The eye-catching massive billboards on highways and posters mounted on street lamp posts will, for at least a few more weeks, remind us of what has gone down in the history of South Africa’s democracy as not just the hardest-fought 2019 polls, but the most expensive.
While it may take weeks to clean up streets of the posters, some still glued on tree trunks and walls – they are not merely an indication of the aftermath of the intense campaigning, but are about how much has been spent by political parties in a bid to win the hearts and minds of millions, according to brand and public relations strategist Khanyisile Madlala.
Madlala, founder and director of ZOE PR Communications Managers, has estimated that over R2 billion was collectively spent by political parties on campaigns, with the ANC, which emerged triumphant, having spent more than R1 billion – a boost for public relations and marketing companies.
“It was certainly a positive boost for the industry, as long as companies got paid timeously, resulting in growth and sustainability of business,” said Madlala. “Also important to ponder, was whether the process of awarding work was above board.”
Asked to assess whether political parties contesting the recent elections pitched the right messages to their audiences, she said: “I believe political parties were clear in their messaging.
“They all focused on unpacking their manifestos through integrated marketing efforts.”
Internal party bickering and a dishonest leadership, said Madlala, however, “leaves a lasting blemish in the eyes of voters.”
She explained: “It is always advisable to have your home affairs in order first. My advice would be that interparty politics should cease.
“Corruption within and by party leaders is not acceptable. Until political parties lead and portray an image of a responsible, reliable, honest and people-centric leadership, are we going to grow a generation of sound future leaders?
“We also need to focus on political education for the new voters, to build an informed youth, which will result in informed future leaders.”
Image and reputation management were key in organisations, whether business or political.
“One could almost say corporates are different to individuals. But the same individuals steer these corporates. So, image and reputation management are vital for both the individual as well as the organisation. How you and your brand are perceived determines the conclusions and actions of your communities,” Madlala said.
“The challenge is only in the individuals we work with, understanding the importance of authenticity, transparency and integrity, which in turn creates cultured citizens.”
As contestation to win votes becomes tougher with the maturity of democracy, Madlala has predicted that future polls might even become more expensive. High spending on elections coupled with an effective strategy have translated to success stories elsewhere in the world.
- On television advertising alone, former United States president Barack Obama and political opponent Mitt Romney spent $896 million (R12.6 billion), according to the Washington Post, with the 2016 Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton campaigns, having reached $4.4 billion.
- In India, the 2014 general elections that ushered the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into power proved to be the most expensive in that country, with the BJP having spent a whopping $115 million on campaigning – $32 million more than the opposition Congress Party’s expenditure.