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The Significant Use Of Indigenous Language In Nigeria

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The use of indigenous language in advertising could not be over-emphasized in the discussion of multicultural advertisements. The impact of the choice of language to make advertising more effective is explored in this study.

Language can be examined through research methods like content analysis and critical discourse analysis because of these methods’ focus on analyzing the text and reviewing literature.  The research is designed to analyze the importance of using indigenous language in communication processes through a critical discourse analysis.  Advertising practitioners recognizes the need and reasons for using the local language of their targeted consumers in order to produce effective messages that would impact them.


Numerous studies expressed interest in the process by which advertisers communicate with their audience. The language of advertising is a complex thing to understand because of the numerous approaches that were created. The complexity of the language of advertising is based on the fact that the receivers of the advertising messages are also complex groups of people. In the context of global advertising, the audience members turn into diverse groups of people that speak different languages and operate on different cultural values.

Language mirrors the culture of each society. Language uniquely represents each society. It could be altered and understood according to the culture, beliefs and systems by which the society operated under. The diversity of the languages translates the diversity of different societies (Schulz 2001, p.109). Establishing a connection with a specific society requires the use of their local language to serve as bridge that would eliminate the gap.

This is especially true when it came to the field of advertising.

When it came to marketing and advertising, it is important to identify the culture of the target market in order to be effective in selling their products, services or ideas. There are different factors that are considered when it came to marketing practices such as product development, marketing planning and research, as well as promotion and advertising. Language is an important consideration in promotion and advertising approaches.

These approaches are expected to differ to suit the culture and characteristics of the target market. There are certain countries that can be considered “westernized” because of the similarities their lifestyles has with that of the United States. However, there remain a number of countries that find Western advertising approaches to be less relevant. Most of these countries are non-English speaking nations.

Nigeria is the country that will serve as the focus for this study’s analysis. Nigeria is the only country in West Africa that earned about $860 gross national product per capita (Ogwo 1987, p. 64).  They experienced a reinvigoration in the small business sector that helped them in the economic crisis they underwent in 1980s and for the progress of their economic development. Since marketing and advertising was essential when it came to overall economic development, the observation was there was little done to adopt marketing principles and methods to achieve their economic objectives. When it came to the promotion and advertising in Nigeria, they were still regarded to be of secondary importance in the overall marketing strategy  (Ogwo 1987, p. 64).

Manufacturers in Nigeria develop products and try to sell them on a “it’s a cart before the horse” scenario, wherein the needs of the consumers are seldom considered. Usually, products are developed to meet specific consumer needs. Majority of the manufacturers utilizes a marketing concept of developing products based on the identification of a need. This was not the marketing process that is observed in Nigeria. There is an existing need for Nigeria to adopt modern marketing that could be considered consumer-oriented.

Nigerian products are observed to lack consumer orientation. In cases wherein products are not created to address existing consumer needs, the common strategy is to “create” the need. The creation of a need for a product requires advertising and promotional strategies and activities. Advertising agencies need to mediate between the manufacturers and the target consumers through the creation of advertisements that will attract the public to purchase the product and services that were offered.

The necessity for advertising has grown tremendously with regards to the consideration of the dimensional tools and the ways it has contributed to the development and acceptance of products, services and ideas.  It has become an integral part of human social and economic system. According to Malickson and Nason (1980), “The average person is exposed to many hundreds of advertising messages between the time he opens his eyes in the morning and clicks off his light at night.”

  Skimmer (1980) however, defines advertising as “an attempt to controlling human behavior by appealing to human conscience and emotions.” Studies that discuss the increasing importance of advertising in society transcend selling products. The form of advertising serves as a reflection for the culture of the target market, as well. Wright et al (1974) defines it as “a powerful communication force and a vital business tool.” It interacts with numerous marketing concerns, including personal selling, product development, branding, merchandise and research. A critical analysis of all the definition given above, shows that each of them was concerned with a particular functions or roles of advertising in society. The definitions reflected the connection between advertising, society, and somewhere in this relationship, language was also significantly involved.

In order to understand advertising as a form of communication and as an influential social institution, it is important to see it as part of an historical and social process firmly link to the economy of western industrialized nations. Modern advertisement is effectively no more than hundred years old, dating from the period when the capitalist system of production underwent major changes (Dyer, 1982:16).

            Since advertising required a definition that encompassed a diverse field of study, Bireme Osunbiyi (1999) advertising in a broad manner:

Advertising is a controlled persuasive communication, paid for by identifiable sponsor(s), about products, services or ideas and disseminated through the mass media to a target group.

