(A Critique of Multi-Lingual Advertisements in the English Press in the Tamil Month of Aadi)

By Dr. Felix Moses

-- The writer has been teaching English language and literature at the Madras Christian College for three decades. His interests are stylistics, E.L.T., advertising and journalism. He can be reached at
felix_moses19@yahoo.com --

“Twentieth-century advertising is the most powerful and sustained system of propaganda in human history, and its cumulative cultural effects, unless quickly checked, will be responsible for destroying the world as we know it.”(Jhally 27)

The Tamil month of Aadi (mid July to mid August) is dense with religious and socio-cultural significance (Arunachalam 89-105). The collective socio-cultural wisdom of the ancient Tamils advised against celebrating marriages during this month so that childbirth would not occur during the peak summer months of April, May and June thus ensuring the safety and good health of both the mother and the newborn baby. Moreover, in accordance with this social norm, even other childbearing mothers were also separated from their husbands and sent to their parental home during the month of Aadi. It is highly probable that in order to ensure that marriages would not be solemnized during the month of Aadi, a false superstitious belief was perpetuated that this month was inauspicious for marriages.

In spite of the various historical, social and technological changes down the very many ages, the ancient superstitious belief against getting married in the month of Aadi is deeply ingrained in the psyche of even the most highly educated Tamilian – even though he would not be able to recollect the names of the other months of the Tamil calendar. Consequently, irrespective of the religious faith, hardly any marriage is celebrated during the Tamil month of Aadi; this in spite of, all the advances in medical science, which have rendered childbirth safe and almost painless.

Until recently, shopkeepers and retailers dreaded the month of Aadi and were reconciled to an abrupt and sharp slump in the sale of goods especially associated with marriages. Jewellery and textile shop owners were the worst affected. Now, in the context of a global economy, which thrives on rampant consumerism, deceptive advertising is in the process of reversing the trend and creating a false and spurious demand by altering cultural perceptions surrounding the month of Aadi. Therefore, as Richards et al. emphasize “advertisements are … an important focus for a study of cultural values, and for an attempt to answer the question of whether these values are changing, and if so in what direction.” (1)

One of the gimmicks advertisers resort to is to insert multilingual advertisements in the leading English newspapers of Tamilnadu during the Tamil month of Aadi to woo buyers with ‘amazing discounts’ and ‘offers.’ The advertisers use all the tricks of the trade and mix Tamil and English, and, surprisingly at least on one occasion, even Hindi copy in ingenious ways to increase sales. This phenomenon, of inserting multilingual ads in English newspapers, is practically absent during the other festive occasions like Deepavali and Christmas which are accepted as excuses by the public to go on a buying spree.

“In today’s world meanings circulate visually, in addition to orally and textually. Images convey information, afford pleasure and displeasure, influence style, determine consumption and mediate power relations” (Rogoff 25). Today we are swamped by visual images not only from the print media but also from cinema, TV, and the internet. In particular, the images used in advertising have come to dominate our lives in very many ways. No one is immune to the insidious influence of advertising. As Richards, MacRury and Botterill correctly reveal, “advertising is a pervasive form of public communication with a great cultural impact. Its function is to stimulate and regularise consumption. Its responsibility is to private interests and not to the community. Its aim is to convert ‘audiences’ into ‘markets’ and its rhetoric is one of persuasion not information. Its private agenda has unhappy consequences for the quality of public communication” (54).

My paper is a detailed analysis of four multilingual advertisements, which appeared in the English press during the month of Aadi. I chose ads from the press as my subject because they are more convenient to study and as Catherine Chambers remarks “the press accounts for over half of all advertising” (28). I have examined the translation and semiotic principles involved in the creation of these advertisements from a sociolinguistic perspective. Each advertisement is illustrative of one striking linguistic feature: code mixing, transliteration in English along with the Tamil copy, transliteration in English without the Tamil copy and transliteration in English of the Hindi copy without the Hindi copy. The ads are foregrounded by an almost complete absence in print of a translation of either the Tamil or the Hindi copy i.e. the advertisers are certain that the bilingual readers will understand the message of the ad without the help of a translation.

