Tag Archives: media

Code-switching & branding: Pt. III- The Language Fetish


The European Union is one of mankind’s most ambitious and intricate social projects. One is basically asking nations that have vastly different customs, concepts, and cultures to work and live as one people. I was curious about how this ‘One Europe’ doctrine has affected advertising in the region, and so I dug. I dug rather a lot. And what I found was this; intercultural advertising in the EU is characterized by the propagation and enhancement of cultural stereotypes; that is to say differences between countries are showcased in order to create impact. In a previous post we talked about topic-related code-switching (e.g. English for medical terms), and identity-related code-switching(to highlight a shared connection). Now I’d like to discuss a fascinating concept known as language fetish’, which refers to the phenomenon that occurs when the utility value (information/content) of a language takes a backseat to its symbolic(effect/form) value.

*A bulk of the inspiration for this post came from the following article by Helen Kelly-Holmes: Bier, parfum, kaas: Language fetish in European advertising

An increasing number of global advertising campaigns treat Europe as a single entity, choosing pan-European platforms such as Eurosport and in-flight magazines. This blanket targeting leaves little room for culture-specific elaboration of the brand message. Hence languages, words and accents must serve as the shorthand for a host of associations.

Consider the Audi campaign used in the UK: Vorsprung durch Technik. In this case, the meaning of the slogan is irrelevant to the average Brit. What matters more is the mental model it activates. The German phrase Vorsprung… will invoke the culture-specific mental model (henceforth CSMM) associated with the Germans, which is one of efficiency and technically sound engineering. In this way, the code-switched language’s value is inherent, independent of its communicative value.


Conversely, Jaguar, the British car company, seeks to emphasize the English cultural competence of being the trustees of tradition. In its ads in Germany, Jag uses the slogan ‘Jaguar- Die perfekte Balance ziwischen Innovation und Tradition’. This helps emphasize the traditional aspect of Jaguar in an ad that is otherwise very German in its formatting, replete with detail and tech specs.

Brandcrafters seek to activate the CSMM’s that are beneficial to them, and code-switching helps them do this. The symbolic, connotative meaning becomes critical while the literal one that would be used in everyday communication is relegated to the sidelines. The author of the original article asks us to look at it in two ways; on the one hand  communication, which is what  facilitates cooperation and understanding,  is being given less face time. On the other hand, the reason that language fetish happens at all is because the national stereotypes (both self and of others) are so similar across borders, suggesting at least the seed of a common identity.

eu And that’s a start.

Code-switching & Branding:Pt.2- Mental Models

Angus Yamasaki

A previous post of mine talked about code-switching. I’d now like to go more in-depth into the branding opportunities it throws up, the mental models it activates, and the type of work dealing with this issue that’s currently out there.

An emerging field of research in business and cognitive science is mental models, which are mental representations of real or imaginary situations. These mental models shape perception, thinking, and importantly for brandcrafters, whether or not we woo wallets.

Previous research with biculturals (bilinguals who have internalized the cultures of both the languages they speak)shows that speaking/hearing a particular language activated distinct sets of culture-specific concepts, or mental frames. These frames include important aspects of their identities. Hence if brands want to tap into a particular cultural concept that would enhance the brand identity in the consumer’s mind, they would do well to try their hand at some code-switching. bilingual1

“When biculturals are processing information in English, certain conceptual features are activated, themselves priming other conceptual features and the words associated with them. Those conceptual associations form the mental frames that will influence biculturals’ self- and other-interpretations and subsequent behavior. ” (From the study)

*A fascinating study examined Spanish-English bilinguals and their response to various ads. One such ad for a resort hotel featured a woman sitting on top of a scenic cliff. The text of the ads and the subsequent interviews were either in Spanish or in English. The results showed that when the image and interview were in Spanish, subjects interpreted the woman as being independent and serene. However, in the English language condition, the participants interpreted the woman as being confused, indecisive, and lost.


