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Are we like this only?

Priyanka Pani, The Hindu Businessline

Mumbai, May 2, 2013

They are all over the place – on a hoarding, on the telly, on the radio, in the newspaper – ads caustically caricaturing South Indians, harping on their idiosyncrasies, mocking their mannerisms, their language, their accent.

‘Betterrr safe thaaaan saari’ goes the television campaign by travel portal GoIbibo, which has been criticised as being in “very bad taste” and “irritating” by many consumers for obvious reasons.

A huge chunk of advertisements these days playing out on the idiot box are portraying South Indian stereotypes – they do not know about Holi, all nurses hail from Kerala, or even that people from the South have a typical accent.

The Idea commercial featuring a South Indian dad running away from kids playing Holi is a case in point as is Dhoni’s missing pillow in the Gulf Oil advert. Don’t look now, but there is a Rajnikanth lookalike in the Finolex commercial as well as the You Telecom one, and Kareena Kapoor’s ‘Romba Nalla’ selling point for Mahindra Duro.

A campaign by mosquito repellent Hit has a nurse, with a distinct South Indian twang. Again, this is supposed to appeal to the mindset that all nurses are from the South and will have a heavy accent, says Kiran Khalap, co-founder of creative agency Cholorphyll.

Of late, every third advertisement that we see on television has some South Indian connect or element attached to it. So, are marketers trying to engage the so called ‘conservative’ South Indians?

Subhobroto Chakroborty, Business Head, Genesis Advertising, says, “Breaking the clutter in the Southern market is difficult. Hence, creative agencies are coming out with new ideas and different marketing strategies to woo the Southerners.”

Other advertising experts say advertising in India has suddenly discovered the South as the consumption story is picking up there. “Even though southern States contribute about 56 per cent to the Indian GDP, they were not known as spenders but huge savers. This phenomenon is changing,” says brand strategist Harish Bijoor, CEO of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Earlier, gold, utensils or financial products were the high-priority areas for the Southerner, who chose not to spend much on comfort, says Bijoor. But things have changed of late. The priorities are changing and so is the buying pattern, he adds.

While Virat Kohli is endorsing Nestle’s Munch South style, playing B. K. Vaali, a Tamil look-alike of his who manages to get a shot at an entry into the local cricket team just by crunching on a Munch bar and distracting the opposite team, Chennai Super Kings’ captain M. S. Dhoni is endorsing Gulf Oil.

The list goes on: Telugu superstar Mahesh Babu toppled Bollywood’s ‘Akki’ Akshay Kumar to become the brand ambassador for Thums Up. This year, marketers have entered into a kind of rat race to inject humour into their ads with some quirky southern dialogues thrown in for good measure.

Santosh Desai, CEO of Futurebrands, believes advertisers have woken up to the fact that India is not just in New Delhi-NCR or the metro region alone, and that they need to look at other markets too.

“Media is no more region-specific. The same advertisement is reaching out to a nondescript village in Karnataka and Rajasthan as well as the big metros,” said Desai. When regional food becomes popular in the metros and more and more marriages cross geographical and linguistic barriers, why should ads be left behind, he asks.

PepsiCo’s recent television commercial for 7-Up shows a girl waiting for transport on a hot sunny day, and is suddenly entertained by a Kathakali dancer, who appears to be gyrating to a salsa number.

Khalap believes ad makers are no longer putting a face to any region, but are looking at all consumers. The trend appears to be sweeping across corporates. From chocolate companies to AC manufacturers, banks to financial service companies, and even lubricant makers, companies have jumped on the bandwagon, all rolling southwards.

AC firm Voltas has a Tamil-accented male protagonist to promote its all-weather air conditioner. Competitor Lloyds AC too has decided to take the southern route.

Alpana Parida of DY Works says with people travelling to other States for work or business opportunities, advertisers feel the need to stay connected with consumers in different and unique ways.

Devangshu Dutta, founder of marketing research firm Third Eyesight, adds that creative agencies have always used humour to break the clutter. Hence they come out with extraordinary – which could be senseless – and funny ads that viewers might instantly connect to. For example, the Maruti advertisement featuring a Sikh son and dad (“Petrol khatam hi nahin hondaah”) is still fresh in consumers’ minds and has nothing to do with Punjabis but with the fact that Maruti is sold more in North India, he adds. The southern element in ads can also be attributed in large part to the fact that the consumption story is now being driven by the South Indians and that a large part of South India resides in the North too. This is probably what prompted Havells to launch a campaign for its grinders where the idlis made with its help substitute flowers that decorate the house for festivities.

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