Savory in his The Art of Translation lists twelve conventional possibilities of translation. In this particular context, his second convention that “a translation must give the ideas of the original” (54) is apt to the needs of the bilingual readers of these ads. Although no translation in Tamil or English appears in print, the readers as they read these ads will mentally translate the ads from English to Tamil and vice versa. In the process, they become not only interlingual but also intercultural mediators, for as Christina Schaffner correctly points out “translation is not a matter of words only, but…it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture” (4). Today, spurious advertising problematises this interlingual and intercultural mediation by politicising it to subvert ancient socio cultural beliefs and practices to serve its own avaricious ends. My purpose is to reveal how advertisers exploit the superstitious belief that Aadi is not an auspicious month for marriages and successfully convert it into an opportunity to increase sales and profits.

“The study of language must take context into account because language is always in context, and there are no accounts of communication without participants, intertexts, situations, paralanguage and substance” (Guy Cook 5). The language of the four ads is analysed systematically taking into account all the above-mentioned features. The two classic models for my study were Marshall McLuhan’s essay ‘Woman in a Mirror” which uses psychoanalysis to critically examine a 1947 ad for ‘Berkshire Nylon Stockings’ and Barthes’ essay ‘Rhetoric of the Image”(1977) which critically analyses four kinds of sign at work in an ad for pasta. “Advertising charges the material world with the electricity of desire” (Steven Kemper 49) and McLuhan analyses how unconscious association creates and influences this ‘desire.’ For Barthes his primary concern is “how does meaning get into the image? Where does it end? And if it ends, what is there beyond?”(1). My purpose in studying these four ads is to expose how advertising thrives on creating

“The choice of substance affects the nature of the ad and is an integral part of its identity” (Cook 28). This ad is from “The Annanagar Times” a ‘friendly’ neighbourhood newspaper, which is delivered once a week free of cost at one’s doorstep. The only source of income for this newspaper is from advertising and hence, perhaps, its complete lack of colour. Its area of circulation is limited to about 2sq. kms. in and around Annanagar although the alternative venue for the advertised sale at Purasawalkam wouldn’t be too faraway for a prospective customer from Annanagar. This particular ad appeared prominently at the bottom of the first page of the newspaper itself along with other news items of local interest. So much so whether by chance or by manipulation it preys upon the accompanying discourse and almost passes off as a news item rather than as an ad for a discount sale: the name of the advertiser “Prema Silks” printed only in Tamil is hardly noticeable in the ad. To cut costs the advertiser has used only one black and white picture of a smiling model luxuriantly draped in a shimmering ‘Kancheepuram’ silk sari. The picture is placed inconspicuously at the lower right extreme corner of the ad; nevertheless, it interacts effectively with the bilingual copy of the ad to convey its message: the radiant smile on the model’s face reveals her joy in acquiring at half the price a ‘Kancheepuram’ silk sari, an all-important status symbol for every Tamil woman. It would have been more effective if the advertiser had shown her holding another one in her hand in keeping with the slogan ‘Buy One & Get One Free.’

