Marketing in vernacular can help you do better business. Here’s the proof.

The Indian demographic is unique in terms of vast cultural diversity, which naturally extends to a multitude of languages. In fact, there are 22 recognized languages in total, which have over 700 variations in regional dialects. Truly earning India its title of the– ‘Land of Languages’.

India is the second-largest online market, globally – with over 450 million internet users. The vernacular internet user base is 234 million users, growing at 41% in 5 years. This has led to vernacular internet users surpassing those who predominantly speak English. The Indian language base is expected to grow to 536 million by 2021, while the English internet user base is pegged to reach 199 million at an annual growth rate of just 3%.*

As shared in the study by KPMG and Google India 2017, “Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet”

The advent of the internet showed early adoption by English speakers. Innovators were young, urban and English-speaking brand managers who understood the technology, search engines, digital advertising spends, social media, etc. and were making content for similarly savvy consumers. While this truly brought innovation in brand communication, it also led to brands being stuck in a lingual loop of simply creating and regurgitating content in English.

This presented some challenges for vernacular speaking internet users:

Brands that want to reach the masses have to cover a steep learning curve, given that Indian native languages are set to overtake the English user base, globally.

Multilingual Marketing: A must in the increasingly targeted digital landscape.

1. Brands need to think local.

Today, with telecom players like Jio subsidizing internet prices, the internet user base is expected to massively grow across tier 1 and tier 2 cities of India. What is important to note as a marketer is that the cultural touchpoints, social sensitivity and language dialects vary from region to region. Campaigns with big hero ideas need to ensure they make a local, region-specific rendition of the same. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Don’t just include auto-translate but spend time in dubbing the hero Idea in the vernacular language. It works for movies it will also work with advertising!
  • Manage your media distributions. Currently, technology giants, Facebook and Google, account for 80% *of the advertising spends in India. Therefore, running the targeted ads with images, videos, gifs and copy that’s customized in the local languages brings in more ROI because of relatability. Studies have shown* that Indian language internet users are more comfortable using the electronics category online rather than other categories like fashion, lifestyle, home care, groceries, beauty, and books, etc. This can be pointed to the lack of cataloguing of the categories in vernacular languages.

*KPMG and Google India 2017, “Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet.

2.Translation is not the same as adaptation.

We have all heard about reading a piece of art as the original work because it brings much more context to the story. The same logic applies to campaigns. A lot of our references and sentimentalities are local and don’t necessarily transcend on scale. Brands tend to take a shortcut by just converting the words into the local language, but this is a job half done.

However, if a brand is stretched to budgetary limits this is the bare minimum. With options like Google translate and automatic subtitles, a brand can leverage the vernacular for no cost, albeit with translation errors but still somewhat clearly communicated. However, if budgets do allow, a little more effort can help a brand build ‘Aha value’ by adapting the narrative to the local culture.

3. Thinking beyond the “big four” of social media.

Brands need to view Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn as a basic set of social tools to start with – but, to tap into tier 2 and tier 3 demographics, brands need to look into vernacular apps like ShareChat, Roposo, and DailyHunt when strategizing and executing campaigns.

At present, the ShareChat app sees over 60 million people accessing its platform every month in 15 vernacular languages — Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla, Gujrati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Odia, Kannada, Assamese, Rajasthani, and Haryanvi.

Sunil Kamath, Chief Business Officer, ShareChat said “At ShareChat we have always focused on ensuring a locally fitting social media application for everyone to use. We came into being in 2015 and since then, we have grown phenomenally. We saw that there was a content vacuum amongst non- English internet users and therefore at ShareChat, we are building a product where people can consume/create and share content in regional languages. At present, our users can share content in 15 Indian languages with an engagement rate of 23 minutes per user. Today, we have 60 million monthly active users majorly from semi-urban and rural markets who prefer to consume content in regional languages and are said to have an annual spending power of $300bn which is a huge opportunity for local as well as national marketers.

He further added “We are a UGC driven platform which is the best way to share knowledge/information within a community which makes it much easier for any brand to spread their brand messaging via the micro-influencers on our platform. Our efforts will be towards an incentivization program for creators. With such formats, we are working towards a double-digit growth in the coming year.

Technology giants acknowledge the power of vernacular. Facebook-backed Meesho is an alternate distribution channel for empowering housewives, young mothers, aspiring entrepreneurs, students, and teachers. The audience can use Meesho to launch, build, and promote their online businesses using WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels. The corresponding app is available in more than seven local languages other than English, and about 40 percent of its daily usage comes from a non-English speaking audience.

