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Goafest 2012: Tim Love: Language is technology

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Goa | In Advertising | April 21, 2012
Tim Love took to the stage a second time since yesterday and spoke about why language is the most powerful technology around.

A refreshing break from the usual topics of hardcore branding and advertising, Tim Love, vice-chairman, Omnicom Group and chief executive officer, Omnicom APIMA, spoke about language and the role it plays.

Tim Love and Kainaz Guzdar

He began by talking about the debate on whether the internet is a bad thing (given its intrusive and overly-transparent nature) or whether it is a good thing (because it preserves history, is a powerful educational tool and fosters freedom of speech). Declaring that he thinks it is a good thing, Love went on to the main topic of how language is best viewed as a technology.

"In this post-digital world, the most powerful and persuasive technology is language," Love said. Neuroscience suggests that language impacts ideas and creativity, and as India gets more and more internet penetrated in the days ahead, this reality of language being a technology will pan out wonderfully by merging with actual technology.

Our insights about people are limited by our own assumptions of their thought processes. These assumptions originate in a person's first language, that is, the language the person learns between his/her birth and age five. This language hard-wires a person's brain in terms of how information is processed, concepts are formed and emotions are dealt with.

Language has a marked impact on one's beliefs, ideologies and values. So, according to Love, in order to truly understand one another, it is crucial to have an insight into the language in which different people think.

"I believe that we grossly underestimate the effect of language on human misunderstanding," stated Love, citing data and examples to show how conversations in different languages have rhythms and vocal inflections that vary drastically. For instance, in all Japanese sentences, the verb is always at the end of the sentence. This has implications for people who use interpreters. "We should focus less on the electronic technology of communication and more on human technology of insight, understanding and how people think," he said.

Talking about how all this is relevant to advertisers, Love drew the analogy of an English-made plug trying but failing to get into a French-made socket without an adapter. "This is where the professional advertising insight will help," he said.

Kainaz Guzdar, marketing director, P&G then conducted a quick Q&A with Love.

Excerpts:

Guzdar: Indians on an average know between two to three languages. What does being multilingual mean in the context of language being technology -- are Indians highly technologically advanced?

Love: Indians can think and speak faster than those from other cultures because they are used to frequently switching back and forth from one language to another. They switch communication modes around 27 times a day! This switching mechanism and presence of alternative thought processes is a powerful thing.

Guzdar: Given this context, what are your suggestions for advertisers and marketers in terms of coming up with great ideas?

Love: I think sensitivity is the answer -- they should be sensitive to the primary language of the target audience while putting up creatives/campaigns. Advertisers should be sensitive from the point of view that people are the first media. For example: When plans to launch the Nova car in Brazil were on, someone cautioned that 'Nova' in Brazilian means 'no go'. So, it's important to be language-sensitive.

Guzdar: Is language the key to effective ads/communication or is it mere visuals?

Love: Well, it's a combination of both but I don't know which came first. However, I do think that visuals are extremely important in understanding culture. In many cultures, written words are read from left to right, while in some, they are written from right to left and others, from top to down.

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