Saying It Right: The Importance of Language in Customer Intimacy


If you want to be close to someone, do you have to speak the same language? They say that love is blind but the ability to hear and understand what the other person is saying is crucial to the positive development of any relationship.

When applied to marketing, how important is it for a brand to speak the same emotional language as its consumers? And does advertising have to tweak its message to be effective with different socio-cultural groups?

Studies have shown that culture does have an effect on how emotions are perceived. Japanese people portray emotion in the tone of their voice, while Dutch people pay attention to facial expression, according to a study from Waseda Institute of Advance Study. And though negative sounds and expressions are found to be understood by people of different cultural groups, positive emotions are mainly culture-specific.

It is easy to assume that advertising works across geographies, because the barriers to receive these messages are minimize in our technologically advanced world. If you were an Australian and wanted to watch a Russian television commercial in Australia, chances are you would try to find it on YouTube. However, even though you may be able to watch the TVC, the characters in the story will probably be speaking a different language, and that would affect your ability to understand what is being said. Often, the sensory references (i.e. images, sound) also have their roots in local culture; reflecting the behavior, location, and customs of particular groups of people. You may get the overall idea of what is trying to be conveyed, but chances are you won’t ‘click’ with it as much as it would with a viewer from St Petersburg.

Many global brands and franchises use local language and references to make their brands more local. In the case of McDonald’s, names on their menus play with local nuance and offerings cater to specific regional tastes. Sporting brands like Adidas and Nike on occasion use local sports stars to reinforce presence in the market.

The degree of effect in the emotional language of brands varies across cultures because everyone lives within a context and point of reference. It has roots in their stories, their routines, their pasts and their hopes for the future. Personalization is something that some brands use as a way to connect with people on an individual level, but without cultural understanding, such an approach only has surface value – like a name embroidered onto a t-shirt, or an app that makes things personal by filling in the blanks using data from your social media profile.

At Saatchi & Saatchi we use a type of ethnographic research we refer to as Xploring. We know that groups of people, be it people of the same nationality, or social groups like mothers, Millennials, athletes, or the affluent, all have their own language. It’s a language that is shared by people in the same demographic, and sentiment that you won’t find outside of that group. Getting close to the consumer and understanding the pretext, subtext and context of their language is important if you want to deliver priceless value.