My language, My rules: Integrating Vernacular Languages in Public Relations in India

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Nelson Mandela

With 23 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects, linguistic diversity has never been a bigger challenge for public relations professionals anywhere in the world.

There are sound reasons for the existence of such diverse languages, yet most public relations companies appear to be intimidated by the complexity of the socio-demographic landscape.

Public relations executives swear by taking the safe route and cater for majority understanding, creating all campaigns and communications in English, only to realise that perhaps they should also be valuing the vernacular, creating content in mother-tongue and cashing in on the ensuing return-on-investment (ROI).

Value of vernacular communications

Whether it is writing a press release or a pitch note, authored articles or trend stories, use of effective vernacular communication in public relations helps inculcate cultural insight, nuance, and context. It helps a PR manager show that their client and the brand understand and resonate with their consumers.

Vernacular public relations can help build long-lasting and profitable relationships of trust with their market. Vernacular communication has the potential to add huge value to a brand. Global brands can successfully localise, and local brands can become more relevant to their target market if they talk in the language their customers can relate to.

Using local language helps in ensuring a high level of engagement, respect, and understanding of the targeted customer. The emotional connect that vernacular comments, quotes bring has a positive impact on the overall brand equity.

Readers place extra value on native advertising and place trust in it in a way that they may not necessarily feel about an English campaign, as most people in the country still converse and often think, in their mother-tongue. Talking in their mother tongue instils a sense of pride and ownership which far outweighs the initial investment of creating a vernacular campaign.

Innovation in Public Relations in the era of globalisation

Vernacular public relations offers an opportunity to view a PR campaign from a new angle and provides a lot of scope for true innovations in the way communications are handled.

The world is becoming a global market for companies who have a common goal- to sell their products or services to as many consumers as possible. Globalisation also means that companies are now addressing an incredibly diverse target, with many different languages, and more importantly- cultures. International Public relations in the new millennium is about understanding, accommodating and harnessing the cultural differences for global brand building.

Telecommunication (Telcos) , consumer durable companies as well as FMCG companies today engage with the consumer speaking a language of the masses.

K2 communications recently achieved noteworthy success for a healthcare client by refocusing the PR strategy with a focus on vernacular media. By retargeting the release with regional translated press releases, the client witnessed astounding ROI on their PR efforts in a short period of time.

Vernacular Public Relations- a must have across all mediums

Native public relations is significant because the target audience is given eh content they want to consume. The challenge on content creation for vernacular language is on the written side, especially for native quotes, comments, and press releases. From the cost perspective as well, it is easier and cheaper to create vernacular language content. Your target audience no longer wants just to read, they want to watch contextual, real-time, user-generated content.

In a country where only 10% of total population interacts in English, and only 74% are literate, the message from a PR desk needs to jump through several hoops of communication distortion- illiteracy, lack of connecting, contextual misunderstanding or pure ignorance. The challenge is to remain impactful, relevant and cross the language barrier to reach the target audience without distorting the core values of a brand.

Vernacular content is also becoming a big mantra for successful digital marketing. Traditional PR methods neither expect nor ask the audience to think. However, they do want the public to respond- a feeling, an impression, a desire, and finally a commitment to take some action but ironically, unless all the fodder conveyed in a language the target understands, it does not result in any thought.

To effectively influence attitudes,  and outcomes in the public domain, including the crucial public opinion and reputation management, PR executives must keep a tab on the local pulse.

According to a 2017 report by KPMG and Google, “Indian Languages — Defining India’s Internet,” there were 234 million Indian-language internet users and 175 million English users in 2016. By 2021, the gap between the two groups is expected to widen. Users of Indian languages are expected to more than double to 536 million, while English users will increase to only 199 million. Nine out of 10 new internet users between 2016 and 2021 will use local languages, said the report. (Source)

As the Indian technology industry builds the internet for the next 1 billion non-English users friendlier public relations communication strategies are the only way forward for the brands looking to reach out.

It, therefore, makes business sense for Public relations companies to encourage their clients to become pan-Indian, linguistically.

  • Additional Resource: Ordinary People Can Reason: A Rhetorical Case for including Vernacular Voices in Ethical Public Relations Practice, Calvin L. Troup Journal of Business Ethics Vol. 87, No. 4 (Jul. 2009), pp. 441-453

  • Image source: Mashable India

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