Special: National brands with regional tongue

By Antara Ghosal , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | July 12, 2010
Advertising in regional markets is undergoing a change, as more national brands expand beyond their traditional markets

There is an almost imperceptible change in the way TV commercials meant for the regional markets are made today. Compared to the late 1980s, or even the mid-2000s, quite a few -- though the numbers are still too small to cause too many ripples -- regional commercials are going beyond translated voiceovers and dubbing in the local language.

Consider the 'Naaka Mukka' campaign for the Times of India's Chennai launch in 2008. The ad, which got national and international recognition (winning two gold Lions in Cannes in 2009), was created after much research into the local market. It was also global in the sense that the communication traversed language and culture, and reached out to everybody by the sheer exuberance it portrayed.


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Mirinda and Pepsi's original Tamil campaigns by JWT, which recognised the unique double innuendo in Madras Baashai are worth mentioning. The campaign showcases the local way of stretching the language into a unique street lingo, and its equally weird delivery that involves Tamil puns and double innuendos.

In Madras Baashai, one thing always sounds like something else. So when the protagonist (in the Mirinda Market Mix-up ad) asks the vegetable vendor, 'How are the spinach?' it also means, 'How you doing?' in slang. Similarly, 'How are the potatoes' means 'How to roll', to which the comic retort is 'Roll however you want, Saar'. And 'katthiri', which means eggplant, can also mean, 'Please shout woman'. This local depth of reach in the campaign, developed originally in Tamil, did make a difference to the brand's performance and had high recall value too. The fact that it instantly connected with the audience only made things that much sweeter for the brand and the agency.

Or take 'Ella okay, cool drink Yaake?', UB Exports' Soda ad. Helped along by Kannada superstar Upendra, the campaign touched a chord with local Kannadigas. Spice Telecom's Lingo Leela, a radio content campaign, generated over 400 slang words not in the Kannada dictionary, but oft used in the local lingo.

Univercell Mobile Stores' 'Chaala inka Kawala' campaign used action hero Mahesh Babu's regional mannerisms and his delivery of Telugu punch lines. It became a hit in Andhra and built a strong bond with the local people.

Recently, Ogilvy did a commercial for Pond's Dreamflower Talc. In northern India, it used the Bollywood hit song, 'Tera… hone laga hoon' from the movie, Ajab Prem ki Gazab Kahani. But down South, the agency ran the ad with different songs specifically written for those states.

Do it right

For the ad fraternity, it's about respecting the identity of people who choose a product, and not losing anything in translation. For marketers, there isn't much option left. As saturation levels within traditional markets are reached, it is inevitable that marketers will turn their sights on other regions. However, this isn't the first time marketers are realising the importance of regional India.

There are brands that create original work in local languages to win over the fiercely linguistic mindsets. It is a no-brainer that the man on the street in Chennai - who would rather not speak Hindi -- will connect easily with a brand that talks Tamil. Such efforts are taken during sharp (region-specific) launches, or to tackle competition that is entrenched in the targeted regional market.

A common way of customising creatives for a region is to keep the plot similar, but replace the protagonists with local celebrities. Coca-Cola used Tamil superstar, Vikram for the 'Thanda Matlab Coca Cola' campaign in Tamil Nadu; while Aamir Khan was its man for the North. Some brands speak to regions using the national canvas too. During the recent IPL tournament, Videocon Mobiles released ads in the south Indian languages on national channels, because it was being launched in that region.

Festivals call for distinct campaigns for different regions. For Future Generali Insurance, Ogilvy put together a multicultural team to make sure that it stayed true to the cultural nuances of different regions. The trick is to combine cultural sensitivity with common sense.

Nothing like home-made stuff

It is the potential size of the market, and the extent of the brand's penetration, that determines the quantum of effort a marketer is willing to put in. At present, most of these tailor-made campaigns are targeted at Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala are next in the popularity stakes. The one thing common in these markets is the people's love for their language, interest in individual culture and tradition, and their passion for movies and theatre.

In terms of categories, FMCG and colas are active in all these markets. Talcum powder is big in the South, especially Tamil Nadu; while Bengal is a key market for skincare products. Luxury brands, including automobiles, are big in rural Punjab because of the wealth of the farmers there.

