Friday, January 22, 2016

Speak to me in my mother tongue!

Is making commercials in a regional language a smart strategy?

When you speak about India and its markets, the first thing that probably strikes you about this vast and wonderful country is its diversity in language, culture, customs and even religions. While that is probably true for some other countries like the USA as well, let me speak about our own country. This column for instance is written in English as it caters to a specific audience that is familiar with that language, that speaks and writes in it with fluency and perhaps even thinks in that language. The reality, however is this category of English is a small percentage. When we speak about English, we are talking about say a mere 11 per cent of the population as a recent study revealed. We should also remember that even in affluent households; say in Kerala the primary newspaper is in Malayalam even if they may read an additional English paper. So it makes eminent sense to talk to the consumer in their language more so in markets like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.  What this basically means is that as a marketer, I am trying to segment the market on the basis of language and take into account the culture, the tradition and the customs of that region and creating communication in the mother tongue whether it is in Tamil or Bengali. What this means also is that Bengalis wherever they may be, get to see my communication which is in their mother tongue wherever they may live in India. This is thanks to the growing phenomenon of satellite TV which enables people to watch programs in their mother tongue wherever they may be living. Before we talk about the pros and cons of such a strategy, let’s quickly look at a current example of a commercial created specifically around a festival for a particular market in the mother tongue of that region Tamil.

Pongaloo Pongal
A few days ago Tamil Nadu resonated with the sounds of “Pongaloo Pongal” in every household. While the harvest festival is celebrated in other parts of India, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it is the most important festival for Tamilians probably vying with Diwali in terms of importance say with North Indians. 
Here is a link to the commercial

for a brand from the TVS Motor Company for one of their brands TVS Star City featuring MS Dhoni who is a household name in India not only because he is the Indian captain but who is almost the boy next door because he used to lead Chennai Super Kings till recently. Prabhu Deva too is no stranger to the South having acted and danced in several Tamil films. As the commercial shows MS Dhoni appropriately clad in a dhoti opens a new showroom for TVS, admires the Star City on display there. When the dealer requests him to take the first ride in the bike as it is an auspicious day, he is hesitant because riding a bike with a dhoti on is an art. As he looks around helplessly Prabhu Deva comes to the rescue and demonstrates how to knot the dhoti stylishly even as they sing and dance as they do in typical Tamil films. It is a racy commercial, nicely choreographed in a manner that appeals to the youth of Tamil Nadu. I expect the commercial to be a hit for two reasons - one it captures the essence of Tamil Nadu albeit in a cinematic way but also because it has two celebrities that each and everyone recognises and many love. The logic for this commercial is simple. It tries to demonstrate that Tamilians are unique, different and best respond to messages when they are in their own language.
This strategy of recognising that Pongal is an important festival or that Tamilians need to be addressed separately is not new and my mind goes back nearly three decades to another commercial for Pongal done for Asian Paints. This was a landmark commercial of those days done by my friend Rajiv Menon where for the first time a race was targeted in their own language rather than with a translation of a national message.

Is this a good strategy?
In my own parochial way, I feel this strategy is a good one but then the important thing to remember is that strategy invariably is sacrifice and can be costly. Today, it costs a lot of money to create commercials in one language alone rather than doing it in Hinglish as most brands are doing. Translations too may prove laughable when not properly executed. Remember that marketing money is not unlimited and the smarter ones use their resources sensibly. But the bottom line is if a market is big enough for you, then you must create in that language, but in a manner that appeals to people of that region.

Think about it, you may have a different solution to the same problem.


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