21 January 2016 11:36:18 IST

Speak to me in my mother tongue!

The TVS ad starring MS Dhoni and Prabhu Devi is created specifically around a festival for a particular market

Is making commercials in a regional language a smart strategy?

When you speak about India, the first thing that strikes you is its diversity in language, culture, customs and 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; an audience that speaks and writes in it fluently and perhaps even thinks in that language.

The reality, however, is that this category of English-speaking population is a small percentage. When we talk about English literate people, we’re referring to say a mere 11 per cent of the population, as a recent study revealed. We should remember that even in affluent households, say in Kerala, the primary newspaper is in Malayalam, even if they read an additional English paper. So it makes sense to talk to the consumer in his/her language, more so in markets like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and West Bengal.

This means that as a marketer, I am trying to segment the market on the basis of a language, while taking into account the culture, the tradition and customs of that region. I am creating a communication in the mother tongue, be it in Tamil or Bengali.

This means that Bengalis, wherever they may be, will get to see the communication in their mother tongue, thanks to the growing phenomenon of satellite TV.

But before we talk about the pros and cons of such a strategy, let’s quickly look at a recent commercial created specifically around a festival for a particular market.

Pongalo Pongal

A few days ago, Tamil Nadu resonated with the sounds of “Pongalo Pongal” in every household. While the harvest festival is celebrated in other parts of India as well, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that it is the most important festival for Tamilians.


This ad is from the TVS Motor Company for one of their brands, TVS Star City, and features MS Dhoni, a household name in India not only because he is the Indian captain but also the boy next door, thanks to him leading the Chennai Super Kings till recently.

Prabhu Deva too is well known in the South, and this commercial has brought together two most prominent faces together.

In the commercial, MS Dhoni is clad in a dhoti for a TVS store opening, and is admiring the Star City bike on display there. When the dealer requests him to take the first ride on the auspicious day of Pongal, Dhoni isn’t very comfortable with the idea of riding a bike with dhoti .

As he looks around helplessly, Prabhu Deva comes to his rescue, demonstrating in style how to knot the garment, even as they sing and dance in typical Tamil-film style. It is a racy commercial, nicely choreographed to appeal 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 and two, it brings together two celebrities that everyone recognises and loves. The logic for this commercial is simple — it tries to demonstrate how Tamilians are unique, different and best respond to messages when they are in their own language.

Not a new strategy

This strategy of recognising Pongal as an important festival for Tamilians or that Tamilians need to be addressed separately, is not new. My mind goes back to nearly three decades, when another commercial for Pongal was done for Asian Paints.


This was a landmark commercial, 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 the important thing to remember is that it invariably is a sacrifice and can be costly. Today, it costs a lot of money to create commercials in one language alone. 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, 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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