Of unboxing zindagi and creating brand affinity among non-Hindi speakers

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I quite like the new Snapdeal logo. It makes for an attractive app icon (mobile being an important part of brand interaction) and the box is relevant to the category. Yes, there is the usual backstory created around a logo change (‘the two arrows of the box represent our role as your partner’ and ‘symbol is so much more than just a box; it is a representation of untold potential and possibilities’). The anthem ad, a montage of visuals set to a catchy jingle is not a path bracingly new format but a time tested one. It can deliver magic if all the three the montage of visuals, the words and the music work together. As part of the launch was a print ad, wherein the copy was just the jingle in Hindi, and was released across South markets in Times of India. Needless to say, language plays an important role in establishing a ‘connect’ with the target audience. Account Planners and AEs (who write briefs) agonise over the target audience definition and often write a pen portrait of ‘who we are talking to’, down to the last detail (sometimes irrelevant ones). In this context, I wonder how such advertising can create an affinity towards the brand when it is likely that a large section of the audience may not relate to Hindi all that well.

But this is not a new problem in the ad industry. I admit that creating a truly pan-India creative idea and more importantly, expressing it well in 17 languages is an impossible task. Of course, basic Hindi phrases (Paytm Karo, Yehi hai right choice, baby) have a better chance of conveying the meaning across India. Some categories which have an all-India footprint – e.g. FMCG have to deal with this problem regularly. The most common option is to create a visual which is universal and just change the dialogue and soundtrack (jingle or voice over). The second most common option is create two masters – one for the North and the other for the South. When brands need to invest in bespoke creative for regional markets – Tamil Nadu, Bengal etc., they make special films with everything from language to costume reflecting the local tastes. Nowadays there is the other option – Hindi across all markets.

In all these attempts, stereotypes abound – especially when it comes to depicting South Indians. The Mumbai ad agency folks assume that South India is one country and a Kannadiga is the same as a Tamilian or Malayali. To depict this ‘country’ they drape a man in a lungi or veshti and place a white horizontal tilak (vibhuti) on his forehead. Read this blog post which captures the stereotypical portrayals in Indian adverts. The translation too is often shoddy (literal, bookish) than something real but creative. So what’s the way out? It is not possible (too expensive, logistical nightmare) for every ad to be shot in major languages. Herewith some thoughts:

– attempt to convey the essence of the brand through a story and not just through a tag line. Relying on a tag line to capture the essence of the brand is fraught with danger as they can’t always be translated as well from English or Hindi and may lose the original’s impact

– let the original idea be adapted in other languages rather than just be translated.

– send the creative team on market visits to non-Hindi speaking states periodically (beyond metros) to see how the target markets behave

– get the creative team to watch regional channels with assistance from those who understand the language and see how popular media looks and feels like. Many of us still have stereotypical views about such and maybe dispelled when experience it first hand

– don’t rely only on Mumbai alone talent to do all the translation and dubbing work. Sometimes, such talent is far removed (literally) from their roots, having been away for quite a long time. Experiment with resources in regional talent hubs.

These may be too simplistic but there’s no denying that ads aimed at non-Hindi speaking markets, especially in the South often don’t strike a chord.

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