May 24, 2019


Language in Marketing

Marketing has come a long way from the days of American car manufacturers Ford and GM. The classic GM case study on market segmentation shows the importance of understanding the people a company is selling to. This has developed marketing sub-divisions; research, distribution and branding.

Before products are developed the starting point of any business case begins with understanding the people the product is best suited for (Research), how best to make them accessible to the end user (Distribution) then creatively convince the consumer why that product is the better option against competitors (Branding). If research is done right, then branding will speak to the needs, values and affordability of the consumer.

Advertisements (part of branding) are the first point of contact between a company and consumer. This is why commercials are scrutinised with little mercy by consumers when the messaging is deemed offensive. More so if the commercial advert makes reference to cultural nuances and fails. It is still better to try and fail than ignore the call for the use African languages from consumers themselves. Even with messaging faux pas, it is progressive for the marketing industry to experiment and improve until it gets it right. Leseli creative champions the use of local languages in branding not only as part of nation building but as a significant contributor to the evolution of South African marketing.

Academics and industry professionals are adding to the voices that emphasise the value of language as a way to appeal to fears and aspirations of consumers. Going forward this is a positive way to include a segment of the market previously excluded because it is not English speaking. Not only by translating English based adverts to other local languages, but truly messaging in a culturally appropriate manner as well.

Language is closely tied in with cultural norms which then influence consumer behaviour. More so with the “Afropolitan” market segment- a term coined by “Africa is open for business” author Victor Kgomoeswana. This consumer has fully adapted elements of modern life and maintains elements of their heritage very strongly. They are economically active in one way or another and are exposed to social media and the internet. They are savvy consumers who compare products based on value and not only prices. These consumers appreciate products that do not only speak to their needs, but also to their values.

Take for instance a young Motswana accountant from North West working in Cape Town. Although they have acclimatised to a Metropolitan city, they have an affinity to the NW. They may have a WIFI contract to stream Setswana radio stations and ignore local radio stations. This Afropolitan values internet connectivity as much as they value consuming content from “home”, where Setswana oriented advertisements will reach her with higher impact. Marketers ignoring local language speaking radio stations will miss this Afropolitan consumer, and many more like her. This is the importance of language.

Language should be considered as part of a competitor strategy to position brands better. When used correctly it evokes a feeling of customers “being understood”. The by-products of this are positive client engagement, higher brand awareness and better spread. The best measure of a good campaign is when your consumer becomes your ambassador; so speak to your ambassador in their language!


“Kasinomic Revolution”- GG Alcock

“Decolonising Media: The use of indigenous African languages in South African television advertisements”, 2014- Lara Anne Grier

“Marketing Management”- Philip Kotler

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