Southern Consumer - An afterthought?

Let me start with a question? If it rains in Mumbai, why is there is no campaign for ice cream in the rest of India?If there is snowfall in Delhi, will the media in South get commercials for snow clearing machines? Honestly, the latter is not as far fetched as might appear at first glance.

Looked at another way, why not have popular Tamil actor Vijay endorse brands across the country? A preposterous thought? If so, why does it not seem outlandish for marketers and advertising professionals to carry the same thread of thought for a different mass of consumers. The reference being made here is to the Southern consumer. Has the southern market been taken for granted? Is there a supposition among the creative minds that what works in Mumbai and Delhi will work homogeneously everywhere?

The point one is looking at examining is exactly that. Is the southern consumer being ignored or does creative content work across markets?

The verdict on that, however, seems to a varied mix. While most marketers vouch that the South is a crucial market and is most definitely given its due attention, agency heads seem to think otherwise.

If a body of work is analysed on Sun TV (the most popular entertainment channel down south) in prime time, most of the ads are straight dubs and translations. Two examples prove the point. The Mountain Dew ad in Hindi says, ‘Cheetah bhi peeta hai‘.

The same ad which is dubbed in Tamil reads ‘Cheetah um kudaikar di‘ which literally means Cheeta also drinks. The ad falls flat on its face in Tamil and is absolutely absurd for a person viewing it.

The other one is the Chevrolet Optra ad. The ad depicts ‘Karvachauth‘ being celebrated (a commonly practiced custom up north) in the car. This again has been dubbed in Tamil. What the brand however fails to comprehend is the fact that ‘Karwachauth‘, although very popular in North India, is an alien concept in Tamil Nadu.

Voices O&M former creative director South Suguna Swamy, "South India is so self confident that the Punjabification of advertising does not upset the consumer, they just tend to ignore it. The dubs are disastrous, the casting even more ridiculous! What is interesting here is that it is not as if marketers are not aware of what is happening. But, I don‘t think they themselves understand the implications. But, given the fact that most urban markets are saturated, marketers are now forced to look southwards."

Points out Jaya TV vice president marketing Balaswaminathan, "I do not agree that south as a region is being ignored deliberately by marketers when one talks about advertising and communications. In fact the south in general and Tamil Nadu in particular is mostly chosen for test marketing. As the southern consumer is considered to be conservative, advertisers have to spend much more to find a place for their products in the product ladder of the consumer."

Considering the above statement of south Indians being more conservative and advertisers having to dish out more cash, there seems to a strange dichotomy as very few brands believe in looking at the South as a separate market and creating customized advertising.

Balaswaminathan adds, "This has been the case for decades as one could observe the lack of nativity in the campaigns especially when the product is manufactured in the north. Most of the campaigns, be it press or TV or outdoor, conceived from the Northern region aim at Hindi speaking consumers. The slang, the mix up of Hindi words, the models, the costumes used in the campaigns are alien to southern consumers."

The TV commercials of Coke, Pepsi, M-Seal, Asian Paints, Cadbury,, most of HLL and P&G products stand testimony to this. However, one cannot ignore that of late the commercials have started adopting the local flavour as seen in Fanta and Mirinda commercials, where local film stars are the models. Horlicks on the other hand has been one brand which has always adapted itself to the local consumers.

Even, if one looks at the Press campaign, the copy matter is atrocious, in the sense that it hardly conveys the intended meaning. Most of the time it is trans-literation that does not do justice to the visual presentation.

Says Mudra Communications executive vice president S Radhakrishnan, "I don‘t believe marketers ignore South. However, the editorial coverage of marketing issues relating to the South is definitely underplayed. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. So marketers will also talk of ‘national‘ campaigns that, to many, essentially mean ‘Hindi‘ campaign. The marketing, communication fraternity watch programming substantially in non-south languages: therefore will talk in that space only. South, ironically can be a brilliantly focused market with its media deliveries of consumers. Mudra South has consistently worked highly localized creative for the market. Top marketing pros do use this to their advantage; and insist on communication developed that way."

