The essence of language is waning as advertising evolves
By Naresh Gupta
‘Bhasad’ is a unique word commonly used in north Indian offices of creative agencies, and often finds a mention in official emails. From servicing teams to clients, everyone knows what this word conveys. The word loosely means ‘mad scramble to make things happen’.
To an extent, this ‘mad scramble to make things happen’ is apparent in how brands are communicating right now. How else will you explain brands being happy creating large-format TVCs in Hindi or regional languages, and turning to Roman scripts when it comes to the print medium? Are brands taking an easy way out or has this become the accepted norm among the marketing and advertising folk? Much like how the word ‘bhasad’ has become mainstream in a small workgroup.
Mind the language
We all know that language is the currency by which advertising transacts. Brands use words and pictures to tell a story that becomes a reality. There are four purposes of language in advertising: self-expression, exposition, art and persuasion. Language plays a critical role in advertising, because advertising is about persuasion to either strengthen or change behaviour.
So how are we playing this game? It seems that we are taking a more-than-lazy approach to creating persuasive communication, by either looking down upon a language or by giving extra importance to another.
Sometime in 2018, RuPay released ads across English newspapers with the headline ‘One Life, One RuPay’. For Hindi newspapers, the same line was written in Devanagari; except that the meaning of those words completely changed in the process. The ad, reproduced here, reads ‘Jungle Life, Jungle Form’.
This is not a critique of one brand. There are many brands today who believe that an Indian language should be written in Roman, or that idioms or words from one language work for consumers across geographies. A case in point is Uber Eats’ ‘Tinda’ campaign, which did not garner the kind of pan-India appeal it was aiming for.
Brands live in the bubble of the moment, and do not bother finding a wider connection. Sadly, this is on full display in language newspapers. The fascination for hashtags has, perhaps, killed the quest for achieving an enduring appeal.
Way with words
If we look back in history, language played a very important role in the evolution of advertising, and how it worked for brands. The ’70s and ’80s saw brands create slogans like ‘Tandurusti ki raksha…’, ‘Jo biwi se kare pyaar…’, ‘Desh ki dhadkan’, and many such. The epitome of the celebration of language was possibly the song titled ‘Mile sur mera tumhara’, which became the anthem of the ’80s.
Language changed dramatically since then — first in movies, and then, as a result, in advertising. The lyrics of songs in the movies started to become colloquial with a fair sprinkling of English. India was opening up in the ’80s, and the cultural amalgamation was all around us.
Brands jumped onto this bandwagon quickly, and eventually, media created the term ‘Hinglish’. Almost every brand wanted to be Hinglish, and this mix of English with an Indian language became the ultimate viral trend with Quick Gun Murugan, Channel V’s mascot. The transformation of popular advertising language was complete.
Have we seen any new trends since then? What we have seen is advertising’s fascination with writing a local language in the Roman script. It is really bizarre to read a mishmash of languages across newspapers. Hindi written in Roman on the front page of a newspaper is as strange as English written on the front page of a regional language newspaper.
Instead of evolving, language seems to be travelling in reverse gear. Language originated from pictures, and it is now moving to emojis.
The author is CSO and managing partner, Bang in the Middle