Why brands in India should get desperate for the vernacular

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According to YouTube data, more than 90% of content consumed is in regional languages and not English. When coupled with the estimation that the next 200 million new e-commerce customers are likely to be from ‘Bharat’, the case for a lingua-cultural reboot of brand communication is surely live.

In pre-liberalisation India, most urban brands preferred English, as the consumption classes were chronic readers of English dailies and magazines. While typecast regional brands stuck to the home tongues and chose customised media to fulfill their ambitions; this pattern continued in the early decades of television as well.

Shivaji Dasgupta

Regional versions of national content were, at best, clinical translations or dubbed for felicity in comprehension and not much else. To aid this unilateral view, most leaders in both Marketing and Advertising, especially manning pedigreed brands, were English medium products influenced by Western mores. Thus, this parallel track of content creation continued unabated, even as audience profiles moved on.

The real game changers in the first wave of genuine regionalisation were Piyush Pandey and his proteges from Ogilvy, who instigated the Hindi revolution in ad film creation. Suddenly, metro centric entities like Cadbury’s and Asian Paints curated cinema quality advertising outcomes and the purported inverse relationship between premium Ness and vernacular was systematically busted. Thankfully, Pan Indian advertising ideas were now conceived in Hindi, with nuances of indigenous society amplified, and this became the inspirational pattern.

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

Notably, this new age ‘Bharat’ customer is being pampered lovingly by empathetic content creators, from OTT to Big screen to even YouTube and the many TikTok clones. South Indian original content is reportedly outsmarting Bollywood in both business and influence and there has been genuine development in production values across states, further cementing the regional self-confidence.

Brand audiences must be separated by dominant cultural identities- whether universal, Pan-Indian or plainly local. On a foundation of a sound value proposition, bottom-up communication must be created across media including social, possibly enlisting the appropriate influencers, whether micro or macro.

The beauty of the present age is low-cost high-quality audio-visual content, which is eminently scalable and that must succeed the one size fits all umbrella approach. Measurability across the funnel will help us constantly finetune the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), and also help us identify innovative metrics for campaign evaluation, beyond salience and conversions.

On the 75th year of independence this is a valuable evolution in meaningful identity, one that communicators must sincerely embrace. Here’s to the new wave of ‘V-First’ communication agencies, putting vivacious vernacular way above comfortable conformity.

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