that.

Of course, it was meant to be a joke. Nobody laughed. They don’t know what to think of me, I’m sure. But I am very clear. For me, he’s a normal customer. I will not be afraid or speak abnormally. Nobody asks for anything.

I amplify and explain the research process. How we sent teams all over India. How we have edited hours and hours of raw footage and they are welcome to see all of the footage if they wish. They seem convinced.

Can we see him again, they ask? It’s replayed. Remember, I told you it was an explosive thing. Nothing beats bringing the potential consumer into the meeting room. There is a change in their body language. They are excited to see the rest of the presentation. Twenty minutes have passed and we have a ton to present.

Here is what we present. Phase 1: “Aam aadmi ko kya mila? »

Excerpted with permission from Don’t Forget 2004: The Publicity Secrets of an Impossible Election VictoryJayshree M Sundar, Vitasta Publishing.


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