            A message regarding a certain product when delivered raw could be anything but effective. It needs to be controlled and strategically constructed to achieve the target aim. Words needed to be chosen according to the outcome that was desired. The difference in word choice and construction could alter the reception and the feedback from the message sent. The art of language construction in advertising makes the messages meaningful to a target group in advertising.

The public will not be influenced by a message if it has not impacted them. The message will ineffectively interpreted when the message was miscommunicated. The impact of a particular message begins at the point wherein the message is understood. If the language used would disable the public from understanding the message, the advertising strategy will be ineffective. Advertising is considered as a purely human and non-instructive method of communicating ideas, emotions and desires strategically produced symbols that allow its users to generate meaning and process to define society.

            Indigenous language is considered as the language of tradition for the societies they are used in. They are considered unique and original as they represented a specific society. It is perceived to be effective if indigenous language would be utilized in the promotion and publishing of advertisement messages to the people because the messages had the potential to affect the local public. Wilson (1987) defined the involvement of indigenous language in communication as “a continuous process of information dissemination, entertainment and education used in societies, which have not been seriously dislocated, by Western culture or any other external influence.” It is based on these facts that this study was conducted. The study is created to unveil the role and importance of indigenous language in the practice of advertising.


            While English is a language that is used in almost every country of the world, language was still viewed to become a barrier when it came to advertising because most countries strive to preserve their own linguistic heritage (Kahle et al. 1994, p. 56). Cultural tastes are observed to differ from one country to another, as do product usage. It is futile to use the same advertisements in the global market because certain products or services could be seen to be unavailable, unattractive or impractical (Kahle et al., 1994).

This study will explore the choice of languages that is used in advertisements in Nigeria and how it reflects the significant importance of indigenous language in multicultural advertising strategies. The intent of this research is to investigate the extent of the use of indigenous language and its contribution to the practice of advertising. Findings from this research will point out prospects and challenges in the use of indigenous language and an assessment for the acceptability of traditional language as an advertising approach to the global market.


The following research questions will be used to guide the research for the analysis of communication advertisements in Nigeria and the use of indigenous language in the practice of advertising:

  1. What is the relationship between indigenous language and the practice of advertising in Nigeria?
  2. Up to what extent does the use indigenous language impact the practice of advertising?
  3. What are the prospects and problems that can be observed in the use of indigenous language in the dissemination of advertising messages to the Nigerian public?


This research has the follow objectives that would be achieved at the end of this study:

  1. To identify and analyze the influence of indigenous language in the practice of advertising in Nigeria.
  2. To describe the impact of the use of traditional language on advertising messages.
  3. To reveal the prospects and problems from the use of indigenous language in the dissemination of advertising messages to the Nigerian public.


The purpose of this critical discourse analysis is to understand the impact of indigenous language in the practice of advertising in Nigeria. This study is designed to explore the prospects and challenges that are related to using indigenous language in the dissemination and construction of advertisement messages, as well as to discover the influence of this language in the reception of the said messages. The study will also contribute to the available knowledge of other researchers that are interested in the topic of language, global communication and advertising.


The scope of this study will be limited to the usefulness of indigenous language on advertising. The analysis of the research work will include books and articles that were written about indigenous language and multicultural approaches to advertisements. Most of the analysis would be based on primary and secondary sources in the said topic. The study will be in a relatively small scale because time and money served as significant constraints.


Advertising:    Controlled persuasive communication aimed at selling a product, services or ideas to a target group.

Indigenous:     Identified with local people.

Language:       A tool for communication.

Indigenous Language: The local language that is used by indigenous people.

Text: The text represents the linguistic forms that are temporary or artificially separated from the text for the purposes of analyses (Cook 1992, p. 1).

Context: The context involved the substance, the music and pictures, the paralanguage, the situation, the co-text, and the intertext (Cook 1992, p. 1).



            There are two approaches that will be analyzed in this paper. These methods were selected because of their usefulness in the field of language and communication studies. This section will present a comparative evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages that can be observed from these methods.  The discussion will include significant manners by which a content analysis and a discourse analysis could be utilized with regards to analyzing the use of indigenous language in advertising in Nigeria. Only one of these methodological frameworks will be applied in the preliminary investigation of the research inquiry. The chosen method represents the most apt method in achieving the purposes of this study.

