Venkata Susmita Biswas

Hey brands! Call me in my language

A panel of experts deliberated on the power of using the local lexicon in advertising at the afaqs! Festival of Languages.   

No one likes it if their message is lost in translation. But few brands make the effort to use the local tongue to communicate with consumers and earn their love to turn them into customers. 

Despite the obvious power of language in communication, why is it that waking up to an advertisement in English or Hinglish on the front-page of a national daily in a city like Chennai or Bengaluru is more common than one would expect? And how can agencies work better to make regional language a central pillar of a regional campaign? What kind of magic can brands create if they used the local lexicon?

I discussed all this and more with a panel of experts from agencies, brands, and the media sector at our recent conference — Festival of Indian Languages. Aparna Giridhar, Vice President Marketing, Swiggy; Neha Tandon, Head - Revenue, ABP Digital; Puneet Kapoor, Chief Creative Officer, South India, Ogilvy; Raktim Das, Chief Growth Officer (Digital & Broadcasting), TV9 Network; Sai Karthik, Strategy, Talented; Santosh Hegde, VP, Marketing, Licious; and Sushma Rao, Exec. VP - Brand Strategy and Head - National Brands, Mullen Lintas Bangalore spoke from experience of using local languages to drive better business results and listed ways in which the whole advertising fraternity could change its outlook towards using local languages. 

The unsurprising but impressive revelation was that using local insights and local languages has proven to have better impact than generic, templatised approaches. Giridhar said that while it is natural and easy for Swiggy to use local nuances to communicate especially during festive occasions, the brand does so beyond festivals too. 

Citing one such example where Swiggy used the local idiom of “vettu” or to belt food in Tamil Nadu, Giridhar said the brand worked with Mind Your Language a south Indian advertising agency to identify local insights for the campaign which has been running for 9 months now. 

But the eye-popping secret she let us in on was that the open rates for push notifications in Tamil and Malayalam are four times higher than those in English. The food-aggregator now has push notification writers in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada both in-house and at its agency to generate push notifications in local languages to target consumers.       

Licious too runs region-specific campaigns, for instance the brand recently created different ads for the Tamil Nadu market while retaining the essence of the campaign insight. But Hedge confessed that the latest ad campaign was born out of a common mistake brands make — sign the biggest movie star. 

“What we tried to do then (with the movie star) is customise the copy instead of customising the insight,” he said. The meat category is one where different regions have different associations with the same fish/meat, “so we had no option but to customise our product, proposition and communication to the audience.” 

Introspection led Licious to see the light, how often do brands look inward and accept regional ideas from agencies? I asked this question to Sai Karthik of Talented because his agency has worked on Tamil Nadu-specific campaigns for brands like Milk Bikis and Myntra. 

Turns out, the young Bengaluru agency in fact has a Tamil Nadu team. PG Aditya, one of the founders, is a Tamilian himself and Sai Karthik said that having an expert team that knew the Tamil Nadu market well-enough to hack into the culture of the state is what helps. He indicated that Myntra, a brand that is not from the city of Chennai, left the decision making to the Talented team because the brand believed the agency knew what was best for the brand. 

And what is it like for network agencies that have offices away from the power centres of Mumbai and Delhi? Do they get enough opportunities to create local narratives or follow the direction of their national counterparts? Responding to that question, Kapoor of Ogilvy said that it is no longer acceptable for brands to run Hinglish campaigns in a city like Chennai because the brand will immediately get called out on social media. So he drew attention to what needs to change within the agency. 

He said, “There is a lot of inertia against language and culture that exists as biases. As a leader, one needs to pivot from there and hack languages. To do so - you need to upstream talent.” He was clear that if an agency was to work on a Kerala brand sitting in Bangalore, it should without doubt have a Malayali team member working on the brief. 

Rao of Mullen Lintas echoed Kapoor when she said that right at the hiring level there should be a way for agencies to mimic the diversity of India in their teams. “The staffers need not be restricted to the creative team because ideas can come from anywhere,” she said. The talent should be brought in right at the onset, she said, and not as an afterthought. 

She also added that social media has solidified the importance of the vernacular in brand communication. She said, “the dominance of Hindi or English as pan-India languages in the world of brands was way more accentuated in the pre-social media era. With social media reaching the grassroots, regional languages and the vernacular idiom have become democratised. I find a lot of my clients open to go local, go regional not just distribution and channel sales but with communication too.”   

Both Raktim Das and Neha Tandon who represented media networks demonstrated how having mtultiple language feeds especially in the domain of news can elevate viewership and engagement. TV9 Network, which operates in six different languages, said that the network chose to diversify its presence and cater to a larger majority of India by adding languages like Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, and Telugu. Tandon revealed that the Bengali news website for which she heads revenue has users spending 25 minutes per day on the website purely because it publishes news in the local language. 

The panelists not only deliberated on the matter at hand but also took responsibility for their role in how language is used in advertising. Hegde of Licious said, “I don’t remember the last time a brand lead churned out a brief and an insight in a regional language. We as marketers should take this responsibility and I am going to change that for sure,” he promised while the other panelists nodded in agreement. 

And what a delightful change that would be!

afaqs! FOIL 2024 Media Partner: Community Partner: The Advertising Club Bangalore Networking Partner: Introbot Associate Partners: Jagran New Media Manorama Online TimesNow Navbharat and Voxxy Media

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