Election campaigns through digital platforms rose extensively targeting this month's national polls as contenders are increasingly using social media platforms thanks to voters' massive presence on the internet.
Most of the campaigns are customised, using all the social media platforms and mostly run by ruling party nominees, said digital advertising industry insiders.
“Political parties and candidates are using digital channels for campaigns this year and it is a new phenomenon in the country,” said Imtiaz Ahmed, lead operations at Wizards Ad Network, one of the top marketing and advertising agencies in Bangladesh.
He said the digital segment received huge work flow in the last few months and the business volume reached a few hundred crore taka.
According to industry estimates, about Tk 200 crore is being spent for electioneering on digital platforms. SMS and recorded voice campaigns would add business worth another Tk 100 crore, said Ahmed.
Candidates are using platforms such as Whatsapp, Twitter and Instagram alongside Facebook and YouTube.
The government, under different ministries, is also engaged in campaigns and a couple of international agencies are also using digital channels to raise awareness among voters.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, the youngest state minister in the current cabinet and an Awami League contender in Natore 3 constituency, said of the electioneering, more than 30 percent was being carried out through digital platforms.
“It is impossible to come in contact face-to-face with all of the voters of my constituency within the limited time, but digital platforms are giving me the opportunity to reach out to all of them. Voters also feel I am in touch with them when they find me on Facebook or YouTube,” said the state minister for ICT.
This is a major change from the 10th general election that took place five years ago. At the time, there were a limited number of digital service users: the number of Facebook users was only 30 lakh and now it has gone past 3 crore.
“People in the remotest part of the country use YouTube frequently, prompting the candidates to choose these platforms,” Palak added.
There are about 100 digital content developers and marketing agencies in Bangladesh and all of them have been very busy in the last three to four months, industry insiders said.
One of them is Filmy Features, which has developed five video contents, including two for ministries and one for Democracy International, an NGO.
Shankha Dasgupta, a video developer of Filmy Features, said in some cases candidates had little idea about digital campaigns, but still they were using these platforms as many of the voters were live on the internet.
Most of the publicity contents have already hit the market and a few more will be released within a day or two, said Ahmed of Wizards Ad Network.
Axiata Digital, a sister concern of Robi's parent company Axiata Group, is providing electioneering support through digital platforms. It has partnered with Facebook and Google for customised services and is using artificial intelligence technology to pinpoint coverage.
Digital channels have opened up a new window of opportunities for campaigning. Candidates are also interested, creating a new avenue for business for the advertising segment, said a top executive of Axiata Digital.
According to Axiata Digital, the demand for recorded voice campaigns for a customised constituency went up as voters can get a recorded voice call from candidates.
Companies such as Wizards Ad Network and Axiata Digital also provide constituency-based offers, meaning only voters in the selected parliamentary seats will view the videos and digital contents.
Mobile phone operators are providing location-based offers for SMS and recorded voice campaigns.
At present, 2 crore commercial SMSs are sent every day through mobile operators, land phone companies and internet protocol-based telephony service providers, and this figure will increase in the run up to the election scheduled for December 30.
In some cases, candidates have come up with songs and slogans to attract voters and are allowing their campaigners to use them as welcome tunes.
Palak himself is seeking votes using a song.
“We are very pleased that the candidates are using digital media and communication services. It is a true sign of Digital Bangladesh,” said Shahed Alam, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at Robi.
“Various innovative services are in the pipeline which will bring the candidates and electorate closer to each other,” he said.
The picture is not entirely rosy. For example, data usage for Facebook declined by about 30 percent in the last one month as users are nervous, said market insiders. They added that in order to avoid government's control, some campaigners are maintaining their pages or websites from the outside of the country.