English channel, Hindi advertising. Why? Kyun?

05 May,2022



By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyayThe other day a South African friend residing in Delhi remarked, “I have been watching the IPL and there are so many ads in Hindi which I just don’t understand!! I choose to watch the games on an English channel yet why do they air Hindi ads?”


Now, that was a truly existential question… one that asked the right thing but would not get a straight answer. It had been a ‘deaf’ spot for me for all this time, but his query made be surely feel uncomfortable, especially with all this social media chatter about language across the country.


Now, Star1 HD is an English sports channel. The language used is to be English so that all those who understand English or wish to listen to all communication only in English shall feel comfortable and comprehend all that is said, both in the programming as well as the advertising. If one wishes to listen to all the same in Hindi, there is another channel specifically for that language. Why will there be any advertising in a language that the subscriber does not understand?


The same applies to NDTV, Times Now and so on. English channels airing Hindi or Hinglish advertising without batting an eyelid or flapping the ear! And then they carry debates on why Hindi should not be imposed across the country and regional languages should be equally preserved and promoted!! The hypocrisy simply bests me! Just because you do not want to lose out on advertising revenues, you are ready to compromise with a core proposition of your brand yet will question why politicians from the Hindi belt address rallies in that language in the South. At least they genuinely do not know the local language and are handicapped, but you as a channel are not. You can stay true to your proposition, can’t you?


Having lived in North India for most of my life, I too have turned apathetic to this basic issue of why should Indians who do not understand a particular language be force-fed advertising in it. In my professional life, I too have been guilty of the same, working with advertising agencies crammed with copywriters from the Hindi belt based out of Delhi and Mumbai churning out communication to be consumed by the entire country. We used to proudly announce that we have vernacular edits of the Hinglish commercials, as if doing a favour to their intended recipients. Then again, the core creative thinking used to be in Hindi or Hinglish at the best later adapted to a vernacular recipient. Basically, Mumbaikars and Dilliwallas having their way at the cost of regional sensitivities and national sensibilities! Till the time Calcutta/ Kolkata was the centre of Indian advertising, if the communication was to be on an English platform, it would be conceived and crafted in English.


I have nothing against Hindi as a language. In fact, I read and write it better than my mother tongue Bengali. While I am ashamed of the fact, it does not take away from the beauty of Hindi, given its eclectic mix of Sanskrit, Prakrit, and Persian. Yet, it is not the national language of my country. It is one of the two official languages, the other being English. It is the official language of only nine states and three Union Territories out of a total of 28 and 8 respectively. I agree that it is spoken by roughly 40% of India, in various forms and dialects but then if numbers alone were to determine a national language, by that logic, the India street dog should be our national animal and not the Bengal Tiger!


The ‘Hindification’ of Indian advertising is not a new phenomenon. It has been happening since the 1980s when Mumbai took over as the hub of advertising. The Bollywood DNA was injected into the thinking and expression. Delhi followed suit and reinforced the used of Hindi as an accepted medium of communication, with brands even creating their advertising taglines in Hindi. Banks to broom-makers signed off in Hindi.


Those who stayed with English as that rightfully reached out to a larger base also fell into the trap and bit the Hindi ‘goli’. Thums Up stopped being “thunder” and became “toofan”. While Bollywood stars became national level brand ambassadors, stars from the South were confined to their respective language belts!


So, you had the convenient nexus of Hindi-thinking advertising ‘mavericks’ and Bollywood to carry this ‘Hindification’ across the country. And they patted themselves on their backs for the same saying that they were thinking and talking ‘Bharat’ and not ‘India’. Then the media platforms joined this nexus, and the rout became complete.


As the media did not balk at accepting advertising in a language that never fitted their intended format, it just emboldened the Hindi-thinkers to keep at it. This has led to a situation today where the brazen use of Hindi on English media platforms is quite apathetic and unapologetic. All research and analysis on the need to ‘think local’ and ‘talk local’ goes out of the window. Almost all North India-based brands seem to have ritualised this behaviour. Till recently, the brands from the East and South used to stay true to the language code but now you do see a few like TVS falling into the trap.


Now with the language row raising its ugly head once again, the ‘cause’ of Hindi will become bolder and vituperative of the other languages of the land. The fact that Bollywood actors openly support the cause is a dangerous sign for the sheer quality of advertising in the country. Communication has to be thought out in the language of the medium of media communication. Assuming that your recipient or subscriber will forcibly learn a language is being foolish. Most of the advertising in Hindi on Star1 HD during an IPL match telecast is lost on the non-Hindi-speaking viewer. The numbers will be there but the comprehension will not. And life will not be as “dhana dhan!”


Avik Chattopadhyay is a senior brand consultant and strategist living in Gurugram. He writes on MxMIndia mostly on every other Thursday, and sometimes on other days as well.


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