Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Marketing democracy


The Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), according to its campaign literature, \'upholds the principles of socialism and pursues the road of People's Multi-Party Democracy which is a creative application of Marxism and Leninism in the Nepalese condition'.

The Nepali Congress (NC), founded in 1946, continues to hold \'democratic socialism' as its official political philosophy. The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) for its part views the market as the root of all evils.

How amusing, then, to see them all, in the last few weeks, throwing their ideologies aside to vigorously market themselves to voters, as though they were selling soap or noodles!

They flooded radio, tv and newspapers with advertisements that sang their political hymns. Like door-to-door salesmen, their candidates visited houses and workplaces, and courted voters. They re-designed party web sites to attract online visitors with up-to-the-minute news feeds. They had trucks, buses and tractors carry the party flags. And some political rallies felt like a mix of tv dance competitions and product launch events.

Given all this hoopla, it's arguable that shorn of all the rhetoric, yesterday's Constituent Assembly election was basically an exercise in one key capitalist practice that our most ardent democrats do not normally associate with democracy: marketing.

In a recent book Greater Good, John Quelch, a business school academic, argues that hard, consumer-oriented marketing makes for better democracy, and that marketing professionals are shortchanging themselves if they confine their ideas just to for-profit sectors. Quelch outlines six benefits good marketing helps to bring out which strengthen the democratic process.

Inclusion: Each vote counts. This makes every candidate chase every possible voter. Marketing in a democracy is thus an inherently inclusive process, making candidates reach out to voters of all ethnicities and economic classes.

Promises: When interacting with voters, candidates make promises like bringing drinking water, roads or electricity to a village, fighting for Dalit rights or revising the Constitution's key points. All this is akin to a cream marketer's promise to your teenage daughter that she'll have glowing skin if she uses his product.

Information: Campaign-trail exchanges with wide swathes of voting-age population create a plethora of information. Voters talk to one another. They use the media and listen to the grapevines. They gather information from and about the candidates. And the candidates themselves learn how to tailor their messages to different segments of population.

Choice: More exchanges and information put the voters in a position in which they can make an informed choice, weighing up what most appeals to them on various sides. They are then free to make up their mind in ways they see fit without coercion. Marketing of candidates and their ideas expands the range of choices available to voters.

Engagement: If candidates share information about themselves credibly, they can count on engaging the voters with their political aspirations. But all that sharing of information and provision of choices will be little use if voters find no reason to engage in the democratic process. So marketing helps candidates find ways to engage voters, as they must consider them like customers who have to be made happy.

Consumption: Voters cast their votes to the candidates of their choosing, and follow the election results. They will be consuming the consequences of their choices for some time to come.

Our politicians understandably recoil at the idea that campaigning is marketing. But given marketing's obvious benefits, the sooner our politicians embraced it to address persistent problems and make better policies, the more openly the public would be empowered to make decisions on issues that affect it.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)