Polls in the time of pandemic: Smart phones to decide mandate in Kerala this time?

Polls in the time of pandemic: Smart phones to decide mandate in Kerala this time?
Digital posters are made in PDF format with icons, which, when scrolled upon, would highlight more information on the candidates.
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Polls in the time of pandemic is a cliché-breaker in all sorts. With mandatory physical distancing, safety practices and lack of crowds, the local body polls contestants are devising innovative and interesting plans to ensure that this time, not gatherings, but smart phones will decide the public mandate. Strategically designed social media campaigns will create a massive impact on the political decisions of the voters as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram are relied on to spread the word, for campaigns and counter campaigns.

The traditional printed posters have paved way for digital interactive posters. Instead of distributing pamphlets and manifesto, candidates have switched to digital posters, some of them uniquely designed. Anoop Radhakrishnan, a Kochi-based designer who creates digital posters for the candidates for candidates contesting to Ernakulam Corporation, explains, “Posters are usually made in jpeg format, but digital posters are made in PDF format. Each poster would have icons, which, when scrolled upon, would highlight more information on the candidates, their educational qualification, their vision plan for the constituency if represented, the issues people face with images and data and a quick entry to the social media accounts of the candidates. If seeking re-election, there would be a section for the development activities the candidates undertook during the past five years. We also provide a three-page mini website for candidates as part of the package. If clicked on the icon on the poster, one could reach the candidate’s mini website, which would give an overall idea about the candidate’s background, the photos and their contact information with links to social media handles.”

Digital campaigning
Anoop Radhakrishnan, a Kochi-based designer who creates digital posters for the candidates for candidates contesting to Ernakulam Corporation.

While some candidates shell out huge funds for social media campaigns, entrusting professionals with the task, many depend of the youth wing of the parties to volunteer for the campaign and steer ahead. Social media and IT cells are formed in each region to devise the social media campaign and coordinate activities.

The most popular posters of the season have come from Bedadka panchayat in Kasaragod district, where CPM candidates break the cliché full-size image of the wide-smiling candidate in a glaring red colour setting and the party symbol or the party leader’s face in the background. The local body poll contestants here – 20 of them – appear on the posters in delightful, real life settings, engaged in their daily activities, adding a personal touch to the campaign. H Sankaran, a sculptor displaying his skills to two curious kids, D Valsala, who stitches garments at her workplace, K Ramani who engages in rolling beedis, P Vasanthakumari, a physical education teacher sporting tracksuit warming up on the river banks, candidates engaged in farming, interacting with elders and youngsters – all the posters are viral.

Bedadka CPM posters
The most popular posters of the season have come from Bedadka panchayat in Kasaragod district.

Shyam Murali, one of the team members who ideated for the posters, says, “The connect one feels is instant. We decided to chuck the usual flex board format and try to show them as common men, approachable for all, engaged in routine life, revealing that they are one among us.”

Barring one poster – of Chembakkad Narayanan, replicating the iconic poster of Prithviraj in the upcoming movie Kaduva where he sits atop the hood of a jeep, all the other posters are set in rural, relatable settings. The ‘mass’ factor, Shyam says, was introduced for Narayanan’s mass appeal. “Such a popular figure he is. A farmer, he has been active humanitarian and the go-to person for anyone here. So, it was a fun poster.”

Bedadka CPM posters
Barring one poster – of Chembakkad Narayanan (top right), replicating the iconic poster of Prithviraj in the upcoming movie Kaduva where he sits atop the hood of a jeep, all the other posters are set in rural, relatable settings.

The team has worked on the posters of only CPM candidates in Bedadka panchayat, a party stronghold for the past two decades. They are bombarded with calls, enquiries and appreciation for the work from people cutting across party lines. Even members of opposition parties, Congress and BJP, have been using the posters as their WhatsApp status!

Shyam reveals that none of them are professional photographers or designers. He himself is an NRI engineer who is planning to return to his workplace soon after the polls. “I would call it a brainchild of team work. None of us are professionals, but we had good ideas, like avoiding the overplay of red and traditional artificial poses, and it worked better than we had imagined. Many of our posters feature people from other parties too. The support has been great. The photographer is Vipin for whom it’s a hobby, and the editor, Adarsh, helps with his Photoshop knowhow after his work hours. The ideas, captions and themes are decided on after democratic group discussions during daily editorial meetings,” he adds.

Team Bedadka
The team that has worked on the posters of only CPM candidates in Bedadka panchayat, is bombarded with calls, enquiries and appreciation for the work from people cutting across party lines.

Many candidates have hired private agencies for the job of handling social media promotions. Archana, an SEO analyst at Adone, a design firm in Wayanad, says, “There are different packages starting at Rs 15,000 based on the requirements of the candidates. Photoshoots, video promotions, social media handles, websites, content and reach are covered for candidates. Hashtag campaigns are created and popularised while the candidate will be familiarised among people through demography-based geotargeting methods – by making the FB page of the candidate appear on the timeline of the users in the constituency. In case of paid promotions, candidates pay for each like and follower. Out-of-the-box ideas get noticed easily and work in advantage of the candidate.”

Digital campaigning

Archana’s team offers personalised packages for each candidate based on their experience, ideas, age group and constituency. “We handle the work of over a dozen candidates in Wayanad and Alappuzha districts. Almost 75 per cent of the work in Wayanad are digital promotions, but to reach tribal settlements without internet connectivity, we have to depend on traditional methods. Familiar faces have it easy, but for newbies, image creation is a task. Since our voters are not all informed or political, the content we spread should attract all sections, projecting the innovative ideas, plans and passion of the candidates for the people, if elected,” she says.

Bedadka CPM posters
Posters of CPM candidates in Bedadka.

Animation videos of 30 seconds duration are also in vogue. As Anoop puts it, “Short videos of one or two minutes’ duration about the candidate and his work have been a popular choice for some time now. Now, it’s animation videos. Eye-catchy and short, these videos can be put up as WhatApp status and Instagram stories. More than promotional videos, these are meant to pique the interest of the voters. The key is to keep it short and sweet!”

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