The ad uses four different types of frames to exploit intensely the paralanguage of the copy in print. The first frame that is used thrice in the ad appears as though something has exploded or shattered and it contains the word ‘free’ repeated thrice with as many exclamation marks. The ‘explosive’ and incredible information that it is expensive Kancheepuram silk sarees that are being given away ‘free!’ appears in a similar frame. The Tamil copy ‘Aadi Clearance’ is foregrounded by being printed in a large bold font in between these two frames. Thus the paralinguistic device of an ‘explosive’ frame effectively ‘hooks’ the reader to the message that Kancheepuram silk sarees are being given away for ‘free’. The message is further reinforced by being ‘reversed out’ in white. However, the matter of fact plain rectangle frame contains the truth of the advertising message: the ‘weasel claim’ that the customer has to buy first a silk saree to be eligible to get one free. This is further clarified in the Tamil copy, which explains precisely that the cost of the free silk saree will be determined by the price of the silk saree bought by the customer. The flattened and obliquely placed oval frames the Tamil copy ‘the special joy of the month of Aadi’ – that only in the month of Aadi Kancheepuram silk sarees are available for ‘free.’ Although two venues have been mentioned only the word ‘venue’ appears separately in an ‘explosive’ frame with the venues being separated by a matter of fact ‘/’ and the respective dates without the timings for each venue being highlighted in smaller rectangles with thick borders. Conforming to the latest and pernicious trend of the credit card culture the copy ‘all credit cards accepted’ is printed boldly in a distinctive font marked off by two asterisks tempting the readers to ‘buy’ Kancheepuram silk sarees for ‘free’ now and pay for them later!

However, the most striking paralinguistic feature is the distinctive font used for the Tamil copy at the tail end of the ad, which when translated reads: “this is the ideal time for marriages and other auspicious occasions.” Being introduced by an asterisk, it appears almost like a footnote and the position of the line and the font used give it the appearance of an official obligatory disclaimer. Overtly, it may seem as though the advertiser is trying to dismantle an ancient and deep-rooted superstitious belief and dispel any residual doubts a prospective buyer might have over buying an expensive status symbol like a Kancheepuram silk saree during the traditionally inauspicious month of Aadi. However, his real intention is to compel the prospective buyer to buy one, if necessary, even by using a credit card for the line ‘all credit cards accepted’ is strategically placed close to it.

Its only during the Tamil month of Aadi that multilingual ads are displayed in English newspapers. This particular ad appeared in a local English newspaper dropped free of cost in homes in and around Annanagar. There is a possibility that in some homes the inmates may know to read only Tamil or English, hence the advertiser has ‘mixed’ both the Tamil and English copy in the same ad to announce the heavily discounted sale. As rightly pointed out by Hudson “the purpose of code-mixing seems to be to symbolise a somewhat ambiguous situation for which neither language on its own would be quite right. To get the right effect the speakers balance the two languages against each other as a kind of linguistic cocktail-a few words of one language, then a few words of the other then back to the first for a few more words and so on”(53). But, unlike in real life situations, in the field of advertising ‘code mixing’ is used only to serve the practical purpose of delivering the advertising copy effectively to readers who may be able to read and understand only Tamil or English in order to cover a wider audience. The English copy is less than that of the Tamil copy, and more importantly the message it conveys in an abbreviated form ‘Buy One &Get One Free’ is explained more exhaustively and comprehensively in Tamil as ‘if you buy one Kanchipuram silk saree you will get one Kanchipuram silk of the same price for free.’ The Tamil copy ‘weasel’ like contradicts the English blurb “KANCHEEPURARM SILK SAREES FREE.” This is proof enough that the ad is meant mainly for those who are more fluent in Tamil than in English. From the sociolinguistic perspective as Hudson remarks “meaning is best studied in relation to culture and thought” (70) and that is why when the advertiser tries to change the cultural perception of his readers about the superstitious belief of the inauspiciousness of the Tamil month of Aadi he does so only in Tamil and not in English. Nevertheless, it also reveals the practical purpose of the advertiser who regards himself not as a social reformer but as a slick businessperson whose only aim is to sell more. Having explained in detail in Tamil the advantage of his seasonal offer in purchasing Kancheepuram silk sarees he also persuades the prospective buyers in the same language to change their cultural perceptions of the inauspiciousness of getting married in the Tamil month of Aadi. However, the copy “ALL CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED’ is in English for the simple reason till now no popular Tamil translation is available for the English ‘credit card.’

