Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Copywriting Thoughts

Some decades back, in the magic country of India, a print advertisement for a two-in-one battery was designed. The copy simply said: “Revolution in the world of batteries”. Most of the target users lived in the hinterland, hence translation of the line was essential. The translator took less than half an hour to come up with "Battery ke duniya mein yugantar". The copy chief knew no better. So that line got translated in all vernacular languages. In the Bengali ad, the copy read somewhat faithfully “Battery-r jagate jugantar”. "Jugantar" or "jug er antar" means beginning of a new era.

A smart brand manager, sensing the criticality of the language ads, recommended an advertising pre-test. A handful of consumers living in a small town near Calcutta and its surrounding rural areas saw this ad and said they liked it. When asked what they understood from the ad, all of them said the same thing: "The house of Jugantar is bringing out a new battery". Jugantar, incidentally, was one of the two top Bengali dailies in the state then.

A few questions to ponder here:

Is comprehension equal to persuasion? Does understanding of what is being said or shown in an ad in Hindi or for that matter in English — neither being the language of comfort — ensure automatically that I will be convinced or cajoled by the message? Is comprehension only a necessary condition or is it also sufficient?

The touch point for persuasion does not reside in the language but in what the language envelopes. A language is not merely the letters, the words and their grammar. It is the cultural DNA of a consumer world. To a Bengali or an Oriya, to a Marathi or an Ohomiya, the soft points of titillation are rooted in their native culture encoded in their own language. Sure, the Hindi ad can do a reasonable approximation but it possibly can never do as great a job of persuasion in Bengal or Assam as it will do in UP or Bihar. Even in these days of satellite transmission, enticing someone still needs tribal idioms. Translated advertising thus can never be an adequate surrogate.

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