That is pretty revolutionary. Nothing changed, except for the language. And yet the entire ambience of the advertised product was transformed, as people’s perception of the woman in the ad changed.

Another thing to keep in mind is the power dynamic of the code-switching game. Studies have shown that when an ad is in the majority language (e.g. English in the US), and is code-switched into the minority language (Spanish), people tend to perceive the product as being negative. This is because the mental model of the majority language is one of power & prestige, while the mental model of the minority language speaks of disadvantage and foreignness. Sadly these mental models are magnified for members of the minority language culture.

In my cocina, I would never think of any other coffeemaker: Backfires, reduces product eval

En mi kitchen, nunca haria cafe con ninguna otra cafetera: Works well, increases +ve affect, boosts eval

So brandcrafters, let loose some languages and target those biculturals. Tap into the positive mental models and enhance the consumer’s brand perception. Yalla, Vamos, let’s move!

Code-switching & Branding: Pt. I- 2 languages, 2 identities, ∞ Opportunity


Code-switching is a term that refers to the use of more than more than one language in conversation. An example of code-switching would be if I began speaking in English, et je continue en Francais, pero quiero para terminar en español. Contrary to what many think, code-switching is not a sign of limitation in one language that would require resorting to the other. Rather, it is a form of self-expression and ingroup behaviour. Code-switching is used by bilinguals/multilinguals when:

1.      A particular concept is better expressed in the alternate language, or when one wishes to reiterate a shared identity with the listener. For example, if an Arab and a Brit are discussing business, and the Brit is trying to close the deal, he may pepper his language with Arab phrases to express solidarity and develop a deeper personal connection. In many parts of the world, relationship-building determines whether deals are made or lost, and code-switching is a useful tool to do this.

2.      Academia and technology: The universality of these fields often means that English becomes the lingua franca. It is not uncommon to see professors in Latin America, Asia, and Europe speak in their native language during a social discussion and suddenly switch to English if a technical matter comes up.

3.      To convey humor. Many jokes are told in English, with the punchline being delivered in the ethnic language shared by the speaker and receiver.

Q:  What did the mouse say to the cheese?

A: A: Tu Cheez badi hai Mast Mast!


The answer is a line from a popular Hindi song, which means “You are my desire/Damn, you’re fine!” It’s a highly corny but very popular joke, and one that would be dished out only in the company of paisanos.

Brandcrafters, take notice. Multilingual speakers far outnumber monolinguals in the population. If you want to appeal to them on a deeper level, why not show them that you understand their mixed identity? In my next post, I’ll touch open aspects of code-switching that marketers need to understand, and look at the issues of mental models, language schemas, and current ads that attempt to tap into multilingual madness.

Slumdog Millionaire: A Transformative Film- Best Picture Oscar!


Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) and Vikas Swarup (Q&A- the novel that the movie is based on)

Cast: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan, Mahesh Manjrekar

*Warning: May contain spoilers, although I have attempted to make them cryptic

A caveat: I first saw Slumdog Millionaire five hours after the first terror attacks in Mumbai on the 26th of November. A sense of shock and denial had blanketed me, and the movie managed to transform my mood completely. That’s how powerful and personal it was to me.

Synopsis (courtesy of Fox):

The story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out.



Bombay, to borrow a phrase from Suketu Mehta, is a ‘Maximum City’. It contains in it the entire spectrum of human circumstance, from abject poverty to riches Croesus would envy. It is the most alive city on the planet, bar none. If New York is fast, Bombay is a metropolis on methamphetamines. It is for many an inspiration and a golden songbird; for others a nightmare and a curse. For some, it’s all these aspects existing simultaneously.

Danny Boyle appreciates this multichotomy (word?). He doesn’t shy away from it, instead using it to make his movie irresistible. Below is an excerpt from an interview with him in which he discusses shooting in India.