Another interesting aspect that came up was the fact that conceptually the presumption that prevails is that non-South is still three fourths of India. The big spenders in advertising are in Delhi and Mumbai. It is in a way historical. Some of that is certainly changing. If you look at work done on Henko or Henko bar, it is completely South centric in its development. Coffee Day filter coffee and Paragon footwear also are examples of tailor made advertising.

One of the largest retailing brands is RmKV which is based in Chennai. If you look at the work, it is incredibly localized, yet focused.

Adds Radhakrishnan, "Very few would know that the original concept of Peter England by Mudra was exposed in the South through Tamil advertising. It was really bold on the part of the brand team to go with the agency on that. In fact, we have always benchmarked Peter England in terms of local content and understanding, notwithstanding the language."

JWT‘s vice president Anita Gupta although begs to differ, "Today we have an array of specialized media targeting the south, including regional press, TV and radio. If you go through the content on many of these media, you will notice a lot of customized local advertising as well as programming."

Gupta reiterates that that there is growing customized advertising in the south and not ads that are merely dubbed. Examples cited being The Pepsi ‘parking lot‘ ad for Tamil Nadu re-shot with Madhavan and Surya which was not merely dubbed over on the Shahrukh and Saif commercial.

Another very successful example is the ‘Yella ok, cool drink yaake‘

campaign for UB. The ad was specially made for Karnataka and went on to become quite a rage. Although, more than customized (which implies original ideas in Hindi), the UB campaign was a completely original idea which worked very well in Karnataka since language was a big part of the central idea. The campaign also had Upendra, who is a well recognized film star whose unique style contributed significantly to its success.

Mirinda has also been advertising in Tamil Nadu with original work with the film comedian Vivekh as the brand ambassador. These films were created to target the state aggressively.

One must of course keep in mind that the above examples are the few exceptions that have actually focussed on the southern market.

Lets not forget the recent ad for Livon (Leave-on hair conditioner) which had a strange Tamil dub in place of the Hindi jingle. And the ICICI ‘Chintamani‘ ad, which works very well in Hindi, had a Tamil equivalent (Kavalai Selvam!) that didn‘t quite fit the bill.

The Nerolac ad which features Amitabh Bachchan has a voice over reading the translation of a Hindi poetry into Tamil. The whole scenario seems pretty unreal. Many ad guys miss the point that the concept needs translation rather than the ‘lingo‘. A lot of FMCG brands do the same. Same goes for consumer durables: LG for instance. So, to that extent, South definitely seems to be an after thought.

An interesting point that was thrown up was the recent Maruti Versa campaign (where the family is deciding on the name of the child). A long name is a typical South phenomenon, yet the ad is recognised in Mumbai and Delhi too. So apart from customizing for the South, south and its many flavours are also a part of the mainstream.

But can both co-exist? Lowe‘s vice-president Tarun Chauhan explains, "Advertising is built on a strong consumer insight, and not on a practice. If the insight is strong, it can cut across all markets. It is extremely unfair to treat South Indians differently. There are numerous ads that can validate the same.

The Hutch (Boy and dog) ad is a classic example, ‘Safedi‘ commonly used by HLL products is a national insight. If there is no solid consumer insight, then one has to go searching for practices."

On the other hand RK Swamy BBDO CEO Srinivasan Swamy questions the very hypothesis itself. "I don‘t see anything wrong with dubs, as long as it connects with the consumers. Most European commercials are dubbed from English. Most of the serials are dubbed as well. Cultural roots are finally the same. It is not financially viable to customize an ad for every region. Production costs are very high and can if done only if the volumes justify."

Marketers do understand the importance to some degree. However, to deliver solutions requires high quality managerial time and attention. To the extent that it is invested, they get the returns. Many therefore choose to manage the situation at sub-optimal levels. Agencies that are true partners will go the extra-mile to give the local solution. This can be pretty traumatic because there is far more work to be done; and construct what one would call a fresh ‘language‘ in communication for the brand. It takes time and effort and a clear client-buy-in. Many also reduce south to ‘Simply South‘, a pretty bad effort at trivializing a wonderful creative opportunity.

