Lost in Translation - the Nissan Breakdown

Posted on June 24, 2015

In an attempt to increase penetration rates amongst persons of South Asian origin in Canada, Nissan Canada recently executed an advertising campaign using ‘Hinglish’, a mixture of Indian and English languages.  It was designed to speak to South Asian Canadians in a friendly voice.  However, it may not have been received by its South Asian target audience with the desired effect.

‘Hinglish’ is an informal language and was never designed as a written language. Therefore it is perfectly acceptable used verbally amongst friends, but may be less well-received in a written, formal marketing communication.  This is where the Nissan campaign seems to have broken down.

Informal research conducted by Environics Research Group1 revealed that the print advertisement and accompanying dedicated desi website was received by South Asian Canadians as being somewhat contrived and forced.  Further, much of the language used in the promotion was based on the Urdu language, yet few South Asian Canadians speak Urdu, resulting in comprehension problems. Some comments arising through the research included:

  • Reading Hindi words in English makes for a ‘something’s off’ user experience.
  • some of the words (like “Taza Offers” or “Zaroori Links”) seemed like forced translations
  • the headlines on the images are very heavy on Urdu. Even as a fluent speaker, I find this to be very specific and exclusionary for a Canadian Desi audience.

The research revealed that the campaign was more negatively received by Canadians of South Asian origin than positively.  The risk of any multicultural marketing campaign that is not comprehensively researched and executed taking into account cultural nuances and subtleties is that more damage than good is done to the brand.  This doesn’t mean you don’t do it. As with all marketing efforts you just have to be thorough in the research and not jump to conclusions about a cultural group without proper testing.

Some Spark in the Ignition

The Environics research revealed that whilst the linguistic aspect of the campaign could have been better researched and executed, respondents on the whole appreciated Nissan’s efforts to speak to them in a cultural way.  Some comments included:

  • the fact that a multi-billion dollar organization, Nissan, is making special efforts to appeal to ‘Desi’ folks is definitely attractive.
  • I like that there’s a specific website for Desi people.

The conclusion we can take from the Nissan example is that targeted cultural communications do resonate and are appreciated by cultural groups.  Nissan took the right approach by executing a targeted cultural promotion, and with a little more research and insight it could have ignited a particularly successful campaign.

This is not difficult to do. Environics Research Group Senior Vice-President Robin Brown says, “Some investigation into the population and, hopefully, a little research to check the creative should do it.”  OriginsInfo offers a highly accurate and inexpensive method of determining cultural groupings to assist with identifying marketing opportunities, and to underpin qualitative research to avoid a communication breakdown.

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