4. Vernacular influencers for increased ROI.

Influencers are like new age media houses that brands should collaborate with to reach specific audiences. In India, 42 percent of the online community find Tamil content very engaging, followed by a close 39 percent who prefer Hindi to English content, via This is mainly because of the increase in the number of individuals who have gained access to the Internet in tier 2 and tier 3 cities. By tapping into the influencers base from the rural population of India, brands can reach out to a whole new range of unexplored territory, waiting to be targeted.

Studies have shown that consumers trust an influencer because of relatability. The fact that your peer is giving you a review, and not a well-paid celebrity, influences your decision to convert. Strengthened by the bond with something as comforting and relatable as your mother-tongue the impact of your post is guaranteed to be higher, coupled with the benefit of a wider reach. Also, the fact that influencer videos can be searched for via voice search, makes it even easier for brands to engage consumers.

All told, the future of the vernacular demographic in India is bright, as shared by Anil Kumar of RedSeer, “the next internet users will come from Tier II and III cities of India”.


Big Instagram Changes Ahead for Indian Marketers and Users?

Times are changing for Instagram users, both corporate and private, in India. A likely brand name change, the possible full-scale removal of ‘likes’ from the platform and its implication for brands that use influencer marketing. Plus startling revelations around the huge number of fake followers in India, mean that marketers who have made Instagram a platform of choice, for connecting with their audiences, are having to ask themselves some tough questions.

Removing ‘like’ counts

The current testing of removing ‘like’ counts from posts may have the most far-reaching consequences. Although, it’s only happening in selected markets at present – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and Japan – Instagram hasn’t ruled out taking it into other countries too. 

Speaking to exchange4media, the Indian-based marketing and media industry site, an Instagram spokesperson said the aim was to help users feel comfortable expressing themselves through their content, rather than concerning themselves with how many likes they get. “We chose these markets to get a better sense of how the experience resonates with Instagram’s global community. We don’t have any specific timing to share right now about other countries,” the spokesperson said.

However, the ‘like’ button is a reflection of a brand influencer’s popularity and the removal of the button could change the dynamics of the influencer market.

Scherezade Shroff Talwar, Mumbai-based celebrity video blogger and former model – who has 208 000 followers – doesn’t believe the impact will be significant. “A lot of people still don’t know that a lot of influencers are being paid for partnerships. As far as brands go, ultimately they do want to advertise on the platform. I don’t think it will make a difference. The focus will shift to actual engagement. Brands will definitely focus their campaigns on influencers that are a better fit,” she says.

Santoshi Shetty, a fashion and lifestyle blogger with 633 000 Instagram followers, notes: “While on one hand, the reach of any blogger, influencer or brand gets dictated by the number of likes and the stats are usually calculated that way, on the other hand, it will clear up head space. Therefore, I feel people will stop obsessing over the number of likes. The digital marketing space will become cleaner and there will be more quality over quantity. More substance over frivolity.”

The marketing take on removing like counts

And how do marketers feel? Aakriti Sinha, National Head for Social Media at digital marketing agency Isobar, India, says: “We are in the business of engagement and numbers, and I really hope that this remains at the testing phase only. The numbers really never took the focus away from the content, but yes, it did always maintain a constant pressure on influencers particularly. It did lead them to consistently create content in various formats (sometimes overdose) to stay relevant, affecting the quality of documented content in the process.” 

She continues: “I do hope that this rings in that alarm for all the brands and influencers who were creating sub-standard content to maintain their performance in terms of numbers only. This should bring back the focus on creating rich and relevant content.”

Akshay Popawala, Director of Digital Communication/Strategy at Mumbai-based agency Togglehead, notes: “While the content will still be rooted from mass appeal, the spotlight will then be on campaigns that drive actual results of awareness, sales or click-throughs. Should the test become permanent, the process of influencer marketing will become more transparent and informed.”

The ‘bought’ follower problem

But even if hiding ‘likes’ on Instagram fails to become a significant problem for Indian marketers, what of the other elephant in the room – the report released in July showing that Indian content-creators and influencers have the third-highest number of bought followers in the world?

A global study by Swedish e-commerce start-up, A Good Company, and data analytics firm HypeAuditor, analysed Instagram accounts in 82 countries and found that the 3 regions with the most fake followers are the US (49-million), Brazil (27-million) and India (16-million). 

In a statement released to PRWeek, the international public relations industry publication, Anders Ankarlid, CEO of A Good Company, said: “Companies are pouring money into influencer marketing, thinking that they are connecting with real people and not Russian bots. In reality, they are pouring money down the drain and giving away free products to someone who acquired a mass following overnight.” 

