Interview: Rohit Kumar, Deputy Vice-President, Marketing, Zee News

With the elections being recently held in the country, Zee News ‘Aapka Vote Aapki Taqat’ (AVAT) was pushed by the news channel in a big way. The initiative conveyed the simple message to people ‘cursing will not matter, participation will help’, and thus they need to cast their votes appropriately

Neha Saraiya | Delhi | March 7, 2012

It was in 2008 when Zee News decided to reach the grassroot level through its ‘Aapka Vote Aapki Taqat’ (AVAT) campaign. The underlying idea was to reach out to masses and make them understand the importance of voting. Today, after five years of continuous toil, the initiative has translated into a nationwide momentum.

During the Assembly elections which were held over the past couple of weeks in states like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand, BestMediaInfo caught up with Rohit Kumar, Deputy VP – Marketing, Zee News, to find out what went into the making of a campaign that has not only resulted in fulfilling its objective of increased voter participation but has also built the brand imagery of the news channel as one that cares for its society. Excerpts:

Going back to 2008, what prompted Zee News to initiate the AVAT campaign?

We had started this campaign in 2008, but the official launch was in 2009. That year, after a terror attack in Mumbai, participation in democracy was second to people and it was a big task for the Election Commission to motivate people to come out and vote. This was largely because the people were confused as to whom they should vote for. We thought that as a responsible media house we should support the cause and help build democracy for a better future of the country. As the country’s largest news network, and the first Hindi cable satellite news channel, we took up the responsibility and started a very simple and easy to understand campaign – ‘Apka vote apki taqaat’. Also, voting is one area where everybody is equal irrespective of cast, creed and community. We reached the masses through various modes of communication with the final objective that participation in a democracy should increase and that can only happen if we empower people to vote. We had to make them understand that if they cast their vote and chose the right candidate, their future will be secure.

It’s a nationwide campaign and we were lucky that after the first year of the campaign in 2008, the Election Commission supported our cause. They understood that such campaigns can even help them achieve their goal of maximum voter participation. We also received support from the Ministry of Youth Affairs afterwards. This was another objective at our end to augment youth participation, especially the first time voters, in the voting process. So, a lot of activities were designed for the universities wherein we started with posters activity and educational campaigns like voting at 18 years. We also did early morning reminders on mobile phones on the voting date. The way we reached out to them was through the message that if they cast their vote they will be able to feature the change. Finally, we also conducted an activity whereby citizens were informed about the candidate. We reached out to the target audience through the mobile platform also and floated the information through this platform.

What are the channels through which you had promoted the campaign?

Initially, the difficult task for us was to find out ways to reach out to the masses. We just cannot reach out to them only though television. So we joined hands with many partners who have a similar mindset. We also requested other media houses to publicise this campaign through print and radio. This year we joined hands with Barista for a promotional scheme for voters under which they were entitled to a 25 per cent discount on their bill at the coffee outlets. Additionally, some other schemes were also designed to attract the core groups. We also did some innovation on the marketing and programming fronts. Like on election day and the day before, we did pop-up alerts on TV along with SMS alerts, reminding them to cast their vote. We also spread the message that the governing party has been in power for five years, so spend your five minutes at the booth wisely. We also designed tactical promos which were quite catchy in nature.

What response have you had from the campaign?

In 2009, first we ran the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, followed by the Delhi, Bihar and Maharashtra Assemby elections. We carried the campaign in the five state elections including Uttarakhand, UP, Punjab, Manipur and Goa. We started the campaign at ground level, joining hands with the local radio stations also. At that time, the main objective was youth participation because most of the youth had never caste a vote although they had crossed the voting age. But we knew that if they vote once, they will be involved. With sustained effort, we got results as the voting percentage has increased in some states. Like in Bengal, the voting percentage has increased by 2-3 per cent. In Bihar, it has increased by more than 10 per cent. In UP, the result is also improving with the average voting having gone up from 47 per cent to 60 per cent. Even Punjab and Uttrakhand there is improvement. Another good part is that even females are participating increasingly in elections because of this programme.

When you undertake a programme with wide mass appeal, what are the challenges that face you?

The most important thing is to understand the market and why there is a problem in that particular market. When we went to Bengal with this campaign we found out that the voter participation in the state had become stagnant. It was saturated at an average of 80 per cent. We figured out that the youth was not participating in the voting process. After the initiatives of the campaign, the average voting percentage in Bengal increased by 3 percentage points to reach 87 per cent! Thus, we need to understand the problem area if we want the desired result. Along with the Election Commission, we understand the complete market dynamics and we design the campaign accordingly. Like, this time for the UP campaign we had two objectives in mind. Firstly, people should cast their vote, and secondly, they should select the right candidate. That’s why we changed the positioning to ‘Apka vote, apki taqat, samjhdari se istemal kijiye’. And simultaneously ran a campaign on ‘know your candidate before casting the vote’.

Does Zee News view this campaign as a marketing initiative or a CSR exercise for the brand?

For a news channel this is the only way through which we can build a brand. Apart from building a brand we are also being a responsible media house. And Zee News is the first channel to carry such campaigns, be it on the democracy front or the environment side. We have already done a campaign called ‘My earth, my duty’ to educate the people on climate change. For us it’s like giving back to society by helping to educate people and make them aware, and spread positivity in society.

After almost five successful years of running this campaign, what’s next?

This year we are looking at what kind of information people like and dislike and reach out to their leaders so that they can act fast. We believe that people are the king actually, and after a particular candidate wins an election, people should know whether the development is happening on the right track or not. So, after the election results are out, we are planning to carry forward the campaign to municipal elections, gram panchayats and other small elections where the actual development happens. This will also result in increased participation at the state, district, village and national level.

  • manoj

    great job done. good luck.

manoj / March 7, 2012,12:57 PM UTC

great job done. good luck.