Content Analysis

            The content analysis is one of the research approaches that are relevant to the analysis of indigenous language in Nigerian communication advertisements. According to Bernard Berelson (1952:74), the research method of content analysis involves the objective, systematic and quantitative description of the content of communication. It focuses on the actual content of the media. It is a method that determines the presence of words, concepts, themes, phrases or characters in the text, as they are quantified in an objective manner.

            The focus of this method is to dissect the text to discover the range of possible meanings by which it possesses, including the hidden message of the text (Jensen & Jankowski 2002, p. 122). Content analysis is used for traditional textual interpretation. It is used to evaluate the text according to the manner by which it is constructed. It is even placed to be synonymous to exegesis (Jensen & Jankowski 2002, p. 123). Exegesis was understood to be critical interpretation of a text, usually of Biblical text. It was used to minimize the threat of subjective misinterpretations.

 In the context of this study, content analysis can be used to determine the extent of how indigenous language was used in advertisements in Nigeria. This method is significant in examining measuring the usage of indigenous language through a process of coding advertising messages from television, newspapers, and other print ads. Through the coding of the amount of indigenous language used and the coding of the use of foreign languages, a content analysis will be able to address the research question of the relationship of advertisements with the use of indigenous language. Humans are rational beings and they will cease ineffective practices if they discover that they bring no benefits. The continuous usage of indigenous language will reflect the effectiveness of this language, at the same time; the infrequent use of this language will reflect a lack of efficacy.

Critical Discourse Analysis

            Bett Dellinger (1995) described critical discourse analysis as a structural approach to media studies. This framework has the potential to open up new discussion and analysis for new areas. It is based on study of the audience’s capability to construct meanings form the language of media. Social constructions are lifted of a critical discourse analysis from certain area in communication.

            The dominant fields that utilize critical discourse analysis are those that is with linguistic orientation. The application of this method involves areas that are not necessarily within the linguistics proper but gave special attention to ideological and political dimensions of media messages (Jensen & Jankowski 2002, p. 110). The discourse analysis is not focused on language alone. It examines the context of the communication in terms of which the communicator is, what is the motivation for communication, what society and situation exists and through what medium. This approach also analyzes the differences between the types and acts of communication and their relationship with each other. For example, music and pictures that are combined with language reveals a different meaning according to the choices involved (Cook 1992, p. 1).

            The discourse approach is considered as an alternative to content analysis (Jensen & Jankowski 2002, p. 109). There are a variety of fields that used the discourse approach. Critical discourse analysis is characterized by its focus on the text and the relationship of theories that are developed to form different dimensions of discourse. This method recognizes that the text and discourse were complex. It is also not limited to the analysis of the text but to the study of the relationship between the structures of the text and the discourse that exists towards it.

Analytical Comparison

            The commonality between content analysis and critical discourse analysis involves the focus on the text. However, the latter evolved into analyzing the discourses that are created about the text. Content analysis focuses and uses discourse to analyze a text. Discourse analysis involves the evaluation of the existing theories and concepts that are created from the text. More than the dissection of the text to reveal its contents, critical discourse analysis evaluates and reviews the studies and theories that existed regarding certain textual issues.

            Both approaches are also utilized, in one-way or another, the study of linguistics in order to explore the text and the discourse. Content analysis uses linguistic concepts to reflect the hidden messages of the text. Word usage, sentence construction and so on involved linguistic concepts. On the other hand, critical discourse analysis uses linguistic theories in collaboration with theories from other branches of communication to analyze a discourse or to offer an alternative one.

In this paper, the critical discourse analysis is utilized to reveal the significance of indigenous language in the advertising communication processes. The relationship between the text and the context is revealed through this methodological framework. The Nigerian advertisements will be explored through this approach through an examination of the existing discourses regarding the impact of the choice of language in advertising messages.



Language and advertising are critically interrelated when it comes to the matter of selling products or services to the local people. The degree of the relationship between language and advertising relies on the power and significance of the language used to advertise according to the cultural values and structure of the target market. This study will analyze the discourse of advertising theories according to language. It will unveil the impact of indigenous language in the outcome of advertising activities through the analysis of communication theories since advertising messages constituted a specific form of communication that stimulated the audience into purchasing what the advertisers were selling.