A director is a controller, you’re a control freak; you bring a crew, look at a bit of life, you stop it in its tracks, and then you recreate it, positioning your technicians around it to capture it, and repeat it endlessly, till you’ve got it just how you want it. You can’t do that in India. It’s uncontrollable. It’s just constantly motion, it’s just constant, and so you just have to go with that. And that means, you’ll end up spending two-thirds of a day and you’ll achieve nothing. But then, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, it comes back, suddenly this wave comes back, and you’ve got your film, or your bit of it that way. Something is given back to you. Sounds hippie, sounds just like a load of nonsense, but I’d say that’s the way it works.

He gets how Bombay breathes, and the result is a powerful, touching movie that shakes you with impact. This is one of the finest films I’ve seen in a long time; a visual treat, music that thrills, and a highly entertaining blend of despair, triumph and adventure. The flashback scenes that explain how Jamal knows the answers are bloody brilliant. The acting is stellar. In particular the two sets of child artists are excellent. They have some hilarious dialogues (“Plenty of pussy in Bombay maan”), and some gut-wrenching scenes (Latika’s quiet acceptance of her impending rape is difficult to watch). A.R Rahman hits new heights as a composer; the music is stunning and is a major element of the movie’s appeal, yet is good enough to stand alone as an independent record.

I am not a part of the cinema cognoscenti. My technical knowledge of movie making  is limited. This caveat stated, the most impressive feature of this movie for me is the relationship between the cinematography and the music. They are affectionate playmates in a fierce battle for domination, and the result is a surreal sensory experience. The boys are hustling on the train, scheming, selling and stealing. There is pandemonium, urgency. The camera echoes this; fast and blazing, at comes at you from multiple angles and at various speeds. In defiance, MIA’s ‘Paper Planes’ plays on, creating the sensation that the boys could be relaxing on a beach in the Caribbean.  On occasion, the music and visuals play nice; A.R Rahman’s ‘Oh Saya’ rises in volume and tempo as it chases the camera through a rioting Bombay slum. The camera careens through gullys(alleys) and around sewers, but it can never quite escape. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is the climax of the slum chase; the camera steadily zooms out to give us a birds-eye view of the slum while Rahman’s unique voice reaches a crescendo.

If you nitpick, you can find many flaws in this movie, particularly in the plot. But you won’t be bothered to, because the movie has so much to offer. For instance, one scene shows the boys sleeping in a drain pipe to shield themselves from the rain. Out of nowhere, Latika is seen standing in the downpour. She walks up to them when Jamal calls her over and goes to sleep immediately. Why, how, it ends up not being an issue because the scene is so poignantly shot. One is just glad that Latika is dry.

Watch this movie. Slumdog Millionaire completely captures your imagination. It leaves you feeling more hopeful, more impulsive. You feel like causing mischief; you are compelled to climb atop a train, to sing horribly off-key, and to chase the woman of your dreams. You connect so completely with a city that may have never been yours. You understand Jamal’s shit-plunge because you craved that autograph with your entire being. You experience revulsion for Salim, that gangster, that traitor. You feel adoration for Salim, that big brother, that saviour. You accept Latika for who she is; she is perfect for you and that’s all that matters. You are, throughout the duration of the movie and much beyond, the D’Artagnan to its Three Musketeers. You may not know all the answers, but no matter. It is written.


*Notable Goofs:

1. Unlike as shown in the movie, the real ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ has multiple ‘guaranteed winnings points’, so once you cross certain dollar milestones, they are the minimum amount of money you walk away with. The quizmaster in the movie repeatedly warns Jamal that he stands to lose everything if he gets the answers wrong.

