Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Nov-Dec 2014

Going native

There is immense potential of native language advertising on social media.

(The article was first published in Nov-Dec 2014 edition of Aurora.)

When it comes to the exponentially shrinking world of digital marketing, nothing underscores this more than culture.

Take 9Gag for instance. This behemoth of memes consists of content that is created in the English language with predominantly Western influences, yet one glance at the comments under any one of those entries will net the reader thoughts and opinions from around the world. Australia, Cameroon, China, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, you name it and they are there. All of them with a complete understanding of the pun, joke or intent of the post.

If someone from another planet were to visit Earth and only had access to 9Gag, Reddit or similar pop culture sharing sites, they would assume there were no such things as geographic boundaries.

Although this all sounds awesome for branding at a global level – think Kenneth Cole, UN, iPhone – this isn’t true in terms of localised marketing. There is still a multibillion dollar FMCG, healthcare, public services and entertainment market of local, culturally enthused consumers, who needs to be targeted. Coca-Cola knows this, so does McDonalds, as do many other global brands who go local.

Why is it, then, that unlike Brazil, China, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and other markets with a large non-English market, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UAE, Qatar and others including the mega-economy of India have not harnessed or invested in agencies that specialise in deep dive digital marketing in Urdu, Punjabi, Pushto, Bengali, Hindi, and Arabic?

Where digital agencies – or agencies with a digital arm – seem to thrive are clever and effective digital campaigns in English, with English copywriters and English language content creators now a dime a dozen. In fact, a call on Twitter recently for content bloggers netted us a large number of people who claimed English prowess from Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and even Multan and Hyderabad. Yet, when the same people were asked for Urdu language content, not one stood out.

In a country of 180 million people where a significant majority only speaks Urdu and/or their regional language, we don’t have a single expert agency dealing with such language-focused campaigns. The same applies to India. This billion-plus populated country with immense digital talent and over a thousand languages still only manages to excel in Hindi or English if one is to go by the ads on TV or the internet that we see. And I haven’t even come to the 300 million strong Middle East yet.

Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are still the stronghold of public influence, barring TV, in this part of Asia, with Twitter becoming a behemoth of public influence for good or bad. Yet, apart from a couple of campaigns by Emirates NBD in Arabic, I haven’t seen Urdu or Hindi promoted tweets or accounts. Or InMails. Or other great ads across platforms.


Twitter has been available in the major local languages around the world for a while, and it is available in a beta version of Urdu while translations are being tested. One look at Twitter in Urdu, Hindi and Arabic will demonstrate to a brand manager that their audiences are speaking in a variety of languages, not just the one they are an expert in.


Where is the discrepancy? Surely we have a collective mind among us marketers to harness our network of excellent Urdu, Hindi, and Arabic writers? Surely, we have brands smart enough to understand that investing in alternative languages will net them the profits they have marginalised by assuming the national language works? Surely, a Head & Shoulders promotion in Punjabi or a QMobile campaign on Twitter in Urdu would go a long way?

Today, no matter how well a campaign for Rooh Afza does in English, the public will still sing Rahat-e-Jaan in Urdu when the brand’s name is mentioned. THAT is the power of local language.

Harness it!

Many brand managers may argue that these platforms predominantly cater to an English language audience. That is a fallacy. One merely needs to see the millions of posts by people from the countries just mentioned, who share content they have created in their language.

Political, religious, celebrity-focused, motivational and funny, these pieces of content number in the millions, and we have all seen them on platforms where the primary communication language used is English.

Digging even deeper, it becomes apparent that the places where ethnic language campaigns have been effective are on platforms that actually use the local language. Facebook is predominantly used in Portuguese in Brazil, Spanish in Mexico (which by the way shares its border with the English language focused home of Facebook), French in France and Francophone Africa, and so on.

Twitter has been available in the major local languages around the world for a while, and it is available in a beta version of Urdu while translations are being tested. One look at Twitter in Urdu, Hindi and Arabic will demonstrate to a brand manager that their audiences are speaking in a variety of languages, not just the one they are an expert in.


My favourite Pakistani brand is close to getting there. Nando’s Pakistan has one of the most alert digital teams, quick to harness pop culture references the moment a situation arises. The only hitch, I would say, is that while they publish brilliant, clever Urdu content, it is in Roman Urdu.


While I can go on and on about the benefits of testing this vast market, there are some people who are blazing ahead where no ‘strategist’ has tread before. The UAE’s Du mobile for example conducts digital campaigns not only in English, but in Arabic, Hindu, Malayalam, Tagalog and Urdu among other languages. Etihad and Qatar Airways are slowly getting there with their content quickly focusing on multiple languages based on their destination.

Siemens conducts the majority of its primary B2C campaigns on Twitter and Facebook in Portuguese in Brazil and in Mandarin in China. I highlight Siemens here because by business nature it is a German B2B company, yet it gets Brazilian B2C right. Someone in Munich is listening to the winds of social change.

My favourite Pakistani brand is close to getting there. Nando’s Pakistan has one of the most alert digital teams, quick to harness pop culture references the moment a situation arises. The only hitch, I would say, is that while they publish brilliant, clever Urdu content, it is in Roman Urdu.

What do you think fellow marketers? Should we be investing in ethnic digital marketing? Should we rock the boat?

Yes? No? I would be glad to know your thoughts on this.

Anthony J. Permal is a marketing specialist based in Dubai. @anthonypermal or @marketingdude