Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Most Advertising Does Not Turn On A “Madrasi”

Ramanujam Sridhar was invited by CNBC TV-18 Storyboard to write an article on their guest blog. Please find the same article below.

It is festival time. Diwali is almost upon us. While Diwali is a festival that all of India celebrates with varying degrees of intensity, several other festivals are regional and not celebrated with the same fervor in all parts of India. Like Onam for instance which happened a couple of months ago, which to Malayalis (the people from God’s own country) is a big thing. Well a friend of mine remembered me on Onam. He is from Mumbai and really likes me (or so I believe) and he woke me up at an unearthly hour (it was seven thirty for God’s sake) and said at his cheeriest best “Happy Onam! Isn’t today a big day for you?” Whilst I grumpily thought that it might have been a better day if I had slept a little longer, I realized that this guy actually meant well. What the hell, he did not realize that I was a Tamilian; after all we are all Madrasis aren’t we? So what’s the problem? The problem is most (oh okay a lot really) of advertising that is created in the North of India (oh okay include Mumbai as well) has a similar haziness about the people of South India and consequently has little impact on people like me.

Can’t read, write or speak

I was born and brought up in the city (?) of Madras as it used to be called in those days. My generation grew up right in the middle of the ‘anti Hindi agitation’. Several of my friends favorite slogan was “Hindi down, down”. Now it is not that we felt strongly about the language but used the situation to just not learn the language. Many people of my generation don’t read, write or speak the language. Of course I am one of the few that can speak a sort of language that may pass for Hindi after you have had a couple of really stiff ones. Several others of my friends would not even try. And while the next generation may be marginally better, it neither shares the prowess nor the interest of my North Indian friends in that pleasant language. So here is my question to some of the best creative minds in India. How relevant is a lot of your advertising that is conceptualized, executed and released in Hindi to most of us? Of course I need to clarify that the problem is not as intense in Karnataka or Andhra as it is in Tamil Nadu or Kerala.

The real thing takes a bus to Chennai

I am sure some of you have seen the Coke commercial. Let me with my limited powers of expression try to explain the script to you. There is a young man who wants to go home to Delhi for Diwali and is stuck without a mode of transport except a battered down bus. The people around him seem from Shillong or thereabout look at him blankly. He opens his Coke only for life to be transformed. There is music, dancing, the bottle assumes magical proportions and the bus driver who looks a lot like Hashim Amla at the age of sixty, suddenly smiles and takes him to Delhi in the same bus which now looks like a golden chariot. I am sure you get the drift. Now I am hardly the target audience for Coke, so I don’t want to get into the effectiveness of the ad, but am only going to talk about the same ad in Tamil. Everything else is the same. The same cute kid stranded in the Himalayas, the same bemused Tibetan faces, the same Pathan driver and what is the difference. The kid wants to go to Chennai? From the Himalayas? Give me a break or better still a Pepsi! And mind you most Tamilians like me have seen the original and the translation (?) if you can call it that.

Is there a better way?

The average commercial conceptualized in Hindi and translated into Tamil is badly done. The translators must have been banished from Tamil Nadu in the sixties, so stilted are their expressions. It is compounded by Shah Rukh Khan speaking Tamil, or someone doing a passable imitation of him. The Khans mean nothing in our neck of the woods which Coke realized years ago. Our celebrities are different as are our aspirations, as someone said “it is a different country”. While that may be an exaggeration, there is no denying the fact that it needs attention. Asian Paints did a Pongal commercial over twenty years ago, which was created in Tamil for Tamilians. The same Asian paints did a wonderful translation of the Sunil Bhai commercial which became part of the local lingo. The Cadburys Dairy Milk Diwali commercial is a brilliant example of communication that is targeted and created for this market. Tamilians want to be spoken to in their language. Period.

I know enough about arguments about production costs and how Tamil Nadu is just another market. But a one size fits all, cannot work in this country with its diversity, complexity and language bias. Who said advertising was easy?

Talk to me in my language and I will listen and better still buy from you. Don’t pass me hand me downs or concepts created for the cow belt! There was a time when mobile phone manufacturers shipped those models that did not sell in other parts of the world. Now what do they do? They launch here as India is the happening market. Tamil Nadu could well be your happening market, if you are ready to recognize and more importantly accept it. On our terms! We are a very considerate people you see!!!

Ramanujam Sridhar


Sajith S, ITMB (2007-09) said...

Another example for a bad translation would be the new Idea Ad where Sir Ji (Small B) helps out a group of friends who landed in hostile territories for job's sake...Coincidentally, one's job location is his/her friend's home state...So, as masterminded by Sir Ji the friends help each other out with the help of the idea network in breaking the language barrier...
Now, in the Hindi ad the concept fits in properly, where the bengali, hariyanvi, marathi and malayali help each other with local indian languages with Hindi as the common language for communication...
But when translated to regional languages it becomes a total blunder.. Like when the ad was dubbed in to Tamil, the common language of communication among the group became Tamil.. Now, how in the world can the bengali or the marathi understand Tamil...?

Ram said...

I am a Madrasi (sorry tamilian iyer) living in Mumbai for over a decade now. You are spot on when you say for the rest of the country the south demarcation is pretty vague. And I find some of those tamil adaptations kind of sick. As sick as seeing Aiswariah rai or/and abishek bachan in a tamil film. It is high time marketers understand the sensitivities of different regions. If they cant get a proper adaptation done and choose characters who are truly pan india it is tough to gain acceptance. For instance a madhavan vidya balan combine in the airtel commercials didnt create so much dissonance in the viewers mind !