Why brands in India must fall in love with the vernacular

Our guest author makes the case for brands to speak to consumers in their respective regional languages.

According to YouTube data, more than 90% of content consumed is in regional languages, not English. Coupled with the estimate that the next 200 million new e-commerce customers are likely to come from ‘Bharat’, the case for a lingua-cultural reboot of brand communication is certainly real.

But first, it’s necessary to recap the historical thinking behind the creation of marketing communications, particularly the language. In pre-liberal India, most urban brands preferred English as the consumer classes were chronic readers of English dailies and magazines. While typical regional brands stuck to the original languages ​​and chose custom media to achieve their ambitions; this pattern continued into the early decades of television as well.

Regional versions of national content were, at best, clinical translations or dubbed for the bliss of understanding and not much else. To facilitate this one-sided view, most marketing and advertising leaders, especially pedigree brands, were English psychic products influenced by Western mores. So this parallel path of content creation continued unabated, even as audience profiles evolved.

The real game changers in the first wave of true regionalization were Piyush Pandey and his proteges at Ogilvy, who started the Hindi revolution in commercial filmmaking. Suddenly, subway-centric entities like Cadbury’s and Asian Paints staged cinematic-quality ad results and the alleged inverse relationship between premium and vernacular was systematically broken. Fortunately, pan-Indian advertising ideas were now being crafted in Hindi, with nuances of indigenous society amplified, and this became the model for inspiration.

Yet in 2022 we are stuck in the First Wave, as even in the wake of digital evolution, both in commerce and content, brands have barely woken up to vernacular imperatives. India already has more internet users in non-metro areas than metropolitan areas, where transactional data points suggest a rapid increase in penetration, exposure and purchasing power.

Notably, this new-age ‘Bharat’ customer is being lovingly pampered by empathetic content creators, from OTT to the big screen to YouTube and the many TikTok clones. Original South Indian content is said to outsmart Bollywood in business and influence and there has been a real development in production values ​​in all states, further boosting regional self-confidence. Yet the bold big world of marketing communications, with few exceptions like Dabur, sticks to the spiel of the solo formula, denying brands the empathy that customers so desperately need, even in this powerful D2C era.

What is necessarily needed is a structural overhaul, for the go-to-market approach by companies and agencies. Brand audiences should be separated by dominant cultural identities, whether universal, pan-Indian or simply local. Based on a solid value proposition, bottom-up communication should be created through the media, including social media, possibly recruiting the appropriate influencers, whether micro or macro.

The beauty of the current era is high-quality, low-cost audiovisual content that is eminently scalable and must succeed the one-size-fits-all generic approach. Measurability across the funnel will help us constantly refine the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), and will also help us identify innovative metrics for campaign evaluation beyond viewability and conversions.

For this, organizations need to change structurally, again both client and agency. Large communications networks need to develop strong regional (intra) alliances and customers need to enthuse local sales offices with “smart” staffing, aided by technology, not just number pushers. Local impact content creators need to be co-opted for Marcom and the central brand idea needs to see diverse expressions and not just adaptations, alas the current norm.

Already, in India, there are more internet users in rural areas than in urban centers, and this will directly dictate the share of e-commerce, most certainly. For established consumer brands as well, the real opportunity is meaningful vernacular connectivity, as a means of emotional affiliation in an increasingly ‘Ceterus Paribus’ universe of transactions.

In this 75th year of independence, this is a valuable evolution of meaningful identity, one that communicators must sincerely embrace. Introducing the new wave of “V-First” communications agencies, putting living vernacular far above comfortable conformity.

(Shivaji Dasgupta is a freelance writer on brands and customer centricity.)

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