Of regional brands and advertising

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Last week I was at an event organised by Ahmedabad-based Zero Gravity Communications discussing various aspects of advertising & marketing pertaining to regional brands and content. The day had some interesting conversations pertaining to the rise of regional content, OTT and influencer marketing. Here are some thoughts gleaned during the day.

Regional brand – no barrier for scale or ambition: just as there is no real case for adding the prefix ‘digital’ to marketing (as if there is regular marketing and a different ‘digital marketing’) I wonder if the term ‘regional brand’ has connotations of being ‘inferior’ in some way to a national brand? I know that the distinction between national and regional has also been used in the context of media channels and publications.

‘National television’ has some sense of prestige associated with it where a regional channel is something ‘under the radar’ perhaps. But when it comes to business, it is natural that some products would cater to the needs of a specific region – be it language, taste or way of life. A wet grinder may find more takers in the South of India than elsewhere. A real estate brand may have stronger equity in one part of the country than another. So, my limited point is that there are just brands who happened to be available in a region. All other principles of branding apply just as much for these brands. Unless product is in a category which has limited takers beyond a region, it can be dream or scale to any heights. We have seen several examples of that in India, especially from Gujarat where the event was held.

Content creators with local appeal – the new arsenal for brands: even prior to the rise of the digital world, each region had its share of local celebrity in music, movies or arts. We now see a lot of standup comedians with their own channels, streaming shows and live programmes. Comedians like Gangavathi Pranesh had their followers among Kannadigas alone since the content was in that language. Their popularity did not translate into monetisation as much as the new age local celebrities have access to thanks to the new platforms. I got to know of the popularity of Viraj Gehlani at the conference and could equate his fan following to many others such as Aiyyo Sharaddha and few others. Many of them cleverly integrate brand promotions to their style of content creation.

Even beyond content creators, there’s always the opportunity of original content, ideated first in a regional language (instead of of English or Hindi and then ‘adapted’) like the Swiggy Instamart ones recently.

Regional content in OTT and the larger impact: when I was growing up (in Chennai) I was fortunate enough to be exposed to several languages. Aside from the language spoken at home (Tulu) mother tongue I was exposed to languages such as Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi. I picked up my Hindi watching movies and listening to film music. Since the movies where without subtitles one had to listen the dialogues to pick up the meaning. In today’s world, one can choose the audio language, read the English subtitles to watch content made in the language of one’s choice. The pros: one is exposed to various genres of content, diverse cultures and so much more. On the other hand, the chances of picking up new languages by simply paying attention to the spoken word is completely lost.

Overall, the pitfalls of planning a national campaign with merely local adaptations in terms of voice over or a translated tagline in a vast & diverse country like India continue. Opting for influencer marketing with those who have a fan following in a region or domain seems like an attractive option for brands. But brands still need a custodian who orchestrates these various initiatives and drives a single-minded proposition for the brand.

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