Evolution of Advertising in Nigeria

            This discourse analysis needs to be based on the foundations of the historical development of advertising in the country. The evolution of the advertising in Nigeria represents the reception of advertising in the society.  Furthermore, this development will also reveal the significant transitions in the choice of language that is used through this historical review of the discourse. Advertising is perceived as a field in the Nigerian society that had begun from a simple enterprise. It is mentioned that marketing concepts were secondary and were neglected in the 1980s (Ogwo 1987, p. 74). From there, it is able to grow into a burgeoning, complex, modern and giant industry that was composed of a variety of specialists that worked on separate but collective tasks. These tasks involve the utilization of the needs of the economic demands of the country and translating them into concepts that were used for advertising.

            The close of the 20th century serves as the turning point for this phenomenal growth. It is reasonably accurate to conclude that advertising has not only come full circle, but that it has come of age. Time and distance used to be barriers in the distribution of advertisement messages. However, modern technology has created a global community wherein these messages could be sent to the entire world within a matter of seconds. Modern communication technologies help transformed the world into a global village wherein vast opportunities that were unknown in the past were already readily offered today.

The industrial revolution in the 18th century paved the way for mass production of goods. Since there was a supply, there was a need to create or increase the existing demand.  As a result of the revolution, large quantities of industrial and consumer goods were left unsold and many companies were under the pressure of disposing of these unsold stocks, which meant added cost and other attendant’s problems.  A need arose to stimulate demand and widen the market.  Thus, the need for a vehicle to communicate product information to people who hitherto knew nothing about them emerged.  Advertising became the tool to create mass awareness, convey information and education about goods and services towards extending the markets.

In Nigeria, the earliest advertisement is known through foreign agencies for multinational companies. According to Okigbo (1990), the leading advertising houses were D. K. Keymer and Company Limited. It was West Africa Publicity Limited that led the way in 1929 in the establishment of an agency structured along the professional lines that were similarly obtained in Europe and America.  They were assisted through the inspiring efforts of its overseas connection and thus the established local agency was able to satisfy the needs of its parent company, the United Africa Company (UAC). The earliest form of international business branding was through use of neon sign. This sign paved the way for the establishment of newly emerging media communications.

Predating the age of advertising businesses in Nigeria, the print media was the earliest forms of mass communication that the country was exposed to. Reverend Henry Townsend established the first newspaper in the country in December 1859 as a result of t the installation of the Printing Press Calabar by the Presbyterian Church in 1846. The newspaper called “Iwe Iroyin” was published in Abeokuta.   Iwe Iroyin and others that followed carried announcements about births, confirmation, and other news. It could be regarded as the first major medium of advertising in Nigeria.

The year 1863 was witness to yet another birth of a newspaper in Nigeria, called “Anglo African.”  Robert Campbell served as its founder. The 19th century witnessed the establishment of many more newspapers.  They included the “Lagos Times”, the “Gold Coast Advertiser”, established in 1880, and the “Lagos Observer” by its publisher, Bogan Benjamin in 1882. Soon the “Eagle” was established, followed by Owen McCauley’s “Lagos Critic” in 1883.  Most of these early newspapers were short-lived because they did not develop the flair for attracting advertising support. This reflected the earliest necessity for the development of a localized discipline of advertising strategies.

Specifically in 1932, a new dimension was added to advertising with emergence of radio in Nigeria, through the establishment of the British Empire Service.  The first Radio Distributor Service (Redifussion) was established in Lagos in 1936.  Within the first decade, the coverage area increased and delivered mass audience to advertisers.  The existing Redifussion was later converted into a fully operative radio station in 1952 turning the radio to be the first mass appeal advertising medium in Nigeria, as it was capable of reaching consumers both in rural and urban of the country.

The year 1959 marked a landmark in the development of advertisement in Nigeria.  Nigeria came in contact with television for the first time.  The Western Nigeria Government through the establishment of the Western Nigeria Broadcasting Television Service (WNBS/WNTV) made this possible.  The first commercial on WNTV was for Star Beer and Krola soft drink. Christ Doghudje called this historic advertisement, “the one-hour musical show was interspersed with spots extolling the virtues of Star Beer and Krola.” The advertisement became the precursor to the official approval of the use of television for advertising.

The Eastern and Northern regions also established their own radio and television stations; this widened the scope and dimension of opportunities in the advertisement in Nigeria. The increase in the media environment in Nigeria today has created a broad access of range to the advertisers to penetrate the wider market locally, nationally and internationally. A significant point in the development of advertising in Nigeria was the promulgation of the Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree in 1972, which became operative in 1974.  The transfer of ownership of foreign-based agencies to Nigerians was due to the legislation of this decree.

