Parul sipped her 16th chai of the day and concentrated back on the slides. She will meet her company’s potential clients from the USA tomorrow, and there is no room for a glitch – none, nada. She had hatched a quirky investment plan in building sub-urban homestays that can improve tourism and stabilize revenue generation for her department — only if the client team agrees to partner. And looking at her data, she is confident.
Next day, in crisp formals and with candid storytelling, she began: how this plan will benefit local people, boost economy, and reconcile business with profit. The pitch is perfect. Opening the house for questions, Parul braced up for some hardballs, but she hadn’t expected this one first.
“Could you explain to me a homestay, Parul?”
What is Indianism?
A “homestay” refers to an accommodation in a local person’s house. Homely setup with self-cooking facilities these are inexpensive and sustainable alternative to hotels. Therefore, they’ve gained popularity among Indians, especially friends or solo travelers. But even though US travelers stay at local houses in India, the word “homestay” has not traveled to the West yet. The US audience use “rental space” or “AirBnB” — leading to the confusion among Parul’s clients.
Indianism is an instance when we use words that are typically understood by Indian audience or are directly translated from Indian languages while speaking in English. For instance:
“I am put up at Bandra” instead of “I live in Bandra.”
“The police gave me a challan.” which intends “The police gave me a payment receipt.”
“Desi” while referring to “local” or “Indians”.
“I have graduated in 2010” should be “I graduated in 2010.”
Business impact of Indianism
Communication is the ability to convey our thoughts to the audience – nothing more and nothing less. So, Indianism in communications can be seen as interesting cultural signatures.
Except when you are hired by brands to market products and services to specific audiences. Because here is the open secret: our audiences are busy (also lazy) and they will most likely not spend any minute to learn a unique culture-specific word. The onus is on us to align content with our audience. If our tone and vocabulary are not familiar to the audience, they won’t engage. And if we fail to invite them into our content, how will we persuade them to act upon?
You see, Parul had all the data to support her ideas. But “homestay” is not a familiar word for her audience. Had it not been a face-to-face meeting, but a proposal, her confused clients would’ve moved on to the next one at the drop of a hat.
But there are interesting deviations to notice.
Indianism making a way in global market
While I was a kid, a footwear ad created a tagline “Action ka school time”. If you are a 90’s kid, you probably sang it in your head. Here “ka” is a Hindi word, and the brand tag roughly means “School time full of action/playfulness”. Targeting the Indian Hindi-speaking audience, the copywriter’s jingle became a nuisance-but-nice childhood memory. And due to affordable products, the brand had gained an immense popularity among the middle-class population.
Having said that, Indianism is increasingly percolating into global brands.
Take the word “Namaste”. For the uninitiated, “Namaste”, “Namashkar” or “Namaskaram” – all translate into a humble hello. During a call with my western teammates, I was once the only Indian, and someone enthusiastically greeted me with a “Namaste.” Next day, assuming her interest in Indian languages, I had greeted her with a “Khamma Ghani” (greetings in Gujarati) which flustered her.
Going by the book, greeting Namaste in a cross-cultural office meeting is Indianism. But thanks to the massive popularity of Indian yoga and spirituality propelled by multitudes of global travelers, this word has appealed the global (specially the American and European audience). From a branding perspective, “Namaste” evokes spirituality, environment stewardship, and holistic development — found only in an exotic Oogway’s East. Shirts, mugs, yoga mats to shoes, carpets, and cannabis: “Namaste” is adopted largely by brands who want to appeal to the sustainable growth mindset of the western population.
Indianism is a cultural signature. There is absolutely nothing to be shameful about when translating vernacular into English – after all, we can say the same in two (or more) languages! However, when we are responsible for being the voice of a brand, catering to their geography specific audience, that’s when learning words, tonality, and expressions that are familiar to them is a business imperative. No one wants to type and learn anything new unless their business profits from it (or their life depends on it). So, when marketeers want to promote a brand, Indianism or any unfamiliar usages might chase off your audience even before they engage with your spectacular products or services: that’s a hefty price to pay.
A marketing nerd, currently churning strategic communications for Deloitte’s US Advisory and Consulting teams. She is transiting toward consumer psychology in a digital-first world and Predictably Irrational by Dr. Dan Ariely was a reliable start. Besides work, collecting famous car ad copy, painting, and traveling are her poison.