Airtel, Coke and Fair & Lovely use local celebs, local casting and local language in their communication. Thums Up (Leo Burnett) has separate brand ambassadors for Andhra. Fair & Lovely's advertising in Tamil Nadu is different. Airtel has various creative ideas for various states in the South. TVS (Tamil star Surya launching TVS Star City was high on impact), Tata Indicom, Halls, Coke (Tamil Nadu), Nerolac and Asian Paints (Kerala) do a lot of regional communication. LIC, Shriram Transport Finance Corp, Raymond and Piaggio are other examples.

The rise of regionalism

The reasons behind national brands going into various states are many. As consumption increases, people want their local language, the local flavour and local emotions they can relate easily to.

According to a report released by Ernst & Young in May, KUTs (key urban towns - the 22 cities immediately following the metros in market potential) and ROUI (cities in the rest of urban India) command nearly 50 per cent of the country's urban ad spend -- up from an estimated 30 per cent in 2007.

Also, since media rates are much higher in the metros, the shift in spends is significant. The proliferation of media channels has made it easier to generate consumer pull and lowered entry barriers for creating 'regional' communication.

Competition plays its part. Sometimes, a national brand decides to go 'regional' to take market share away from strong local players or price warriors. Tata Tea could one day decide to wage an all-out war against Wagh Bakri in Gujarat. Or, Frito Lay might decide to attack Balaji Namkeen in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The reverse could be true too. Chennai is an interesting market, where home-grown brands such as Medimix or CavinKare have made it to the national level. National brands have to respond to this in their own idiom by going regional.

The marketer's perspective

Talking regional is not new. There were brands that have looked at regional markets for years. Horlicks is one. In spite of being national, its focus has been on the East and the South with different creatives for both. The logic? Horlicks promoted itself as a supplement to milk in Kolkata (perceived as a milk-deficient market); whereas in Chennai, it promised nutrition from wheat, as the intake of wheat in the state was much lower compared to the North.

Unilever's detergent brand, Sunlight, sells only in Bengal and Kerala. The films for the brand are conceptualised and shot in Bengali and dubbed in Malayalam. However, the campaigns have done just as well, if not better, in Kerala; thanks to certain cultural similarities between the states.

Kaya, the Marico-owned premium skincare services provider, has a two-pronged communication strategy. It first looks for regional insights and then develops the communication for a particular region -- 'need-based communication' is what the brand calls this. It recently ran a print campaign across India which, in Tamil Nadu, talked about pigmentation solution and in the North, promoted its skin beauty services. Similarly, the communication for Delhi and Punjab highlighted the brand's hair removal services.

Localisation, especially in TVCs, by brands has taken a long time, because of the cost factor. According to some experts, dubbing an ad pushes up the cost of producing a TVC by just 20 per cent, not considering media cost. But remaking a commercial in a regional language can push costs up by 100 per cent.

Think again

Original work in other languages needs careful consideration. Factors such as market penetration, the extent of competition, depth of distribution, cost of targeting customers and servicing them are vital in gauging the extent of localisation that a brand is willing to go for.

Regional advertising is often perceived as non-premium. Another problem is that when an ad is created for one state instead of the country, the brand could be tempted to slash budgets. Thus, what comes out may not be as slick as its national cousin. Or, some of the 'slicker' categories, such as automobiles, might not want to dilute their image by going regional. Some categories -- like FMCG -- lend themselves easily to specialised localisation compared to others. Financial service brands are reluctant entrants. Dubbing -- even big brands like Cadbury swear by it -- is still considered by many to be the way to keep going on.

Marketers and advertisers agree that localising communication is the way to go for national brands with wide regional footprints. Exhibiting local insight and regional understanding is important; so, if the market is big enough, they should go for it.

(This article is based on interviews with: Jaju Krishnankutty and Ravindran Solomon, Salt Creatives; KS Chakravarthy, Draftfcb Ulka; K V Sridhar, Leo Burnett; Naresh Gupta, Dentsu Marcom; Naveen Paul, Spice Corp. Ltd; Olav Sande, Uninor; Raghu Bhat, Scarecrow; Russell Barrett, BBH India; Sangeetha N, RK Swamy BBDO; Senthil Kumar, JWT Bengaluru; Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Ogilvy India; Sumit Sehgal, Max New York Life and Suvodeep Das, Kaya Ltd.)