The existence of the global village and the market that was found within it through global trade liberalization emerged the trend for the affiliations of local agencies with multinational conglomerates. Most of the top agencies in Nigeria were associated with a foreign link. This relationship helped them to have access to training facilities that were available for the international agencies.

 It also assisted in the securing and maintaining accounts of multi-national companies at a local level in these international markets. This was done through “plugging in” the international corporations into the country’s market through local agencies.  The spurring of the Nigerian advertising industry was implicitly linked with the association of local agencies with international conglomerates. This re-engineered their operations and expanded it through the super information highway, the Internet and adopted new communication technologies to tap into the fullest level of bi-lateral business opportunities.

In the early period of the subsistence economy, advertising was in a rudimentary form, according to the traces of its practice that existed in Nigeria.  It was aiding consumer choice of information about goods and services. Advertising messages and their outcomes were being exchanged between producers and buyers. Just as it was in Europe, three forms of advertising could be recognized in Nigeria as being dormant; trade marks, signs and town-criers.

Trademarks were imprints of a particular producer that were embossed on a good to identify one producer from the other. In order to reflected excellence in artistry and craftsmanship, early artisans like potters, weavers, and goldsmiths displayed their individual marks in their products. This was to show the pride and ownership they had in their crafts.  As these marks became popular, people develop an attraction as well as a familiarity for a certain product trademark, thus invariably leading to increased patronage for such products.  The resultant effect was growth in the reputation of such craftsmen.

This system was not different from the present day practice of tilting purchases in favor of some goods with a particular trademarks and brand names.  For example, automobiles like Peugeot and others have registered trademarks, which no other company can use. The same thing applied to companies producing consumer products like West African Portland Portland Cement Plc. Other service organizations like educational institutions and even political parties nowadays have their distinct marks.

Signs were equivalent to the modern outdoor advertising in their time that invited attention. Phoenician traders painted commercial messages on prominent rocks along trade routes or on the walls of buildings. Sometimes, they were painted on planks or metal sheets, which they used as signboards.  These messages extolled the virtues of wares that were for sale. Today, not only were there more than eight types of billboards; creativity has been added into the way this form of advertising was used as typified by the modern illuminated signboard, which captures attention and directs prospective consumers to particular site.

The image of town crier was that of someone who helped diffuse an important message to the community. In fact, the town crier could be regarded as the earliest form of media advertisement to have been invented by the indigenous people of Africa principally to inform the people.  The system was akin to a public service announcement.  For example, it conveyed information about events such as inter tribal wars, disasters, and special communal ceremonies.

Soon, commercialization of the services that the town criers gave was observed.  Shopkeepers and importers of merchandise hired men with pleasant voices to walk through the streets of a town and shout or sing sales messages.  The town criers were largely supplanted by the radio.  Yet, it was still prevalent to see traders hawking goods in cities, towns and villages and calling attention to their wares through the same method employed by the town criers. Advertising methods tend to reflect the level of development of a society at a given time. The country has thus moved rapidly from the earliest forms of rudimentary practices to much more advanced methods of advertising.

It was important to consider the earliest forms of advertisements in Nigeria and acknowledge that these methods worked. Trademarks, signs and town criers made use of communication to advertise and promote the products or services that were being offered. Through visual and verbal communication, the earliest forms of advertisement had the goal of creating awareness for the products or the services offered.

A review of the evolution of advertising in Nigeria reflected the choice of language that was used. It would be safe to say that these basic forms of advertising originally used indigenous language. Trademarks and signs would probably reflect something that was familiar to the local people because those that created these symbols were also residents or member of the same societies. If the merchant came from another place, the symbols would probably appear foreign and unfamiliar to the consumers.

Town criers were also presumed to be crying out in their local language. It would be odd to have someone run through town announcing of a war or a death from a different language. Indigenous language was used in the earliest form of advertising because it was the language that the target audience would understand and relate to. It was the language that would enable message senders to achieve the goal of providing awareness because it should start with the awareness for the language being used.

Theoretical Concepts

            The discourse analysis involves an exploration of different theoretical concepts that will explain the significance of language choice in advertising. Theories are also presented in order to understand the role of indigenous language in communicating advertising messages in the context of a global community.

The Concept of Motivation

It is important to take into account the discussion of the concept of motivation, perception and learning when the issue of the connection between indigenous language and advertising is being raised.  The goal of advertising is to motivate behavior, which is to sell a product a service.  To accomplish this goal, according to Holtje (1978), it is important to have an understanding of the psychological and social forces that influence human behavior. Most behavior scientists agreed that, motivation generally includes those states often described as needs, wants, drives and urges.