Repetition is the only prosodic feature used by the advertiser. Its obvious purpose of course is one of emphasis. ‘Free’ is repeated thrice and in the Tamil copy the words ‘silk saree’ is repeated twice being placed one below the other with the ‘Kancheepuram’ printed in a bigger font which serves the dual purpose of emphatically catching the eye of the reader even as it simultaneously qualifies the two repetitions of ‘silk saree.’ The paralanguage of the bigger font thus foregrounds the repeated prosodic feature. The word ‘KANCHEEPURAM’ has a certain special cultural significance for all Indians and especially for Tamilians: it is the temple town where some of the most expensive silk sarees with gold plated zari are painstakingly hand-woven. Ownership and flaunting of Kancheepuram sarees confer prestige and honour to the Tamilian women and it is this cultural ‘hook’ which the advertiser baits his buyers with in both the languages : in English the word “KANCHEEPURAM” is ‘reversed out’ in white against a black background and in Tamil the same word is printed in big bold letters. “A cultural analysis [thus] illuminates the shifting, ongoing, engagement of the meanings between consumers and producers, mediated by advertising” (Sunderland and Denny 199).

The following three medium sized ads (one for a famous jewellery shop and the other two for well-known retail garment stores) are from The Hindu a leading English national daily newspaper. This English newspaper boasts of one of the highest circulation figures in the whole of India. Its readership comprises largely of the English knowing urban middle class. These ads have been selected from the colourful daily supplement, “Metroplus” which accompanies the Chennai edition of the main newspaper. They are semi display ads, which were strategically positioned along with other interesting leisure and life-style features. They are targeted mainly at the urban middle class for as Eric Louw remarks correctly, “…the middle classes are the ‘ideal’ audience for advertisers seeking a general mass public with disposable income and a propensity to consume”(98).

The jewellery shop ad NATHELLA by skilfully blending red and golden yellow colours literally glitters like the product that it advertises and immediately arrests our attention. The picture of the intricately designed golden necklace not only replicates the product on sale but is also used subtly to frame the copy, which is the ‘hook.’ It seems as though a sales person has just displayed the ornate necklace in front of a prospective customer with an irresistibly tempting “OFFER” for as Cook rightly points out, “ads by associating writing with pictures anchor their communication firmly to a specific non-linguistic situation, simulating the paralanguage of face-to-face interaction” (81). The typography and the colour used to print the copy “AADI GOLD OFFER 75” resembles freshly minted gold itself and the word ‘AADI” catches our attention because of the eccentric way the letter ‘A’ has been crossed. But on reading closely the copy ‘Gold Rate+Rs.75* in small print and ‘onwards’ in fine print in black and white and the asterisk which indicates the disclaimer as a footnote ‘conditions apply’ in finer print also in black and white the discerning reader immediately realises that the so called ‘gold offer’ is nothing but a ‘weasel claim.’ The factual meaning of the ad is that for every piece of jewellery bought a minimum amount of Rs.75 per gm will be charged towards what is vaguely mentioned in the footnoted disclaimer in very fine print as ‘value addition.’ “Onwards” is printed in smaller print and means that there is no limit to the maximum that will be charged for each piece of jewellery bought. This weasel claim is footnoted in the disclaimer ‘conditions apply.’ The line in fine print in the disclaimer ‘other charges not applicable during the period of this offer’ is more misleading - it is not clear what these ‘other charges’ are and how much they cost. In short, the disclaimer in the footnote in very fine print virtually contradicts the dazzling copy framed by the expensive golden necklace even as it tries to disambiguate any false impression, which it might have given rise to. The inherent contradiction and the ‘weasel’ claim made by the ad is further evident in the dull and faded colour used for the line “at prices that surprise!” It seems as though the advertiser is not too sure of the claim framed by the golden necklace for the asterisk in the framed copy would have already directed the attention of the reader to the disclaimer in fine print in the footnote. By the time the reader reads “at prices that surprise!” he would have read the disclaimer and would have concluded that there really is no surprise in this “AADI GOLD OFFER.” The logo of the jewellery shop appears unobtrusively just above its name indicating that it is the name, which is more famous and well known than the logo. The biggest and the boldest font is however used for the copy “AADIYIN ATHIRSTHTAM THANGATHIN KONDATTAM” with the first letter of each being capitalised. The letters are printed in reverse in white against a red back-ground. Actually, they appear more attractive than the picture of the golden necklace because the copy is printed from top to bottom of the entire page in a large font and most significantly, because we read from left to right many would have first read this copy before trying to decipher the copy framed by the gold necklace. The Tamil copy, which has been transliterated, appears immediately below in a contrastive golden yellow colour. The colours red and golden yellow are very auspicious for all Tamilians and these two colours which form the background for this ad serve to drive home the message that the Tamil month of Aadi is indeed an auspicious month to buy up some gold which is universally valued for its economic power and many cultural associations.

