Vernacular languages in advertising: adding value to brands?
Posted by
Mondli Nhlapo at 12:00

Given South Africa's context as a multicultural market, it's odd that we often overlook the use of vernacular languages in brand communications and activities.

As a country with eleven official languages, it may be difficult for marketers to start on the road to vernacular communication since market segments may not be linguistically homogenous. Language is deeply intertwined with socio-cultural background and marketers need to understand all of this if they hope to engage and build intimate relationships with their consumers. They need to understand how language relates to the other aspects of African identity.  

It is worth doing. Mr Nelson Mandela once said that "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language it goes to his heart".This valuable lesson is especially true for marketers: according to Common Sense Advisory, 56.2 % of consumers say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important to them than the price.

Good vernacular communication taps into cultural insight, nuance and context. It can help brands show that they understand and resonate with their consumers, and can build long-lasting and profitable relationships of trust with their market.

A great example of a well-executed vernacular campaign is the recent "Mapha" campaign for Simba. The campaign uses Zulu dialect with English subtitles to give the ad an authentic and proudly South African feel. While doing that, it connects viewers with the brand's heritage, and reminds them that the brand has been part of their lives for many years through promoting the sharing occasion. The word "Mapha"is a Zulu word meaning "sharing", and in this context it acts as a concept with an insight into a township sub-culture of sharing born out of young township kids' humour - "Niks mapha"(refusing to share).  The ad makes Simba feel familiar and loved, and like it really understands it's market - building a powerful emotional connection with its audience.

A caution for marketers: not all brands can successfully apply the exercise. The language used in advertising should be guided by the type of consumer it is trying to speak to, and the locale where they live. But for brands whose key markets speak vernacular languages, it's time to start building the kind of insight that allows for communication that really resonates.

Using vernacular languages in communication has the potential to add huge value to a brand. It can help global brands successfully localise, and help local brands become more relevant to their target market. It highlights a high level of engagement, respect and understanding of the targeted consumer and when so few brands are doing it, the emotional benefit this brings to customers will have a positive impact on the overall brand equity.  

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