Propah language, anyone?

18 May,2020


By Prabhakar Mundkur


With the deterioration of language and language usage, in a couple of generations we could well be back to grunting!


While the advertising industry seems to have successfully moved from the age of the Anglicised creative person to the age of the Indian creative person, which was a welcome move, what it might not have done is keep up the overall standards of literary skills in the business. Using mass-market understanding as an excuse, most commercials have moved to ‘topori’ (vagabond) phrases rather than proper language.


Somehow, the advertising idiom is now replete with clichés. Body copy is dangerously shrinking in the average advertisement (even clients don’t want it!) because of the widely held belief that consumers don’t read body copy.


No one is quite sure how this assumption came about. Unless the researchers propagated the theory so that it would mean less work for them.


The argument for the change to fewer words, of course, is that advertising as an art form is changing, nay, evolving. None other than the famous John Hegarty proclaimed that less than 2 per cent of consumers read body copy. This 2 per cent, he says, is the client, their marketing department, the writer, the writer’s mum and the account director. Of course, one shouldn’t forget that Hegarty is an art director by training.


But there you are: today’s creative person has so much less to write. Journalistic writing or even the much dreaded corporate brochure and even the long copy ad kept the writing skills of earlier generations well honed. At least it was one of the ways of sharpening language-writing skills.


Today, unfortunately, people have no journalistic ambition (maybe thanks to Page 3 and the declining quality of our newspaper editorial), and the brochure as an advertising form unfortunately has become something to shun – so it is quickly passed on to a junior or to a freelancer. Two decades ago, the brochure was an art form.


In defence of the overall deterioration of language, some will say that the computer and the television have replaced the bookshelf as a piece of furniture in most homes. Others will tell you that communication is largely non-verbal and several countries are doing with fewer words both in commercials as well as print. Not to mention the Internet and the SMS as phenomena that are dictating a more colloquial and telegraphic language idiom.


So, the primary argument for declining language skills, they will tell you, is that people are changing and art has to imitate life. But then the corollary is also true. Art can take a lead so that life imitates art.


Another oft-heard defence is that the ‘idea’ has replaced the need to be versatile with words! It is almost as if the ‘advertising idea’ was suddenly born only 10 years ago, just because it is being bandied around as an important part of the advertising lexicon along with other weighty words like ‘insight’.


Whatever be the reason for this deterioration of language, I believe that there will be a renaissance. History tells us that every time an art has reached its nadir, it’s time for a renewal!



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