This ad appeared in a prominent national English daily newspaper, meant for readers who are fluent in English; and except for four Tamil words, which have been immediately transliterated into English the rest of the ad is entirely in English. Curiously, the transliteration, maybe because of the carelessness of the copywriter, occurs in reverse: the English transliteration is followed by the Tamil words and not vice versa. In this ad, the four Tamil words that have been ‘borrowed’ have actually become part of another language English. As Hudson correctly points out “each language has a distinctive symbolic value for people who use it regularly because of its links to particular kinds of people or kinds of situation” (55). The ‘particular kind of people’ would be the average middle class Tamilian who is fluent in Tamil and English and the ‘particular kind of situation’ would be the Tamil month of Aadi with all its cultural associations. Gold ornaments play a very important role in all Tamil marriages and the demand for gold and its price peaks during the different months in the Tamil calendar that are regarded as auspicious for marriages; months like Aadi which are regarded as inauspicious for marriages register a slump in sales and a reduction in price of this precious metal. Keeping this in mind, the advertiser tries to woo his reluctant middle class bilingual Tamilian readers into buying gold by ‘borrowing’ words from Tamil and making it a part of his English copy. He does this through the ‘borrowed’ Tamil slogan, which means, “people can consider themselves fortunate in the month of Aadi because they can buy gold at a discount and enjoy themselves.” Since the majority of the readers of this English newspaper would be fluent, in both Tamil and English, the transliteration of the Tamil copy becomes redundant and the bilingual reader would decode the Tamil copy straightaway without the help of the transliteration. However, the English transliteration serves the useful purpose of adding an exotic touch to the ad and thus makes it more appealing. However, supposing a reader who knows only English were to chance upon the ad, how would he try to decode the transliterated copy? Although he would be able to ‘read’ the English transliteration of the Tamil copy, he would not understand its meaning leave alone its socio cultural significance. The English transliteration would thus ’hook’ the monolingual English reader and make him seek the help of another bilingual to not only unravel the meaning of the Tamil copy but also its socio cultural significance. In this manner, the ad helps to disseminate knowledge about Tamil language and its socio culture amongst the reading public. However, a discerning reader can easily see through the true mercenary intention of the advertiser. The advertiser spreads socio cultural knowledge about the Tamil month of Aadi to the monolingual English reader only to tempt him to buy more gold – because the rest of the ad is entirely in English with the transliterated ‘Aadi ‘in a stylised font. Most emphatically for all the readers, whether mono or multilingual, the deceptive discount offer framed by the gold necklace is foregrounded and not the logos testifying to the purity and ‘Hallmark’ quality of his gold ornaments.

Rhyme is the only prosodic feature present in the ad. The Tamil copy and its English transliteration rhyme a b a b. The clichéd line ‘at prices that surprise’ reveal a flaw in the attempt at internal rhyme: the voiceless /s/ and the voiced /z/ are made to rhyme. The brand name of the jewellery of the advertiser ‘enduRINGS’ appears as a small inconspicuous logo just above the footnotes, so as not to distract the reader’s attention from the framed ‘OFFER’. Nevertheless, the word ‘enduring’ with the picture of a ring in the background combines effectively the visual and the verbal in a clever effort at punning. “Solving [this] pun” as Keiko Tanaka rightly observes, “[gives] rise to a pleasant feeling …a kind of intellectual satisfaction” (71).

