Check out this Indian PSA promoting safe sex.... not only is it bizarre and hilarious at the same time for us Americans, it's also highly demonstrative that media and really, communication, is much more culture-specific than most give thought to on a regular basis. This is, given the Indian media that I've seen, pretty normal in some important ways. Feel free to go rent a Hindi movie if you don't believe me :)
(Hat tip to my media guru sister, who passed this on to me).
But wait a second... are you sure that I'm not just doing the ignorant thing and taking some piece of media that's meant mockingly (say, like the Colbert Report) and ascribing serious attributes to it? What if this was an ad from a popular comedy show (SNL India perhaps?) and now I'm telling you all that this is a real ad? The credits at the end make it a little odd, don't they?
So let's see.. what else is out there in the way of condom ads from India?
It turns out, according to this news item that another condom ad won an award from the UN this year. Much shorter, more serious but the point of the ad is that condom is an ok word to say - now that might be kind of different from what we'd see in America, but not as shocking as the above video. Check it out:
But wait, there's more...
You should then remember that this is an ad that was judged to be good by the UN. While the story does mention quite a bit of activity done in order to promote the campaign, it doesn't mean that this campaign was particularly effective. What it might actually speak to is the subjective judgements of largely Westernized citizens on the UN panel of judges. Oh, that and the fact that according to that article, it sounds like the campaign was only competing against 2 other campaigns for this award... Minor detail, no?
So, what's my point here, now that I've tied your head in knots?
Won't it be a great world when advertising and marketing messages are much better translated to the cultures that they're targeting?
Which of the above campaigns really gets people in India to use condoms and practice safe sex?
Remember, that's the goal here - to get the message across and impact people's behavior.. that's what this stuff is all about. It's not about winning awards or having something that is so funny and odd that people on the other side of the world are looking at it and passing it around to one another as a joke. This campaign is about promoting safe sex and hopefully slowing the growth of AIDS in India, the country with the most reported AIDS cases of any country in the world.
*Wow, that's a very serious goal, isn't it?*
Yes, advertising and marketing messages can be unwanted and annoying. They can be offensive or deceitful. They can even be culturally damaging.
So can any type of communication.
But when it has such a high ceiling, we should really be focusing on making it better, not arguing about exactly what is and isn't ok. And when I see media like this, I think to myself, "Damn it, we need to be making ads that communicate better to the cultures they're hoping to connect with!"
What U.S. company can effectively advertise in India? It's damn hard, isn't it?
We need people to take much more seriously the fact that in order to communicate our ideas globally, we have to be able to tailor those messages: not just language, not just images, but real cultural tailoring. Understanding, experimenting and continuing to revise those messages so that they hit home with the target audience most effectively.
It's happening now in small ways (think about McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" or the massive growth in Spanish language media), but it's very very slow for society as a whole and this should really be changing dramatically with the Internet.
Anyone want to help speed that change up? I bet there'd be some money in there for ya :)