Impact of 2015 Presidential Election Result on Digital Advertising in Sri Lanka

I may be a little late to write this post, but ever since the final result of the election was announced I always wanted to do this comparison as a blog post. I immediately shared my opinion as a Facebook status on 9th morning, but work and other commitments kept me away from writing this post. Anyways, it’s better late than never!

In my opinion the presidential election of 2015 was one major milestone in changing the attitudes among marketers about digital advertising in Sri Lanka. Before the election, ex-president MR dominated the traditional advertising channels with humongous budgets to schedule one TVC after another, on all five major TV channels. Add to this, his campaign covered almost all the key pages on daily and weekly newspapers. Contrary to this, his opponent’s campaign was largely focused on the internet and Social Media. More than being a strategic decision, I thought they (MY3 camp) were forced to be restricted to those mediums as they were clearly lagging behind MR when it comes to advertising budgets to spend on mainstream media.

MY3 campaign largely depends on Social Media content (Memes, video clips) which was then boosted using ‘native ads’ on Facebook platforms. These  native ads created the much needed ‘authenticity’ for the stories; nobody (general public; not the Social Media maestros) noticed that these were actually ‘Sponsored’ stories on Facebook, and started commenting and sharing the stories, creating more free exposure (earned media) for the MY3 campaign.

At the time the presidential campaign was at its full flow, Sri Lanka had around 2.6million Facebook users out of which nearly 90% were above the age of 18. If we discount all the fake profiles on Facebook, that would still be at least a million and a half ‘real voters’ getting exposed to socially proven “pro MY3 content” on Facebook. Opinions shaped through these stories then get seeded and amplified among non-users of the internet as offline WOM. My mother never had a Facebook account, but she got exposed to most of these ‘pro MY3’ content through my sisters.
Eventually, these ‘native ads’ on Facebook created a huge impact in shaping the public opinion among Sri Lankan voters. Despite a humongous budget spent on all mainstream advertising platforms by the MR Camp, they still came short in the overall campaign results. If you closely evaluate the results, MY3 came top in almost all major municipal electorates in every district, where the internet penetration was at highest.

I’m not a political analyst, but in my opinion the way MY3 campaign used Social Media played a big role in the final outcome of the election. The entire election was a great case study for marketers to realize the power of Social Media. Just imagine if MR and MY3 were two brands?

I’m sure the story of this election will be discussed in many boardrooms in top corporates in Colombo, when it comes to deciding where to put their 2015 advertising budgets. If you are one of those marketers who always kept putting off the decision to invest more in digital advertising and Social Media, this maybe your last chance to ‘experiment’. Because, in 2016 the internet penetration will cross half the adult population so digital will never be a ‘niche medium’ in your communications mix. 

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