Shivaji Dasgupta
Guest Article

Why brands in India must fall in love with the vernacular

Our guest author makes a case for brands to speak to consumers in their respective regional languages.

According to YouTube data, more than 90% of content consumed is in regional languages and not English. When coupled with the estimation that the next 200 million new e-commerce customers are likely to be from 'Bharat', the case for a lingua-cultural reboot of brand communication is surely live.

But first, it is necessary to recap the historical thinking behind marketing communication creation, especially language. In pre-liberalisation India, most urban brands preferred English, as the consumption classes were chronic readers of English dailies and magazines. While typecast regional brands stuck to the home tongues and chose customised media to fulfill their ambitions; this pattern continued in the early decades of television as well.

Shivaji Dasgupta
Shivaji Dasgupta

Regional versions of national content were, at best, clinical translations or dubbed for felicity in comprehension and not much else. To aid this unilateral view, most leaders in both Marketing and Advertising, especially manning pedigreed brands, were English medium products influenced by Western mores. Thus, this parallel track of content creation continued unabated, even as audience profiles moved on.

The real game changers in the first wave of genuine regionalisation were Piyush Pandey and his proteges from Ogilvy, who instigated the Hindi revolution in ad film creation. Suddenly, metro centric entities like Cadbury's and Asian Paints curated cinema quality advertising outcomes and the purported inverse relationship between premiumness and vernacular was systematically busted. Thankfully, Pan Indian advertising ideas were now conceived in Hindi, with nuances of indigenous society amplified, and this became the inspirational pattern.

Also Read: 40 years later, Piyush Pandey holds Ogilvy’s reins steady

However, in 2022, we are stuck in the First Wave, as even in the wake of the digital evolution, both commerce and content, brands have scarcely woken up to the vernacular imperatives. Already India has more internet users in non metros than metros, where transactional data points suggest a rapid increase in penetration, exposure and purchasing power.

Notably, this new age 'Bharat' customer is being pampered lovingly by empathetic content creators, from OTT to Big screen to even YouTube and the many TikTok clones. South Indian original content is reportedly outsmarting Bollywood in both business and influence and there has been genuine development in production values across states, further cementing the regional self-confidence. Yet the big bold world of Marketing Communications, with a few exceptions like Dabur, are sticking to the solo formula spiel, denying brands much needed customer empathy, even in this potent D2C era.

What is necessarily needed is a structural rejig, for the go to market approach by companies and agencies. Brand audiences must be separated by dominant cultural identities- whether universal, Pan-Indian or plainly local. On a foundation of a sound value proposition, bottom up communication must be created across media including social, possibly enlisting the appropriate influencers, whether micro or macro.

The beauty of the present age is low cost high quality audio visual content, which is eminently scalable and that must succeed the one size fits all umbrella approach. Measurability across the funnel will help us constantly finetune the Ideal Customer Profile ( ICP), and also help us identify innovative metrics for campaign evaluation, beyond salience and conversions.

For this to happen, organisations must change structurally, once again both client and agency. Larger communication networks must develop strong regional ( intra) alliances and clients must enthuse local sales offices with 'insights' staffing, aided by technology, and not just number pushers. Locally impactful content creators must be co opted for Marcom and the central brand idea must see diverse expressions and not just adaptations, alas the current norm.

Already, in India, there are more internet users in rural areas than in urban centers, and this will directly dictate the share of online commerce, most certainly. For established mainstream brands as well, the real opportunity is meaningful vernacular connectivity, as a means towards emotional affiliation in an increasingly 'Ceterus Paribus' transaction universe.

On the 75th year of independence this is a valuable evolution in meaningful identity, one that communicators must sincerely embrace. Here's to the new wave of 'V-First' communication agencies, putting vivacious vernacular way above comfortable conformity.

(Shivaji Dasgupta is an autonomous writer on brands and customer centricity.)

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