14 May 2015 15:28:30 IST

Aiyoo Madrasi, look at your fate!

Advertising professionals need to go beyond stereotypes and create culturally relevant ads

I have a pet peeve and that relates to how the advertising czars of Mumbai and Delhi look at the South. Sadly there is a complete lack of awareness, and (if I may add) a reasonable lack of interest in the South as a market and South Indians as consumers by the advertising fraternity at least.

We have enough evidence of anyone who lives south of the Vindhyas being classified as a Madrasi, never mind the fact that there are four different states and so many diverse languages and people who live in this part of the world. My favourite story relates to my friend of over 30 years who lives in Mumbai and who knows me extremely well, calling me and wishing me for Onam! “Onam,” I almost shouted at her, “is a Malayali festival and I am a Tamilian!”

The rest of India seems to struggle to understand that Carnatic is a genre of music while Kannada is a language. “You speak Carnatic,” they ask me politely and I have difficulty in controlling my emotions! All this could be the subject matter of conversations and could be entertaining after two drinks even, but the problem manifests itself in many ways that are more serious in the marketplace affecting credibility, comprehension and business in that order. Let me explain.

Vodafone unites India or so it thinks

While there have been a number of translated commercials that have annoyed me in the past let me give you a recent example. The brand in question is Vodafone, a large visible global brand (with advertising that keeps winning awards and accolades). Have you seen the latest commercial for Vodafone for M-pesa? Click to view and Click this to view the second ad.

I have deliberately given you both links, of the commercial in Hindi and Tamil to make a point. Okay, as the commercial depicts, it is the story of a father and son. The commercial features a young, conscientious son who believes in sending money home to his father to pursue his hobby of repairing transistors. The son is a taxi driver living in the city while his father lives in a small town.

The commercial is about Vodafone’s new service and with the benefit of this as the son tells the father, there is no need for the father to go to the bank, as all he has to do is go to the Vodafone M-pesa store to get his money.

The commercial is clearly set in some part of North India, a very cold part at that as depicted by the clothes worn by the shopkeeper and the father. They wear balaclavas that cover the ears, mufflers and heavy pullovers. The beauty of the commercial is that it has only a voice over and can be easily translated unlike other commercials which have characters speaking, and which are messier and more expensive to handle.

But if you watch the Tamil commercial it says the father is in Tirunelveli! Have any of you ever been to Tirunelveli? Do you see people wearing clothes as though they are going on an expedition to Antarctica in the heat and dust of that town? And this is my problem. Clearly neither client nor agency have stepped out of their office in Lower Parel and have no clue about this unfortunate town which is the setting of this commercial. Whatever happened to old fashioned “attention to detail?” Why couldn’t the person have said Ooty or Kodaikanal or Yercaud even, the only few places where it can get remotely cold in Tamil Nadu? Is it ignorance or indifference?

Kotak too befuddles me

There is another big campaign for Kotak Mahindra Bank which has just taken over ING Vysya bank (see press ad). The ad talks about how Kotak Mahindra bank is in the remotest of places. Thanks to ING’s network, now Kotak is in a whole host of places. The commercial is fairly direct and yet the tag line is in Hindi (we advertising people want continuity you see). So the tag line says “KonakonaKotak” which probably means that Kotak is in every corner. The eyes and mind have trouble in adjusting from a swift transition from English to Hindi in the same communication, and how many Tamilians have the fluency in Hindi to read, understand and assimilate?

Why don’t advertising people look outside their immediate circle? Why don’t they land in Chennai Central by train and look at the target audience for their communication? Why don’t they watch a Tamil movie to understand the extent of dependence on Tamil as a language? Take the tag line for the ongoing IPL tournament: India ka tyohaar. A friend, a cricket buff, but who grew up deep south in Kumbakonam in TN, called to ask what the word meant. Click on this to view the ad.

Mind you, I am not a Tamil chauvinist, just a communication specialist. The purpose of communication is to be understood and that is where these bits of communication seem poorly planned and sadly this is not the first time it is happening and if my experience is any indication, this will not be the last time! Sadly I am a Madrasi!

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