BJP spent Rs 30 cr in 30 days on Google ads, targeted mostly north Indian states

Google Ads Transparency Centre data shows that the BJP spent Rs 29.7 cr in the past 30 days, streaming ads, mostly videos, which boost PM Narendra Modi and Union government schemes in multiple languages.
BJP spent Rs 30 cr in 30 days on Google ads
BJP spent Rs 30 cr in 30 days on Google ads
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This story is part of Ballot Bucks, an exclusive series in which The News Minute and News Laundry look closely at election spending.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) blitzed Internet users in India with thousands of political ads across Google’s Display Network and Alphabet platforms, including Google Search and YouTube, in February 2024, ahead of the general elections, spending more than double it had splurged during the four months from February to May in 2019. More than 50% of these video ads were taken down by Google for violation of platform policy.

Google Ads Transparency Centre data shows that BJP spent Rs 29.7 crore in 30 days (Jan 29 to Feb 28), streaming more than 12,600 ads, mostly videos (75%), which boost Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union government schemes in multiple Indian languages. In comparison, the party spent only Rs 12.3 crore in the four-month period ahead of the general elections in 2019.

The spending by the main Opposition party Indian National Congress (INC) in the same period was Rs 2.99 crore. The party, however, did not have any messaging via Google ads in February 2024.

The expenditure of nearly Rs 30 crore in 30 days is a significant pointer to the growth of online political advertisements in India, considering that the BJP has so far invested Rs 79.16 crore to spread its messages since 2019 through more than 52,000 ads. A recent Business Line report shows that the BJP spent Rs 33 crore on Facebook ads between February 2019 and February 2023.

The bulk of Google ads in the past month targeted voters in north Indian states ruled by the BJP or its alliance partners, notable exceptions being Delhi and Punjab, where the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in power.

While there was only one video in the past 30 days with a spend of over Rs 30 lakh (one crore views), the BJP ran 50 videos with a spend of Rs 10 lakh to Rs 30 lakh, 100 videos with a spend of Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh, 124 videos with a spend of Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, and 109 videos with a spend of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2.5 lakh.

But the BJP seems to have tightened its purse strings when it came to south Indian states, barring Karnataka, where it does not have high hopes of winning seats.

Data for the past five years from 2019 shows Karnataka (Rs 8.9 cr) tops the list of states in which the BJP has spent more money on Google ads. Karnataka is followed by Uttar Pradesh (Rs 7.76 cr), Delhi (Rs 6.84 cr), Gujarat (Rs 6.1 cr), Madhya Pradesh (Rs 5.9 cr), Bihar (Rs 4.38 cr), West Bengal (Rs 3.46 cr), Telangana (Rs 3.18 cr), Maharashtra (Rs 3 cr) and Haryana (Rs 2.6 cr).

Apart from political parties, registered entities like the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC), which is engaged in electoral consultancy and campaign management, and Gibbous Films Pvt Ltd have used Google platforms to target voters. I-PAC spent Rs 8 crore across nine Indian states (bulk of it in Andhra Pradesh – Rs 3.67 cr) in the past five years while Gibbous spent Rs 87.5 lakh, mostly in Chhattisgarh during the 2023 Assembly polls for INC ads.

With 99,400 ads pushed by multiple political parties and agencies, Google has so far generated a revenue of more than Rs 285.56 crore from India since 2019, data shows.

More than 50% BJP video ads removed by Google

Google’s ad transparency depository shows that more than 50% of BJP’s videos were removed by Google for violations and non-compliance with the platform’s policies regarding political content.

Alphabet-owned Google offers three main avenues for advertisers – Google Search, its Display Network spread across websites and applications, and YouTube. But it disallows granular microtargeting of political ads on their platforms, limiting them to demographics of age, gender, and general location in the postal code level.

Google allows contextual targeting through ad placements, topics, keywords against sites, apps pages and videos. The platform, however, disallows targeting of election ads through use of audience targeting products, remarketing, and customer match.

It’s not clear why these videos were removed because Google does not disclose the reason and merely states that they have been removed for ‘a policy violation’. It also doesn’t allow users to view deleted videos.

Ads during cooling period violating ECI guidelines

As per the Compendium of Instructions issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI), the Model Code of Conduct and related instructions are applicable to content being posted on the internet, including social media websites, by candidates and political parties. Google Ads Transparency data, however, shows that the BJP’s targeting of voters with political ads continued well into the cooling period. ECI defines cooling period as the time when campaigning ends and political parties and candidates are barred from political messaging.

In 2019, general elections were held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19 and the BJP targeted voters in multiple states with political ads continuously from April 6 to May 17, as per Ads Transparency Center data.

In 2022, during Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, held from February 10 to March 7, BJP targeted voters with political ads until March 4. The party began advertising in October 2021, six months before the elections.

Contribute to a project from the joint The News Minute-News Laundry election coverage.

Read other stories part of the Ballot Bucks series:

TNM-NL Investigation: 30 firms facing ED, IT probe donated Rs 335 cr to BJP

How BJP became the biggest beneficiary of UPA’s Electoral Trust scheme

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