2. Alexander Dumas? C’mon!

Plot 6.5 Visual 9.5 Music 10 Acting 8.5 Direction 8.5 Entertainment 9 ‘Feel’ 10 Overall 8.5

Track Listing:   You can dl the OST here

“O… Saya” performed by A. R. Rahman, M.I.A.
“Riots” by A. R. Rahman
“Mausam & Escape” by A. R. Rahman
“Paper Planes”# performed by M.I.A.
“Paper Planes (DFA Remix)” performed by M.I.A.
“Ringa Ringa” by A. R. Rahman featuring Alka Yagnik, Ila Arun
“Liquid Dance” by A. R. Rahman featuring Palakkad Sriram, Madhumitha
“Latika’s Theme” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Aaj Ki Raat”#2 performed by Sonu Nigam, Mahalakshmi Iyer, Alisha Chinai
“Millionaire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Madhumitha
“Gangsta Blues” by A. R. Rahman featuring BlaaZe, Tanvi Shah
“Dreams on Fire” by A. R. Rahman featuring Suzanne D’Mello
“Jai Ho” by A. R. Rahman featuring Sukhwinder Singh, Tanvi Shah, Mahalakshmi Iyer

Bombay Burning- 3rd Update & Photo Essay


Heartfelt thanks to Alan Taylor@The Big Picture for compiling this photo essay depicting the Mumbai terrorist attacks that began on the 26th of November, 2008 and in some ways will continue for a long time . It hurts, but it’s important.

Also wanted to give you the latest headlines from Mumbai. Catch NDTV or IBN to know more.

  • The last terrorist inside the Taj has been shot and killed. All hostages and guests have been evacuated.
  • Involvement of Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba strongly suspected
  • Casualty count: 195 dead, 350+injured

Bombay Burning- Thoughts


I am semi-freewriting this, so please bear with me.

38+hours and the battle rages on. One cannot step back from the situation easily, as hostages remain and the casualties keep mounting. Yet, it is essential. Mumbai is quiet. That is almost unprecedented in a city of 18 million people. Bombay is fuckin quiet. There is movement on the streets, but muted. The trains are running, but there is a haunting statistic- they are running at half-capacity or less. In a city whose trains normally contain crowds that exceed the legal limit for cattle, this speaks volumes. The city is hurt. The country is hurt. And for once, because of the foreign nationals involved, the world is hurt.

This is no simple cross-border conspiracy. This is not just a solitary Mujahideen group wishing to make a name for themselves with terrorist theatre. This is not some two-bit force of frenzied fundamentalists fighting in the name of God and Jihad. This is more. These are soldiers, assassins driven by a complex system of beliefs that allows them to commit massacre with equanimity. This is an intricate syndicate that is well-funded, highly trained and intelligent, and displays an intimate understanding of symbolism and how the international media works.


A local train blows up, and people pray for the souls lost and go about their business. International news condemns the attack but most of the world’s powers are not sucked into the vortex of fear and bedlam that Mumbaikars faced. So, change the game. “Quality, not quantity” said my advisor when I was preparing to write university essays. “Quality, not quantity“, say the masterminds of this attack. So they target the symbols of Bombay’s status as a global city, and by extension the symbols of India, India the nouveau superpower. They arrive through the Gateway of India. They hit the Taj the Oberoi and the Trident, innkeepers to the Goras, the fashion models, the cricketers, the czars of commerce. They hit the CST (formerly VT), the most recognisable symbol of Colonial Bombay. They hit Nariman House, headquarters of India’s Hasidic Jews. They specifically ask for Europeans and Americans and honor them with hostage status.What happens? The international media is forced to pay attention to this crisis, as theirs are being targetted, theirs are in danger. Thanksgiving turkeys are trounced, terrorism takes over the telecast. The masterminds rejoice. This attack makes the headlines, this attack generates images, grief, shock, concern, anger, agitation, fear, terror. This attack is a success. This attack is beautiful.

