The Hinglish factor in Advertising

Till the 80’s, most of mainline advertising in India was in impeccable British English – the copy, the accent of voice-over artists, the jingles, all had a strong colonial hangover and catered to primarily educated, urban Indians. The India-Bharat divide was never stronger in the brand messages. The ads were either in British English or chaste Hindi/ regional languages.

Then, sometime around the mid-80’s we saw a slow transformation in how brands approached their communication. Youth-centric brand Pepsi is usually credited with bringing about a change in the way brands spoke to their TG. With its catchy taglines like ‘Yehi hai right choice baby’, ‘Youngistaan’ and ‘Mera number kab aayega’, Pepsi captured the attention and imagination of the young in India and marched past Coca-Cola, which was seen as a fuddy-duddy brand. This forced Coca-Cola to also speak the language of young India, when it said ‘Thanda matlab Coca-Cola’. And so began the dominance of ‘Hinglish’ in Indian advertising.

Mid-80’s onwards, major MNC brands realised the importance of communicating in Hindi, which saw highly popular campaigns from Vicks Cough Drops - Gale mein khich-khich, Kinetic Engineering’s Luna Mopeds - Chal meri Luna, HUL’s Sunlight Detergent Powder - Rangon mein shaan, safedi mein jaan, NECC’s - Sunday ho ya Monday, roz khai ande, TTK’s Prestige - Jo biwi se kare pyaar, woh Prestige se kaise karein inkaar, and many more.

A lot of this came from the stable of Ogilvy & Mather and the architect for some of those campaigns was Piyush Pandey (Executive Chairman and Creative Director, Ogilvy South Asia). Then came the much talked about Cadbury Dairy Milk campaign that won every Indian’s heart as the girl danced on the cricket field to the lilting melody of ‘Asli Swaad Zindagi Ka’ in the early 90’s. And who can forget the ‘Hamara Bajaj’ campaigns?

While the approach and thinking to a large extent has been in Hindi. The trend that started long time back, where campaigns were conceptualised in Hinglish, and in the case of some of the regional campaigns they think in the language of that state. Brands like Domino’s (‘Hungry Kya?’), Pepsi and Sunsilk are among the many that have customised their brand messages using Hinglish, specifically keeping their target audience in mind when doing so. In fact, the vast majority of multi-nationals in India as well as major Indian brands now use Hinglish and are hugely benefitted from them. Airtel’s ‘Har ek friend zaroori hota hai’ and Idea’s ‘Hello Honey Bunny’ campaigns got their Hinglish thought bang on and saw a lot of people humming them.

With growing interest in regional languages in all manner of content, ad campaigns couldn’t remain untouched. Often national campaigns are dubbed in regional languages of the respective states where the ads are released. But some of the communication might be lost in translation. A case in point is the Uber Eats campaign where Alia Bhatt expresses her dislike for tinda (apple gourd). When launched in South India, the ad drew a lot of flak as people didn’t understand what a tinda was.

“You cannot impose language on a campaign”, remarked Vistasp Hodiwala, Co-Founder and CCO of Underdog; Co-Founder, Centrick, adding, “It’s not just to do with Hindi, English or Regional, but even whether the campaign should be more visual than dialogue driven. There is no real formula here and our attempt to fit this in boxes will always remain suboptimal. In the end, it isn't just the reach of the brand and the target market that decides the language but even the creative ability of the team working on it that gives every campaign its unique appeal.”

One of the reasons why big brands with mass markets like to put huge emphasis on the big idea is to ensure that this 'travel' happens with minimum linguistic damage. Which is why when a campaign is more visual like Bisleri, with a quirky motif, it makes the campaign transition that much smoother

Giving his point of view on how campaign in  languages have  become a talking point,Mayur Varma, ECD and Creative Head - Mumbai& Kolkata, 82.5 Communications, said that more than ever before, these times call for campaigns to be thought of in local languages. That’s the reason why OTT platforms too are in overdrive to create content in diverse languages. The bottom-line is that people are identifying more with brands that are talking their language. While the platform idea should be language agnostic, brands are acknowledging the importance of region-specific content. That’s the reason why when we created a brand refresh campaign for the ABP News Network, we brought alive a single platform idea differently in different languages for different regions keeping in mind the local flavour and socio-cultural context. They were not just language adapts. In order to provide this approach to brands, we have our North, East, West and South offices strung together by a central team.

Narrating her experience and sharing her views, Sumitra Sengupta, ECD and Digital Lead, FCB India, said, “I speak from my experience on Horlicks. On this brand, we think about ideas that will work across three languages every time – Tamil, Bengali and Hindi. That’s because Horlicks holds pole position in East and South and a slightly different position in the North and West. Writing in different Indian languages have a beautiful intimacy, which English can never truly replace. It’s the language of gibberish between mother and infant. The stuff of made-up lullabies. The language of lazy cuddles and sibling spats. Other Indian languages are taking centre-stage too. Imagine the culture of Punjabi rap videos, Bengali Rock. The crop of actors creating lovely Bihari characters. The stand-up comics. So I would say bring on the different lndian languages in Ads: ‘Epang Opang Jhapang’ for Horlicks “Yella Ok, Cold drink Yakke’ for a beer brand in Kannada., ‘Ende colour?’ for RMKV Saree and “Bangalirchokhe Jal aesejaye’ a Mustard oil brand in Kolkata. So you see the days of adapting from Hindi Ads are over. Conceiving uber-local flavours are in. 

(Edited and additional inputs by Shanta Saikia)


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