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In Poll Battleground, BJP Trumps Congress To Dominate Digital Space

| Updated: May 5, 2024 18:19

With both Meta and Google offering tailor-made tools to target specific audiences in the digital space, proving to be a potent medium for political parties in the election season, the former is doing a lot more micro-targeting, a granular analysis of data released by the two platforms shows.

Two of the biggest national parties in the country, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), are not leaving any stone unturned to reach out to the voters before they cast their votes. But their campaigning and canvassing for votes shows a marked difference, in an election that is being fought as much on the ground as in the digital realm.

Both the leading parties have adopted vastly different approaches on a granular level in how they woo voters on social media and other digital channels. An analysis of the ad spend data released by Meta (which runs social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram), and Alphabet-owned Google (which operates YouTube and Google search) says while both the parties are tapping the various features offered by Meta and Google to scientifically target audiences, the BJP is doing a lot more micro-targeting with its political ads than the Congress, our analysis shows.

For this piece, we considered data between 16 March, when the election schedule was announced, and 23 April. This period covers direct ad spending of up to ₹50 crore by both the parties. The platforms enable targeting on several counts. Meta, for example, lets an advertiser specify, to whom (age and gender), where (state), and how much, how many times (‘impressions’), and to what spending limit, it wants an ad to be shown.

Each permutation and combination of such attributes generates a unique ad ID, and this is where the BJP is more active. As per our analysis, at the upper band of both payment and usage, the Congress would have spent 25% and 34% less than the BJP in directly placing ads on Google and Meta, respectively. But the BJP had 32-35 times more unique ad IDs as compared to the Congress. As a result, its average spend per ad ID would be about 5% that of the Congress. In other words, the BJP is doing a lot more micro-targeting than the Congress.

In today’s digital age, where user data is readily captured and made available for advertisers, digital platforms can enable formidable targeting. For example, a BJP ad released on Meta in Hindi in Dadra and Nagar Haveli on 23 April was directed at 14 types of demographic combinations, all classified on age and gender alone. It defined that 33% of the people who see the ad should be male users aged between 18 and 24 years, and 14% should be female users aged between 18 and 24 years. There were 12 other such age-gender combinations, with their shares ranging between 0.0794% and 8%, collectively adding up to 100%.

The Congress is also doing the same thing with its ads, but it is slicing and dicing its audience in far fewer ways than the BJP. Take Kerala, for instance, which voted on 26 April. During the period of analysis, the BJP ran 1,700 ad IDs on Meta that specified Kerala as a region where these ads should be shown in some measure. It placed an upper limit of 368 million impressions (how many times an ad is rendered). By comparison, the Congress ran 57 such ad IDs for 6.1 million impressions.

The amount paid by an advertiser is a function of the demographic targeted (gender, education, age, etc.) and location, among other things. On Meta, the BJP has a lower unit rate (per ad IT) spending than the Congress.

There are other differences on Meta. The Congress always deployed each unique ad ID on both Facebook and Instagram. In comparison, the BJP either ran campaigns only on Facebook or only on Instagram. But the big difference between the two parties, which still remains, is scale. On Meta, the ads placed by BJP during this period had an upper limit of 1.3 billion impressions, against 120 million of the Congress, or, about one-tenth of the BJP.

In addition to strategy in digital ad selection, this variance is also driven by the degree to which the BJP has cornered political funding in the past decade. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms, a civil society organization, the BJP reported total income of ₹2,361 crore in 2022-23. The Congress, in comparison, reported total income of ₹452 crore that year—about 19% that of the BJP. Similarly, the BJP was the beneficiary of nearly half of all the electoral bonds that were issued under the now-scrapped scheme between April 2019 and January 2024.

In terms of ad spending on Google, however, the variance is less. During our analysis period, the BJP defined an upper limit for ad impressions of 2.85 billion on Google, against 1.32 billion for the Congress. In other words, while the BJP bought an estimated 11-fold more impressions than the Congress on Meta, the ratio on Google was just around twofold.

One of the big shifts underway during this Lok Sabha election is the greater importance of the video format, as compared to messaging via static images. Since the last Lok Sabha election in 2019, the cost of acquiring a smartphone has come down significantly, while accessing the internet via mobile phones has become even more mainstream after the pandemic. As a result, 70% of the BJP’s estimated ad spend and 79% of Congress’ ad spend on Google was towards videos. This is an increase for both parties over 2019, especially for the BJP.

The Congress is nearly matching the BJP in video impressions on Google, by targeting an estimated 1.02 billion impressions versus BJP’s 1.19 billion. On images, however, the difference is huge—Congress has 307 million impressions, compared to BJP’s 1.65 billion. A big reason for this mismatch is the election war chest of the respective political parties, which is also necessitating a less-endowed party like the Congress to pick its battles.

Also Read: Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer Issues Guidelines For Voters As May 7 Polling Nears

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