Motivation is conceived of as a condition of tension within an individual, which institutes behavior to satisfy these states.  Language can produce motivation on a conscious or an unconscious level; that is individual may not be aware of the tension.  However, motivation is goal-oriented and can be classified as either primary or secondary. It can be assumed that without the motivation to buy the product or the services, the consumers would not do so. The creation of the motivation primarily relies on understanding that there is a need or a tension within individuals that will move them to a certain behavior. The primary motive included the physical basic and organic needs of the individual:

Hunger, thirst, and the avoidance of pain are some of the primary motives.  They are biologically based, and when their effects are felt, the individual is motivated to reduce tension by eating, drinking and staying away from the cause of pain (Holtje, 1978).

Furthermore, there were still needs that were beyond the basic necessities that are required for survival:

Secondary motivations include the wants and desires included by a social environment. The motivation is achieve success is imparted by culture in which we live.  In some primitive cultures, a person may strive to achieve high status by giving away his or her possession (Holtje, 1978).

The behavior of scientists according to Herbert (1981) have compiled lists of motives, but it would be misleading to assume that any such list could ever be complete.  The lists of motives vary according to specific cultures and many other conditions. It is more important to consider the particular list of motivations of the target market. When the psychologist said that behavior is motivation, they are implying that the individual is responding to stimulus.  The secondary motives are acquired through the senses; sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. However, the sensations produced by external stimuli are meaningless to the individual until they are selected from the great variety of other sensations organized and interpretation and were called perception.

Perception according to Noel (1993) was an individual activity, which linked the experiences of the senses with behavior:

A development in chemistry has made it possible to produce familiar smells in printing inks.  Thus, an advertiser trying to sell cookbooks through the mail might use ink with an alternative food smell.  The reader senses the smell as the ad reads.  The organisational process of perception arouses interest and the selling job is enhanced by the smell.  Perception has helped to organise the sensation of smell into something meaningful an inducement to buy the book.

Some aspects of behavior such as breathing or eliminating wastes from the body are unlearned.  Others, that included perception, in part dependent on previous learning. Such learning is the result of the pairing of a stimulus with a response. The associations that are formed in this process are usually learned when the individual was in a motivated state (Herbert, 1981).

Learning takes place as the result of both symbolic and direct experience. In order for learning to occur, there must be a particular motive involved in psychological terms, this is called reinforcement.  If a certain kind of behavior satisfies a motive and achieves the goal, when the same need arises in the future, the individual will try to reduce the tension by repeating the same act that was successful previously. McGraw reflected on the power of reinforcement advertising to gain sales from the consumers:

Advertisers depend upon reinforcement to build repeat sales for their products when a particular brand of cigarette tastes better than another to a smoker, he or she will buy that brand again and again.  Reading and advertisement for the brand that is being smoked will also serve to reinforce secondary motives and tend to enhance the chances that the brand will continue to be purchased.

Much effort according to Wilson (1976) is expanded to help consumers learn to like and buy specific products, but one of the problems the advertisers faces is forgetfulness. People forget as much as 60 percent of what they may have learned just one hour later. More will be forgotten as more time passes but it was important to note that pleasant material was remembered longer than unpleasant material.

            Language played a significant factor in the ability of advertisements to be remembered by the consumers. The consumers need to be familiar with the language for it to stick to their memories. A French person will most likely remember a advertising copy that was in French, than that an advertising copy than that in Italian. The motivation theory reflected the reason why advertisers saw the need in presenting the advertising messages in the local language of the community they were targeting.

Social Category Theory

            Before the First World War, it is believed that man is born with specific behavior characteristics as well as a distinctive language.  The scholars later started to find out why people behaved and reacted in a way that they did. They realized that people behaved differently from their understanding through their language.  They also found out that man’s environment determines their behavior.  Since human beings are born under different environments, they are bound to behave and react to stimuli differently. There are differences in the reactions to stimuli that come to them in their own languages and those that come to them in a foreign one.

Human beings learn from their environment. They learn to react to stimuli in a different manner because of differences in immediate environments. This also applied to their reaction to the media.  Differences in the individuals are also affected by their exposure and interpretation of the messages of the mass media. The Mass media audience is not monolithic; it composes of different individuals with different behaviors.

