A debate of sorts has been doing rounds on social media platforms about the Government spending on advertisements during the present ongoing crisis of COVID-19. The governments, the central as well as the various state governments, have been citing funds crunch. Which should not come as surprise to anyone given the restrictions imposed on the various economic activities by either the government regulations or by the people themselves owing to the fear of the deadly pandemic. So, it is a valid question should you spend on the advertisements when your funds are tight? When your expenditure is high on health and other initiatives to feed the poor and help them reach home? Does it make sense?
First of all, we need to understand why Governments should spend on public advertisements at all? One purpose that the advertisement serves is informing the public about various initiatives of Government, about how people should behave, if there are any change in laws or rules. There can be multiple reasons. But the practice has been on rise in recent times. And across platforms! TV channels, newspapers, radio stations, social media- take your pick and government is one of the largest advertisers. Why?
The answer to this is in how democracy works. You need to convince your supporters, detract your opposers to win the elections. And this is the reason why advertisements are increasingly speaking more to the supporters or probable supporters of the Government than the actual target of the advertisement. You would see an ad meant for farmers in an English newspaper or on an airport billboard- Government wants our vote more than the scheme to work. Mass media especially advertisements can never talk about details- how to apply for a loan or how to fill a form which offices to visit. Therefore, such ads will probably not even work on the grassroot audience- but they work on the voters.
The misplaced ads may make us question the government working. But in a way, this is informing as well. Afterall Government will work for some people more than the others. If we are not informed of various government initiatives, we may think government is inactive. So, such ads are not a total waste of money.
But what happens during pandemic? This is a new scenario. Prevention is the only cure that we have. Even the importance of a simple act such as how wash your hands or how to sneeze in your elbow, can not be overstated. Therefore, in a way the advertisements regarding COVID falls under telling people how to behave. Secondly, such ads assure public that they are safe that government is working to save lives and economy. Public need not panic. The ads become a signal, a comforter.
But there should be a limit on such acts. The real results of saving lives is more important than such show or signalling. We may not be the right person to judge the limit without proper research on the efficiency of such ads. Only Government can decide for themselves.