This ad for the 104-year-old RADHA SILK EMPORIUM better known as the abbreviated RASI is a very famous textile and garment store in Chennai. The entire copy of this ad, very innovatively, is printed on a spotless milk white veshti the traditional garment of all Tamilian men - in the picture the middle-aged man in a blue shirt can be seen wearing a veshti. A strip of expensive gold zari forms the border at the top Indicating that it is an expensive silk veshti worn during important festivals. The same border is not printed at the bottom of the ad because the phone number and other details of the shop take up the space. Although the copy of the ad is printed on a newspaper, it appears as though it is the veshti, which is the secondary substance of the ad and not the newspaper which carries it. As Cook rightly observes, “choices of substance matter. In a broad sense they affect the ‘meaning’ of discourse, though the impact of particular choices varies between cultures” (27). The advertiser by using the silk veshti as the background of the ad has skilfully exploited the culture specific significance of this traditional Tamil garment, which is mostly worn during festivals. In the Tamil month of Aadi with its own unique religious and cultural traditions, it is convenient and appropriate to do so. Convenient because a veshti is a single white or off white sheet of silk or cotton cloth two or three metres long which can be used ideally as a banner or as a background for an ad; culturally appropriate because it is specifically a Tamilian garment unlike a pair of trousers for instance. “The choice of substance in [this] particular ad,” as Cook correctly points out “is [thus] an essential part of its identity” (28).

The ad is conceived in the form of a dialogue between a Saivite priest (the three horizontal streaks on his forehead and the Tamil words ‘Siva Siva’ on the cloth wrapped around his waist confirm this) and a group people who have just completed their shopping. The priest who is dressed traditionally is seen holding an open book, most probably the almanac he has just consulted to find out which date would be auspicious to conduct a marriage. The raised arm and the anxious and worried look on his face say it all – it is an admonishing gesture advising the group of overjoyed shoppers against conducting the marriage during the inauspicious month of Aadi. The elated group of shoppers however, display proudly their full shopping bags and gleefully reply that because of the hefty discount this is the right time to ‘grab’ all the garments from ‘Rasi’. The priest symbolises the collective traditional and religious ethos of the Tamilians. This is evident from his religious vestments, the sacred marks on his forehead, the holy beads and the open almanac. In sharp contrast to the priest and all that he symbolises we have the group of overjoyed shoppers symbolic of today’s middle class consumerist society. They are more in number, colourfully and elegantly but still traditionally dressed and all smiles that they have succeeded in satisfying their consumerist greed. The advertiser clearly drives home the message that in today’s consumerist world priests and their moralising don’t stand a chance against the collective will of the greedy masses: the single open almanac in the priest’s palm the repertoire of tradition and religion juxtaposed against the many full shopping bags held acquisitively and greedily by the shoppers is self explanatory.

Two very memorable logos display the name of the very famous 104-year-old garment shop. The one at the bottom displays the name of the shop in full with the letters reversed out in white against a red background. On top of the ad, the name of the shop has been abbreviated into an acronym and printed in a distinctive font in red colour against a golden yellow background because the colours red and yellow are considered very auspicious for married Tamilian women. This logo is embedded in another logo, which has been created specially for this year’s “Aadi104” sale. The words “Aadi104” are stylishly written in dark blue against an auspicious golden yellow fan shaped background. A rich golden yellow and blue border similar to the borders of silk sarees borders the fan shaped logo at the bottom. Underneath is the line ‘104th year Aadi Sale reversed out in white against a dark blue background. The advertiser has twice used golden yellow zari borders that are found in silk sarees or silk veshtis in this ad to emphasise the fact that this shop deals primarily in silk garments. The advertiser to foreground the fact that this garment store is 104 years old and hence trustworthy has repeatedly used the logo and the dates of the sale. The same logo is printed in English and Tamil on both sides of the shopping bags against a white background with the same attractive blue border at the bottom.

