Did you know there are more English speakers in India than in Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand combined? The reputation of English as a gateway to improving education prospects, social status and career opportunities is a main reason behind its immense popularity throughout Asia. This is particularly notable in India, where English is officially used to communicate across a country that is host to hundreds of local languages.
This commingling of Indian languages with English for several decades, along with a meteoric rise in mobile device use, has given birth to a uniquely Indian variety of English and to more informal mixes of Indian languages with it, such as with Hinglish, a hybrid of Hindi and English.
Widely used by Bollywood and the advertising industry, Hinglish serves as the lingua franca for much of India’s youth today and has become increasingly popular with the urban middle class and throughout the Indian diaspora. It is estimated that by now its speakers have even outnumbered English speakers worldwide!
Informal Language in Advertising
Hinglish has become ubiquitous in Bollywood, with movie characters constantly switching between English and Hindi, sometimes even in the middle of a sentence. The advertising world, ever ready to take a trend and run with it, has fully embraced this mix of languages and writing systems to create dynamic ads that speak the language of the people.
Examples of this are plentiful in South Asia:
- Hungry Kya? (Are you Hungry?) – Domino’s Pizza
- Fun Ko Seriously Lo (Take Fun Seriously) – Chupa Chups
- Hamaari treat. McDonald’s aaye aur enjoy kare (Our treat. Come to McDonald’s and enjoy) – McDonald’s
The Rise of Romanization
The ads featured above demonstrate another influence of English, which is called “Romanization”, the writing in roman letters of a language that uses a different script (such as Mandarin, Punjabi or Hindi). Widely used in India by multinational companies in their advertising, Romanization has become an easy way to reach a larger number of consumers that may understand Hindi but are not able to read its script, such as native speakers of another Indian language or those who have been educated in another country.
The increasing popularity of mobile phones and messaging apps has propelled this trend to such a point that most Indian mobile phone users no longer text in their native Hindi script, but use roman letters to type their messages in Hindi.
For marketers: If you are marketing a household item in a print ad, using some Hindi script might inspire a feeling of tradition and nostalgia. However, if your entire message is communicated in that way, it will likely not be understood by all your target audience. Hence, Romanization can help bridge the gap with second-generation South Asians who may have learned to speak their language, but don’t read its script.
Different Languages for Different Aspects of Life
A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that to achieve maximum impact, the language used in advertising should depend on the nature of the products being offered.
Interestingly, study participants preferred English ads for luxury goods (such as chocolate), but responded better when Hindi was used in the case of household products like detergent. Why? According to Aradhna Krishna, author of the study, multilingual people associate different languages to different aspects of their lives. “English is the language which is global and cosmopolitan and upper class,” she said. “You associate your first language with family, with warmth, with belongingness.”
The perception of English as a sophisticated, modern and cosmopolitan language means that using it to advertise high-end products yields positive results for bilingual audiences of various ethnic backgrounds.
On the other hand, using an individual’s first language to advertise products that are deemed necessities, such as household goods or basic food items, resonates with their feelings of family and home. For that reason, such products often generate a high level of consumer loyalty across generations as children adopt their parents’ favorite brands.
For marketers: When marketing to South Asians, use a mix of native language and English when possible. Monolingual ads in Hindi (especially using Hindi script) run the risk of creating skepticism in consumers, while English-only ads might not clearly show that the message is intended for their community. Balance is key!
Different Languages for Different Media
Additionally, it seems that bilingual individuals favor different languages depending on the media used. In the previously mentioned study, participants who preferred English reading and writing were more comfortable engaging in conversation or seeking entertainment in the Hindi language. This seems to indicate that the effects of advertising language may vary according to the chosen medium.
Choosing an Advertising Language
If you are marketing to South Asian communities, how can you know when to use native languages or when English would be more impactful? Should you go with traditional script, or Romanization?
The answer lies in knowing your target audience. To get your point across, you must put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Although Hinglish may not be recognized as an official language, it is more commonly spoken by Indian immigrants than pure Hindi. Thus, using it can be a very effective way to reach South Asian Canadians in the language they speak at home.
At Maple Diversity, we make it our business to understand how subtle differences can affect the effectiveness of your message when marketing to Canada’s ethnic communities. Contact us to find out how Hinglish and other dialects can be used to increase your visibility among South Asians in Canada.