The social category theory is relevant in this discussion in terms of the understanding of social groups. Motivation involves psychological concepts but the relationship between humans and their environment revolves around sociological concepts.  This reflects that human beings are not just individuals, but they belonged to groups.  For example, it is more likely for members of one particular tribe to react and behave in almost the same way to the message sent to them in their own language. The main premise of the theory is that people who have similar characteristics will likely behave or react in the same way.

However, as mentioned earlier, advertising did not only motivate behavior but it takes into consideration some other factors which include needs, urges, wants, drives and above all the social-economic standing of consumers. This presented the potential of advertising to utilize indigenous language as a major catalyst, by which advert messages could be effectively passed across to the people, most especially at the grass root level.

The Communication Process in Advertising

Communication is the mold from which advertising is cast.  In every advertising activity, the message is believed to be the bottom line. The words and images that combine together to influence opinion regarding the products, services and images that would be stripped off of significant meaning will make the efforts futile. Messages are the blood vessel of advertising and communication stands as its reason d’être, its very essence, its hallmark and its spin. Since communication is at the heart of advertising, communication processes naturally, should be expected to govern message development and dissemination in advertising.

            The communication process requires a source or a message sender, embodied by an individual or an organization. Through symbols or stimuli, the source would share meaning through sending a message through a channel towards a receiver. Each element in the communication process reflects that messages are sent in different codes and transmitted through different channels. Nevertheless, the basic elements of the communication process remain uniform when it included the source, the message, the channel and the receiver, and in some cases the feedback. The distinction for the communication process that is used in advertising is not in the elements but in the intention for communication.

 The message is constructed in such a way that it is persuasive and that it will be remembered. The success of the communication in advertising is reliant on the understanding of the special problems. For the sake of this discussion, the problem in the message is observed in the language barrier that is encountered in the process. If the receiver did not receive the message in an effective manner, the communication process has failed in the purpose of creating an understanding for the sender’s message.

Advertising and the Indigenous Language

            Despite the fact that a global village was created through the globalization of economic practices, communication still needed to be customized according to the language of the target market or the country wherein advertisements took place. Global companies advertised beyond their home countries. They also needed to consider the distribution element of the marketing strategies in other countries. Language barriers needed to be overcame in order to provide an effective advertisement (Arens 2004, p. 19).

There are different definitions that were given for the concept of “indigenous language.” Macro Pel and Frank Gaynor describes it as “system of communication by sound, through the organs of speech and hearing among human beings of a certain group of community, using vocal symbols possessing arbitrary conventional meaning.” On the other hand, W. N. Francies characterizes it as an arbitrary system of spoken sounds used by a group of humans to carry on the affairs of society.

Language as a human speech is a powerful facility with which human beings are endowed; its origin is shrouded in darkness.  Anthropologist’s accounts, however,  revealed that from all indications, it evolved from both the Neanderthal man whose bones are found in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, and the Cro-Magnon man who lived in South Western Europe. In the late 19th Century, the French Academy reportedly became so disgusted with wild speculation in the theories that it forbade any further paper to be presented to it on the issue (Willis, Op cit: 132). However, like many other phenomena in life, language has its own peculiarities.  Since it is an important means of communication and its uses a form of behavior, advertisers must strive know what these peculiarities are:

First, it is necessary to be noted that language involves speech, sounds and meaning. The use of verbal language in communication entails the encoding of ideas that are sent by the source or speaker in speech, sound and transmission through vocal mechanisms to the eardrums of listener who receives the signals and invests them with meanings.

 Customarily, the advertiser and the consumer do not have close relationship; hence one of the primary problems in the advertising communication process is the translation of the advertising message or information about a product from the language of the advertiser to the language of the consumer. It is believed that centrality of language to communication most especially advertising messages will have been realized that language as the best natural facility available will explicate the meaning of such messages.

Roget (1982) analyzed the role of language differently, he wrote:

The use of language is not confined to its being the medium through which we communicate our ideas to one another it fulfills a no less important function as an instrument of thought not being merely its vehicle but giving it wings for flight. If reasoning is appreciated as a form of interpersonal communication necessary to the externalization of people’s thoughts, this point will be most valued.

In another dimension, the use of language in advertising communication, which could be seen as something that naturally involved abstraction. Abstraction is a process of selecting or rejecting words due to the limitation of language and our sensory organs.  It is true that our brains and other sensory organs can abstract only little information from what we perceive at any time.  It is on the basis of this abstraction that one draws the conclusion about what people see and understand.