The Tamil month of Aadi is usually from 14th July to 16th August but this sale is from the 3rd of July itself to only the 26th of July. Firstly, the date of the usual Aadi sale has been advanced to pre-empt the competition from other garment shops because the middle classes receive a monthly salary and they will have more money to spend at the beginning of the month. Secondly, the duration of the sale has been reduced to just three weeks because by then, from the beginning of August, the competition from the other shops would have peaked and so to cleverly shy away from the fierce competition the discount sale has been restricted till the 26th of July. Thus, the pressure is on the buyers to buy quickly from “RASI” and most importantly there is no mention of credit cards, which means they have to buy soon and pay only in cash. The ‘hook’ is the ‘10-50% off’ which actually does not specify which garment is eligible for what percentage of discount. This will be revealed only at the time of purchase.

The entire ad is in English, except for the copy, which is printed in Tamil on one side of the plastic shopping bags and transliterated in English on the other side. However, most significantly the lines spoken by the priest and the group of shoppers is an English transliteration for which the advertiser has not provided the Tamil original. When translated into English the lines would read thus:
The priest: it is better to celebrate such an important function like a marriage after the inauspicious month of Aadi. The shoppers: doesn’t matter, now firstly let’s take advantage of the hefty discount ‘10-50% off’ and snap up all the garments at ‘Rasi’.

The reason why the advertiser does not provide the Tamil original or the English translation is because it would not be necessary for the bilingual readers of the newspapers who would be fluent in both Tamil and English. However, if someone who knew only English were to chance upon this ad and read the copy he would ask someone who knew Tamil and English to translate it for him thus sparking off a discussion about the Tamil month of Aadi and its related religious and socio cultural significance.

The only prosodic feature of this ad is the pun on the word ‘RASI’. The word itself is the abbreviated acronym of ‘Radha Silk Emporium’ and forms the trademark logo of this famous garment shop. Traditionally, the shop is always better known by this abbreviated acronym as can be seen from the words of the group of shoppers: ‘rasiyile’. ‘Rasi’ is the English transliteration of the Tamil word meaning ‘good fortune’ and so the implication of the pun is that buying clothes in ‘Radha Silk Emporium’ would bring good luck and good fortune to the buyers. As Tanaka rightly points out, “the extra processing effort needed to solve the pun helps to sustain the audience’s attention for longer and makes the advertisement more memorable”(82). The pun effectively impresses the name of the shop in the consciousness of all Tamilians by associating it with ‘good fortune.’

This colourful ad is for ‘Shree Krishna Collections’ a garment shop which is a fairly recent addition to the shopping scene in Chennai. The attractive feature of this ad is the group of fashionably dressed small children placed against a gaily-striped background in green and greenish yellow. In India, the break up of the traditional joint family amongst the urban middle classes has led to the creation of more and nuclear families. These families are child centric – it is the children who decide the brand and make of every household item that have to be bought. Advertisers are quick to cash in on the ‘might and whine- power’ of these urban middle class children as is evident from this trendy ad. The aggressive pose, gestures and the clenched fists of the three boys drives home the advertiser’s message very effectively even as the dolled up girls add the necessary touch of glamour. The ad targets simultaneously both the children and their parents. The unspoken message for the children is that they should compel their parents to buy fashionable garments from ‘Shree Krishna Collections’ and similarly for the parents that ‘Shree Krishna Collections’ is the ideal place to satisfy the desires of their children. The ‘hook’ of course is the copy ‘AADI SALE 10 to 50% discount’. The distinctive logo of the shop is printed just above its name.