Ironically, the retail market is very strong in South and the commercials and press publicity created by the local agencies are bang on. Most of these may not be aesthetically brilliant but they certainly serve the purpose for which they are created. No marketer will ignore any market, be it South or North. What might although be a probability is the fact that manufacturers may not be aware of this lack of nativity or have not been informed about the importance of adopting different approaches to different market segments.

One other point to note is that the ad spend is in proportion to market share in different regions. Here again, the cost component plays a major role.

With over 100 channels, thousands of newspapers and periodicals, 100s of thousands of hoardings and kiosks, reaching the right consumer at the most economical and efficient cost will no more be possible through a singular approach.

Says Balaswaminathan, "The main problem is that ‘the feel of the region is ignored‘. Largest circulated newspapers or magazines need not be the best medium for all products and so is the case with channels with largest viewership. What we need is a little more fragmentation. It is not always numbers that will decide the choice of media. A planner sitting at Mumbai or Delhi who has to make a decision on the south market, cannot look beyond numbers. The media plan has to be done at state level by the planners who know the people."

Similarly the concept of a commercial has to be modified to suit to local tastes and customs. Most "vernacular" copy writers in Northern India are the people who migrated decades ago and are completely out of touch with the spoken regional language. The popularity (and probably better market share) of the local edible products such as Ithayam Gingile oil, Gold Winner, Arun Ice Cream, Gokul Santol talc, Shakthi Masala Powder, Milka Wonder Cake can be traced to the successful advertisement campaigns done with local flavours. These products have established a considerable lead in sales and popularity over their national level competitors.

The same theory holds good with other leading retailers in the fields of textiles, Jewellery and milk. The success stories of the above products have two factors in common. 1. Advertisements with nativity and 2. Big ad spends. The ad spend of most of the retailers are manifold; larger than that of the national competitors.

Leo Burnett national creative director KV Sridhar points out, "As we learned not to run American ads and to create local stuff in Hindi, we need to learn to further localize the advertising by conceiving and creating in local languages. Look at what‘s happening to regional TV channels, you do not accept a dubbed news telecast of Aaj Tak in Tamil, will you? We need to change our mindset soon, before the national brands loose the battle to local players."

Sridhar also added that Hindification itself was a recent phenomenon and sooner or later, there will come a time when we will make 20 commercials for 20 different markets in India.

Thirty years back we were fighting British ads, 20 years back western life style, 10 years ago Hinglish and today too much of heartland hindification.

Titan chief operating officer - Watches Bijou Kurien offers, "The only way to tackle this is to be able to create a pan South India campaign using a common theme (plot/ character/ personality/ story line) which, when seen or read across any of the four southern states, appeal to the consumers. Some regional brands have done this as well and examples are Cavincare, Medimix soap, Bru Coffee etc."

Most of the FMCG advertising which just has a language dubbing are paying lip service and are hiding behind production cost efficiencies. Perhaps a bit complacent, since these are well known trademarks, which have already formed a part of the consumer basket.

Says Godfrey Phillips senior vice president marketing Nita Kapoor, "It‘s not just ‘Hindification‘ of advertising, I think new terms such as ‘Tinglish‘ for Tamil and some other such colloquial terms for other regional languages, is already the focus for marketers and advertisers. At Godfrey Phillips India Limited, when I visit the markets in the South, be it Bangalore, Chennai or Hyderabad, I have seen increasingly emergence of West / North region brands. Samsung, LG, Nokia very easily rub shoulders with MTR and other regional brands."

An extremely important thread on this issue was pointed out by Vijay TV deputy general manager Harsh Rohatgi. "The per capita consumption of most FMCG goods in the South is far higher than the national average. Savvy marketers and agencies have therefore adopted specific communication for the south. Marketers need to think beyond their immediate environments as lack of knowledge from the consumer‘s context can be insulting to the consumer."

Rohatgi also pointed out that local agencies have made a lot of headway in terms of localized creative content and have been growing at a rate far higher than national agencies in the south market.

In essence, it is really the full service national agencies who need to wake up and smell the coffee.

But then again, is it economically viable? Considering production costs, localized insight availability and a dearth of regional copywriters, does it really make monetary sense for marketers to look beyond? The root of the entire problem might then be said to be related to economics rather than creativity.

There are no straight answers to this one.

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