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What election campaigns in India say about mktg on WhatsApp

If you are a resident in India or visiting the country at the moment, don’t be surprised when you get notifications on your WhatsApp account from unknown numbers, suggesting the good work a political party is doing or is expected to do. The otherwise ad-free platform has played a crucial role in election campaigning in India, raising the question on whether marketers should consider WhatsApp in their list of solutions to tap on the growing mobile audience.

At the 16th Lok Sabha elections or the commonly dubbed as ‘India’s first social media elections’, then Prime Minister candidate Narendra Modi or the ‘social media politician’ adopted social media in full swing to reach out to people and his campaign managers successfully integrated WhatsApp as part of the campaign. His success in the elections may just be a point in favour of WhatsApp, or at least was seen as such by many others. In the current State Elections in Maharashtra, WhatsApp was employed by various political parties for essentially advertising the party.

For some, this may be a surprise as Facebook has not opened WhatsApp as an advertising platform yet. In fact, in his recent visit to India, Facebook Co-Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg reiterated that the social major had no plans to monetise WhatsApp in any format yet barring the USD 1 subscription charge for the service. A few others however would be of the opinion that WhatsApp is a platform that has audiences aggregated and could be explored for commercial messaging.

To WhatsApp market or not
Movement in the advertising industry beckons that brands may be exploring the opportunities in the free messaging platform to reach consumers in a more effective manner. Following the success of political campaigns that captured audience in large numbers, marketers are mulling over leveraging the free messaging platform for brand building and directly communicating with the consumers.

Sayan Banerjee, iProspect Communicate 2

Sayan Banerjee, iProspectCommunicate2

“Key takeaway for marketers from election campaign media managers will be designing a proper communication strategy i.e. what to communicate and to whom. These election managers had gone through well-defined database of users to reach their target audience. The most crucial aspect of advertising on WhatsApp will be segmenting and selecting the right target audience for the message,” said Sayan Banerjee, Vice President and Head – Client Relationships at iProspectCommunicate2.

Another perk of advertising on WhatsApp is that the viewership of the message has a higher success rate over mailers or message on any other social media platform where the user is more likely to overlook or delete the message.

Anubhav Jain, Creative Marketing Fix

Anubhav Jain, Creative Marketing Fix

Voicing an opposite point of view, Anubhav Jain, Founder of Creative Marketing Fixview, said, “WhatsApp is for connecting individuals to their peer group and personalised interaction and not for the advertising world. I strongly believe that decorum in advertising should be maintained.”

While Facebook has no plans to monetise WhatsApp, it also does not have an option to report users who are leveraging the platform for commercial messaging. Also, social media messaging apps, unlike text messaging, are not subject to any regulations at the moment. In all, whether to advertise on WhatsApp or not is yet a grey area. While the industry still debates on whether WhatsApp can be an advertising platform, one does wonder how long would it be before Facebook realises that the platform is being utilised for commercial/marketing messaging already and that it should take some action to either formalise the deal or create some norms that prevent such messaging.