Local advertising in India: many an alien land

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Imamyam TV. Makkal TV. WIN TV. Polimer Channel. Jesus TV. Chances are you haven’t heard of these Tamil-language TV channels. Neither have I, until I stayed in Pondicherry over the last weekend. One was aware of Sun, Vijay and Jaya – the popular channels, but the width of choice available to small-town India was amazing. It isn’t just about the choice of channels – the visual language of these channels is so far removed from what us advertising types see as regular TV – it is mind blowing. The mainline channels can afford to produce serials and reality shows – which are more or less a reflection of what works in Hindi channels. But the fare dished out in these second-tier channels is the inexpensive stuff – song sequences, comedy clips from movies, trailers and religious sermons. As the typical city-bred, BBC News watching bloke, it was an assault on the senses. But I am sure they exist because there is a market for them. I can imagine similar local content in Moradabad, Udupi or Bhubhaneshawar.

What struck me was the huge disparity in what I imagined to be the visual imagery of local content & local advertising and the reality on ground. Also, the key visuals of ads in most categories – the ones that are in my mind’s eye – are so different from the visual imagery of such local media. Ads that we think are apt for the masses – be it for durables, telecom or FMCG – that are commonly seen on C&S channels would stick out like a sore thumb here. Ads that are made for the HSM (Hindi Speaking Markets) but dubbed in local languages would be alien here. Sure the South is changing– being more open to outside influences. But they still prefer their Aircel ads featuring local star Surya and his actress-wife Jyotika, rather than the ones featuring Dhoni (at least that’s what I saw on TV and hoardings). Regionalization of advertising is yet to hit big time in India. In a big country like ours, big agencies based out of metros can’t be expected to be aware of the myriad tastes & cultural nuances across regions. But I guess what we think as local and empathetic may not be the case at all. Even though I am familiar with the language and grew up in Chennai, I returned feeling that I was totally out of touch with local tastes. It all seemed alien. I am sure they feel the same way about ads we think we create for them.

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  1. Well, there are over 25 tamil channels that I have seen in Pondicherry (that is my home town). Note that not all of them are ‘satellite’ based. About 15 of them are by the local cable company there called ‘Sky Sat’. You cannot see them if you are in other towns of Tamil Nadu. The advertising in those channels is mostly crass but then they should be working with their target segment. You may even see advertisements for local schools, local events etc (even events like marriages, puberty-attainment-festival(!!) etc)

    • Thanks Rahul. The mainline regional channels match the Hindi channels in terms of look and feel. Ditto for the ads. The level of crassness in Tier 2 seen to be believed. Not suggesting that we emulate them, though!

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