Advertising created specially for each South market: how practical?

A recent IAA event in Chennai debated and declared that ‘there will be no consumer connect, unless advertising is created for each South market’. There were some solid arguments for and against the notion.

There is truth in this argument for the motion:

Any brand coming into the South has to exhibit an understanding of the people, their language, their traditions, their local context – if it needed to thrive in the South.

While this, against the notion makes sense too:

“It is not about language all the time. It is the emotion. Across the world, the child cries the same way and the mother emotes the same way. So our job as communicators is to hang on to those emotions and then communicate with them.”

In my view, while emotions can be universal, the impact of execution is greater with a local touch. Take the Google Search ad which became hugely popular on the web recently. The underlying human emotion – the pain of separation and the joy of reunion, is a universal one.  The execution too must have moved millions in India and Pakistan – even if they had not personally experienced the trauma of partition. So while a gent in Coimbatore may have shed a tear watching the ad (simply because he was moved by the story and the acting), someone else from New Delhi who happened to experience the trauma of those events may have been moved even more. He would have connected with the ad, its nuances, the language in a more intimate manner than the guy from Coimbatore.

It is a common practice in South India to make bilingual films – usually in Tamil & Telugu. Many such films have gone on to become hits in both the markets. Sometimes a hit in one language gets dubbed in another and tastes success. The underlying theme, cultural codes are same across both the languages. Yet, some noticeable differences remain. Dubbing, for example, is usually off.  Hyper local settings don’t always connect well across markets. For example, the remake of Kahani is a Tamil-Telugu bilingual set in Hyderabad.  While the overall story, the setting, the characters will appeal to pan-South India, there will be differences in the personal connect across markets. I am sure the locale will be more familiar to someone in Andhra than a viewer in Salem, TN. These little things make a difference. The recent Malayalam hit, Drishyam ran to packed houses in the South (even in Mumbai and abroad for that matter). I have seen non-Malayali’s enjoying the movie in cinema halls. While the language, the setting, characters and the plot have familiarity, the connect would be stronger in each state’s own language as a native production (not just dubbed). No wonder there is talk of it being re-made in Tamil & Telugu.

In advertising, connect with the South audience has always been a paint point – to the South Indian viewer, that is. The mantra when it comes to pan-India advertising, ‘lost in translation‘. To the creators, it is just a matter of dubbing and when possible, adding a white vibhooti  (holy ash smeared on the forehead) to the protagonist. In my view, this business of connecting with the regional audience (not just South) is taken very very lightly by Mumbai & Delhi based agencies. The reason: it is bloody hard work. It begins with finding an idea that connects with all of India (a mammoth effort in itself), getting the right nuances in execution, translation, dubbing…the works. The core team which creates pan-India advertising cannot be expected to know the South Indian languages – they have to rely on expert help, usually business partners outside the agency. And they are not part of the thinking behind the campaign and are just asked to translate, not ‘trans-create’. Also it is not practical to get the lip sync right for all 4 South Indian languages when shooting the film. At best a film is shot with lip sync for Hindi and one South Indian language. Even then, it does look odd to see ads with lip sync completely off. Again, these little things make a difference.

So while creating just two versions – Hindi and ‘South Indian’ itself is fraught with so many issues, leave alone budget constraints is it really practical for brands to create a version for each South market? Even film makers with budgets much bigger than ad films cannot do justice to it (even though it is an ideal situation) how can marketing & advertising folks implement it? It seems impractical to me. Only a select few brands with deep pockets can even plan for such – not all brands. What say?

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photo credit: roland via photopin cc

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