I hope people understand what we are up against: daring, political and strategic acumen, huge funding,  no dearth of desperate volunteers and above all, the will to do what India as a democratic nation cannot. The only way to counter them is to make the entire world a hostile zone for terrorists. You CANNOT point fingers at one nation (initial reports indicate that some of the terrorists were Pakistani and that the attack may have been masterminded there). You CANNOT single out a particular religion.  Please watch this excellent video with Deepak Chopra (Doctor, author and spiritual guru) explaining the problems of alienation and perpetuation. Thanks to Danial Jameel for letting me know about it.

Instead, religious groups and governments must rally together to ensure that the entire world becomes a ‘hostile zone’ for terrorists. Don’t spout vitriol such as Islam=terror, or this/that nation is responsible. One must understand that the masterminds of these attacks are brand wizards; it is in their interest for Muslims to feel humiliated and condemned as it creates a state of desperation, and brings recruits to their doors. I am not a Muslim, but I know that their religion, along with others must be respected because in many nations (especially in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent), religion is a cornerstone of identity. Consider the numbers. There are 1.5bn+ Muslims in the world, and deriding them as a whole is bound to cause alienation, distrust, and eventually hostility. India itself has 200mn + Muslims. If they collectively decide that their country has turned its backs on them, and each one picks up a knife, the entire security force of the country is in no position to counter them.

This is not an idealistic viewpoint. This writer recognizes that the history of aggression between India and Pakistan and the masterminds’ careful brand stewardship make finger-pointing inevitable. Yet it is my hope and belief that countries can come together at this tragic time and commit to creating an atmosphere of possibility. Co-operation, intelligence sharing, and a united mindset will leave the terrorists hard-pressed to breathe. And you can’t bomb if you can’t breathe.


In prayer for the victims and their families and in hope of international solidarity on this tragedy,


Bombay Burning- Bleakness & Hope

Beautiful article by Sambit Bal, editor of Cricinfo, about the Mumbai attacks. Captures the pain and confusion of these attacks, and what makes them unprecedented. States that in such times, cricket is irrelevant. This statement seems obvious, but sadly, serpents such as IPL commissioner Lalit Modi don’t seem to get it.Thanks SB, for the thoughts and for maintaining hope.



Bombay Burning- 2nd Update


Just wanted to give you the latest headlines from Mumbai. Catch NDTV or IBN to know more.

  • The operation at Nariman House has been declared a success. It is now over. All terrorists inside have been killed. A Rabbi and his family have been killed.
  • The Trident-Oberoi Hotel complex has now been declared safe, all hostages have been evacuated.
  • 1 terrorist left at the Taj Hotel, all hostages have been evacuated. There may however, be some guests still hiding in their rooms.
  • Casualty count: 150+dead, 350+injured

Bombay Burning- Updates


37+ hours of terror in Bombay. Here are the latest updates:


  • The NSG (National Security Guard) believes that 2-4 terrorists remain inside the Taj Hotel, and may have hostages with them
  • 93 hostages have been rescued and evacuated from the Trident Hotel, no terrorist threat remains at that venue
  • Some terrorists and hostages may remain at the Oberoi Hotel
  • Commandos and special forces have stormed Nariman House, which is believed to hold at least 10 Israeli hostages. A fierce firefight continues.
  • The casualty count is now at 130+dead and 300+ injured

Remember, you can always catch the live stream of NDTV for continuous coverage of the latest events.

Bombay Burning


Terrorists attacked multiple high-profile venues in Mumbai last night, leaving 101 dead and over 300 injured. Over a hundred people, including a large number of foreign nationals, still remain hostage.


From the Times of India,

Terrorists used heavy machine guns, including AK-47s, and grenades to strike at the city’s most high-profile targets — the hyper-busy CST (formerly VT) rail terminus; the landmark Taj Hotel at the Gateway and the luxury Oberoi Trident at Nariman Point; the domestic airport at Santa Cruz; the Cama and GT hospitals near CST; the Metro Adlabs multiplex and Mazgaon Dockyard —

NDTV:   LIVE coverage of the scenes at the hostage sites

Please pray for the city.