In an article analysing the study, the India Times website highlights its own concerns: “In India, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between personal opinions and paid posts because of lack of user awareness. The data of the reports shows how easy it is for ‘influencers’ to fool not only their followers, but also marketing firms looking for influencers to promote their brands.”

Why do influencers on Instagram go to the trouble of buying fake followers?

The answer is simple: because the potential profits are huge. 

Take the example of Priyanka Chopra Jonas, the Indian actress, singer, film producer and winner of the Miss World 2000 pageant. While nobody is suggesting her followers are fake, the huge following that she commands on Instagram (43,7-million at latest count) means that she’s paid US$271 000 for a single influencer post. Virat Kohli, the Indian cricket captain (39-million followers), charges US$196 000 per post.

This puts them at 19th and 23rd respectively on the Instagram Rich List 2019 compiled by Hopper, the UK-based Instagram planner and scheduling tool. But that’s small potatoes compared to what media personality Kylie Jenner earns. Her 143-million followers help put her at number one on the Rich List 2019, as she charges a whopping US$1,266-million per post! At number two is Ariana Grande, the Grammy Award-winning US recording artist. Although she has more followers than Jenner (162-million vs 143-million), she ‘only’ charges US$996 000 per post!

The ‘from Facebook’ shift

Lastly, and perhaps irrelevant to most users but interesting to marketers, is the seemingly imminent re-branding of Instagram to ‘Instagram from Facebook’. Similarly, its sister app, also part of the wider Facebook stable, is to be renamed ‘WhatsApp from Facebook’. 

This is a change from the past strategy of allowing each app to be seen to operate largely independently. Putting distance between the brands also helps to quarantine them from the damage caused by Facebook’s ongoing privacy scandals. Facebook spokesperson Bertie Thomson has confirmed the rebranding strategy, saying: “We want to be clearer about the products and services that are part of Facebook.”  

So, what can we take away from this?

Irrespective of all of the above changes and revelations, it seems that Instagram will continue to be a key marketing channel, both in India and elsewhere. According to Social Media Today, the June 2019 international study entitled State of Instagram Marketing 2019 indicates that almost 72% of respondents believe it’s ‘very likely’ that Instagram will become a key marketing channel for them in future.

This would be reflective of both the rising usage stats and coming platform additions (like Shopping Tags and on-platform shopping), which will provide a whole range of new opportunities for marketers.

“Clearly, businesses are paying attention to the trends and are keen to get involved – and with so many planning to use Instagram more in future, you can bet that competition for attention on the platform is also going to increase. If you’ve not established your Instagram presence, it may be the time to get started, as it only looks set to become more significant,” says Social Media Today.

Master Meme-vertising, and Hack Millennial Speak

There’s no denying that the internet has connected people across the world. While many have chosen to use it for the exchange of grand ideas and deep intellectual dialogues, millennials and gen-Z are happiest conversing with peers through memes.

A meme is basically an idea, usually humorous in nature, that has gone viral. It is typically a picture, video or gif that is being replicated across the internet, with small variations, to bring more reference and hilarity. For any brand looking to become fluent in millennial speak, memes are the language to learn.

While the bigger conglomerates and businesses in India are still warming to the idea of using memes for brand communication, young brands like Zomato, Zostel, Netflix, Swiggy, etc. are changing the way they communicate on the internet using memes.

Saurabh Mankhand, Vice President – Strategy & Client Services, Indigo shared with Social Samosa that, “Gen-Z comprises 32% of the global population and this number is only going to increase along with their purchasing power”. He adds, “I firmly believe the use of memes is likely to continue to play a key role in marketing especially as the younger generation is less moved by direct marketing and is more responsive to engaging content that challenges and entertains.”

First-Mover Advantage

So, when Vipin Sahu became an internet sensation with his horrifying yet hilarious video of paragliding, with the hashtag #BasLandKarade, brands were quick to capitalize on the trend make paragliding memes about it!

Vipin Sahu’s fear of heights was exposed during his paragliding experience, while holidaying in Kullu. The video became a hilarious hit among all age groups as Vipin yelled anxiously and pleaded with his instructor to land him immediately at an extra cost. Vipin was also seen swearing at himself which made the video a laugh riot.

The aforementioned brands saw the opportunity to make memes that were not only funny but also released moments after the video went viral. Each brand saw a 60 – 100% jump in engagement for zero media spend, simply by playing into topical content.

What makes such meme content click is timing. Today, brands vigilantly monitor the internet for latest trends and conversations and find references to link to these conversations to their brand. Since a meme has a short shelf life, capitalising on the viral trend early is what keeps the engagement high.

Be legitimately funny

Memes thrive