Tag Archives: The Language Guru

Amul: The butter, the raconteur: Best of ’08/09

Amul- the legendary Indian butter, has continued to churn out some amazing ads that capture the zeitgeist, from the Beijing Olympics to the US Presidential Inauguration. To see some of their earlier work and understand their brand philosophy, check out my last post on Amul.

So here we go, with the best of 08/09…

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.

Polyglot tot


I’m at the airport cafe, sitting close to a family with a young daughter. This whippersnapper is being bombarded with phrases in Arabic, English, and French.Sensory inputs galore, which should lead to greater brain plasticity, increased mindfulness, and a rich resume for the UN.

Here’s to multilingual madness…may your tribe increase!

Nonsense Trivia: John Doe & Friends


Suspect: John Doe, 6′, armed and dangerous.

Names for our friend in various countries:

Arabia: Fulan
Argentina: Ningun Nombre
Australia: Joe Blow
Brazil: Fulano
Canada: G. Raymond
China: Pinyin
France: Jean Dupont
Germany: Hans Mustermann
India: Naamaloom
Israel: Israel Israeli
Italy: Mario Rossi
Jamaica: Jah D!
Russia: Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich
Scotland: Jock Tamson
Serbia: Marko Markovic

Amul: The butter, the Indian raconteur


When Betty Botter said that a bit “of better butter will but make my butter better”, she was probably thinking Amul .  This co-operative organization was a catalyst for the Indian ‘White Revolution’ and now has a turnover of USD$1.05 bn.

Amul is one of India’s most resounding success stories, and due to its advertising, one of the most heartening. Marketing expenditure is only about 1% of total turnover. Yet the brand name is ubiquitous because it has for so long captured the Indian Zeitgest, or spirit of the age. Amul’s USP is that it is quintessentially Indian, and its 30yr+campaign focuses on issues important to the common man,  the ‘aam aadmi’: sports, politics, pop culture, religion and festivals, and the trials of daily life.

I’ve been up all night, caffeine-free, going through their entire ad archive , and I’d like to share some of my favourites.

The first few speak about Indo-Soviet relations, the next lot about America, the next few are clips from pop culture, snippets from sports, Indian life, festivals & religion, the Indo-Pak conflict, and finally newsmakers.

I love this. I am in awe of what technology can achieve, but I love this. Pencils & crayons, a mischievous mind, and an uncanny ability to tap into the mass mindset; that’s all it took to seize the public’s imagination. And we weren’t just ephemeral captives; thirty years on, my mom still talks about the Amul ‘butter baby’ ads. Amul was a pioneer in the sphere of Indian advertising; they set a precedent of wit and gentle self-mocking that still resonates today.

*Some readers may not get a few of the ads, as they deal either with uniquely subcontinental issues (such as the great load-shedding), and/or the punchlines may be a pun in Hindi/Urdu. Apologies for this, readers are welcome to shoot me questions in the comments section.

Utterly butterly yours,


Evel Knievel- Desi Style

It takes a special sort of soul to remain serene while doing this.

What’s also glorious is the conversation between the friends in the car who are taking the video. The accents and inflections are pure Indian, but all the phrases are American (“I was like WTF?!”, “he’s texting!”,”Yo, what!”), suggesting the influence of exposure to an American education and US pop culture.

Karachi Vs. Lahore

Over the past few months, I’ve met a huge number of Pakistanis here in Toronto. Unlike the ones from back in Dubai, who become an interesting blend of Dubai’an-Paki, the ones here are unadulterated. As such, I’ve learnt more about the mindset and culture of urban Pakistanis in the last 5 months than I ever did in 18 years in DXB.

Overwhelmingly, the Pakistanis here are from the 2 biggest cities: Karachi- the most populous city and the center of commerce- and Lahore- the cultural capital of the country.

French Beach @ Khilahore

As in many countries with 2 cities at the forefront (Brazil: Sau Paulo-Rio, Spain: Barca-Madrid, US: NYC, LA), there is a passionate rivalry between Khi’ites & Lahoris; the debate ranges from cricket to cuisine to nightlife. What I found fascinating is the difference in the Urdu(de facto main language in both) slang between the two cities. Khi’ites have a narrower body of slang, they tend to use more English loanwords than Lahoris, while the latter have a strong Punjabi influence and take generous creative license with the Urdu language.  Thanks to lahoriii at Lahore Metblogs for some of these:

Khi                             Lahore                           Meaning in English

Tafri                                    Shugal                                  Fun, Chilling
Kuch Nahin Hota                 Koi Nahin                            No worries
Set hai                                 Fit hai                                  Sounds good
Girl/Guy                              Bandi/Banda                        Girl/Guy
Farigh                                 Wela                                     Idle, Got all the time in the world
Bharam                               N/A                                      Attitude
N/A                                   Cheeta                                   Someone brilliant, baller
N/A                                 Miss Karao                              Screw it, forget it
N/A                                 Chaa gaya/Yeh Cheez!            Awesome!/You rock
Dar gayee                        Pack ho gayee                         Got freaked out
Kuch Bhi                          Bongi                                       Bulls*&t
Bharambaaz                     N/A                                         Showoff
Lush push                      Chikni                                       Hot, sexy

Please feel free to suggest some more or fill in the blanks…

Hello Goodbye

So Nov. 21st was apparently World Hello Day. From the website:

November 21, 2008 is the 36th annual World Hello Day.  Anyone can participate in World Hello Day simply by greeting ten people.  This demonstrates the importance of personal communication for preserving peace.

Kudos to the concept. Reaching out to randoms is an excellent step towards creating a more rewarding environment for all. But, forgive my French, what the devil does Hello mean? Not much, it turns out. Well, since we are going radical with this reaching-out business, why not experiment with the greeting a little bit?

Two greetings that I love and have come to cherish as I’ve grown up and moved away are Namastey and as’salâmu a’alaykum, originating from Sanskrit and Arabic respectively.


Namaste (pronounced Na-mus-tay) means ‘I salute the divine within you. The proper response is the same, Namaste. As’salâmu a’alaykum (pronounced Us-sa-laam-aa-lay-kum) means ‘Peace be upon you’, to which the apt response is wa’alaykum as’salâm (meaning-and upon you be peace, pronounced Wuh-aa-lay-kum-us-sa-laam). These greetings are applicable to any situation, audience and age-group.

Since World Hello Day aims to promote peace and mutual understanding, wouldn’t it be something if the greeting used was an embodiment of the goal? This approach might be a little tougher on the tongue, but it’ll work magic.

P.S: If you’re feeling particularly vengeful towards bye, you could try M3salama (means ‘go with safety’, pronounced Maa-aas-sa-laa-ma)