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
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.