The copy ‘KABHI SHOPPING, KABHI MASTI’ reversed out in white with a red border is printed in a distinctive bold font right on top of the ad. Its actually a transliteration of a catchy Hindi phrase which when translated means ‘when or whenever you shop then you enjoy.’ The advertiser pointedly does not give either the English or the Tamil translation because the Tamil transliteration of the Hindi word ‘masti’ can be seen in the advertisements of many tobacco products and condoms. As Kobena Mercer correctly observes, “cultural difference appears more visibly integrated into mainstream markets than ever before”(195) and hence the bilingual readers in Chennai, will easily co-relate ‘shopping’ and ‘masti’ to understand the advertiser’s intention. Moreover ‘kabhi, kabhi’ would remind them of the lines of a very popular Hindi film song of the 70’s which is also the theme song of the movie with the same title ‘kabhi, kabhi.’ The song continues to be popular even today because of its catchy and melodious tune. ‘Kabhi’ is not translated either into English or Tamil because as Greg Myers correctly observes “…the equivalent is a matter, not of looking it up in a dictionary but of thinking about the effect in another cultural setting.” (60) The words ‘kabhi kabhi’ would remind the readers of the memorable film song and to those who have seen the movie the movie itself. As Angela Goddard remarks correctly “intertextuality is no observer of boundaries.”(72) This ad moves between not only the discourses of film, film music of the past and contemporary advertising but also between the copy materials of contemporary ads. The ad is thus foregrounded intervisually and intertextually. She further adds, “even if the readers don’t remember the original it doesn’t matter for the contemporary advert will simply be enigmatic and this in itself is useful.”(69). The ‘masti’ of the shopping experience is further enhanced by the ‘fun, gifts, offers, and entertainment’ mentioned just below the line ‘KABHI SHOPPING, KABHI MASTI’. The real hook, however, is the ‘AADI 10-50% discount sale.’ This copy is foregrounded paralingustically by the advertiser’s use of the visual pun of printing the zeros of percentage in blue and at the same time making them the zeros of 10 and 50. More significantly, the dates of the sale are from July 10th to August 31st. The sale begins before the Tamil month of Aadi and concludes long after it is over. The idea is to beat the competition from other garment stores by having the sale for a longer period - starting early and closing late. The ad however is not free of the ubiquitous disclaimer ‘conditions apply’, which is printed vertically in very fine print so that it is almost completely inconspicuous. This of course would restrict the ‘fun, gifts, offers, and entertainment.’

In addition to the prosodic features of repetition ‘Kabhi, Kabhi and the visual pun 10 to 50% the metaphor ‘collections’ has been foregrounded. According to Hawkes “[Metaphor] is thought of as the fundamental “figure of speech”” (83). The metaphor ‘collections’ is usually associated with articles of great artistic value. Thus the intention of the advertiser is to create an impression in the minds of the readers that the dresses bought in “Shree Krishna” are worthy of being ‘collected’ like any other objet d’art.

Angela Goddard warns us of the inherent dangers lurking in today’s ads in the following words:
“Although advertisements are ephemeral in that each one is short-lived, their effects are longstanding and cumulative: they leave traces of themselves behind, which combine to form a body of messages about the culture that produced them. These messages can then function both to reflect and to construct cultural values: they can reflect the values of the powerful groups in society who produced the texts, but the reflection itself can then harden to become the touchstone for everyone” (3).

In Tamilnadu the socio cultural fact that it is considered inauspicious to celebrate any marriage is being challenged today not by the rationalists or the intellectuals but by retail sellers of jewels and garments. The four ads, which have been analysed, are foregrounded by the complete lack of translation because the bilingual readers will mentally translate the ads themselves. The ensuing interlingual and intercultural mediation that takes place alters the sociocultural perceptions surrounding Aadi. Thanks to spurious advertising that even goes to the extent of altering the dates of the month of Aadi, as in the case of the ad for ‘Rasi Silk Emporium’ the socio cultural superstitious belief and fear surrounding the month of Aadi are giving way to the greed of acquisitiveness. The day is not far off when the seasonal Aadi sales may outdo the all-important ‘New Year Sales’ for which Chennai has been so famous for. My critiques of the four ads “by alerting audiences to the mechanisms which held them in place it [is] hoped that truer and better ‘ways of seeing’ could be fostered, i.e. ways which might be able to see right through advertisements as opposed to seeing blinkeredly through them.”(Berger 73)


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