The nature of certain words contributes to abstraction in language because while words are naturally abstractive, some are more so than others.  Consequently, the more abstractive a word is, the farther receivers are from understanding the reality that language attempts to describe. This means that when communicators used indigenous language, the message is being passed to the consumer is clearer, thus becoming more meaningful to them.

Therefore, communicating in an indigenous language to create a need or reinforce the need for certain products, services or ideas, makes it necessary to communicate with them in a descriptive manner to evoke or recreate the sensation, in the mind of the listeners. One noticeable implication of abstraction in language involves the frequent indulgence in categorical thinking and generalization it has engendered.  It must be pointed out that categorical thinking and generalization of this kind is an act of inference because when people are talking about the unknown, they will indulge on the observable characteristics of such unfamiliar things.

The use of indigenous language is very important when discussing the practice of advertising, especially in a global level. Indigenous language is believed to be the admixture of social conventions and practices, which have become sharpened and blended into veritable communication modes and, which have almost become standard practice for society (Wilson, 1990: 28). However, indigenous media vary from one locality to the other.  In media, the placement of advertising for local people needs to be consistently identified with the local media.

Prospects and Challenges

            Global advertisers use the foreign media or the local media of the target country in order to connect with the targeted consumers or businesses within a single country. The local media caters to their local audience. Advertisers produce the ads in the language of the countries they target, in order to establish connections and guarantee that the messages they send will potentially is understood by the audience.

            The trends in Nigerian advertising reflect that advertisers (local or foreign) see the benefits of an integrated communication strategy. This can diversify what they were offering while enabling specialized agencies to evolve (Kaynak & Alozie 2009, p. 31).  Currently, conventional advertising dominated Nigerian advertising. Indigenous agencies are gearing up to enter the global mass media by forming partnerships with foreign agencies (Kaynak & Alozie 2009, p. 31).

Macbride Commission Report extensively discusses the importance of indigenous language with antecedent relevant. The Commission suggests that the indigenous language needs to be recognized because it helps in the development of the local setting and it is highly welcome by the people. In advertising, it will amount to unnecessary waste of scarce resources in view of their appropriateness to diverse audience if the message are not concisely brought down to the level of language understand by the people the advert is aiming at.  Besides a balance in the use of the small and the big media the report points out that, the use of indigenous language will promote a broader, horizontal communication. For effective advertising communication, there are three fundamental challenges, by which a communicator must have effectively address in order to create successful advertisements:

  1. It be designed and delivered to gain attention of the receiver.
  2. It uses, shared signal by both parties; the source and the receiver, and
  3. It must arouse needs in the receiver and suggest some ways of satisfying these needs that are appropriate to the receiver’s group situation when moved to take the desired response.

These three requirements are condensed to form the first rule of effective advertising communication, which is to “know your audience.” The old-fashioned way to reveal advertisement messages also associates the product or service with a sense of tradition (Cook 1994, p. 84). The use of indigenous language is seen to be effective because of its relevance to the audience. This language is also seen to have a voice of authority among the local members of the community. It is perceived to be personal and thus giving a sense of security to the audience about patronizing the advertised product or service (Cook 1994, p. 90).

Signs and language are held at the utmost importance in Nigerian advertisements. If the signs lack  meaning, the audience’s attention cannot be gained.  It is also important to note that beyond the language used, the interpretation and the reception of the word choice needs to be considered in terms of the context of the indigenous language. Even if the audience can understand the statements, the message can be misinterpreted when the context that came across is erroneous. This is a challenge that is posed for cultures that are unfamiliar to the advertiser. The reproach was that:

We should also realize that the meaning of a message is not merely the combined meaning of the words used in an oral communication, such as a brief radio announcement, meaning is conveyed by the timing, the patterns of emphasis, the information’s and the quality of the announcer’s voice.  Even in a purely verbal printed mass communication, such as a newspaper’s advertisement without illustrations, the reader derives meaning from the size of the advertising, the size and design of the type, the position of the advertising on the page and the page within the paper.

It is in the view of Schramm that the typical channel of communication should best be seen, as simple as a telegraph circuit, in which current does or does not flow. The best approach should be to see channel or medium as a sort of coaxial cable in which signals flow in parallel from source toward destination. In this discourse analysis, language plays a huge role in the success of the communication between the advertisers and the society.


Through a discourse analysis, preliminary findings emerged for the significant relationship between the uses of indigenous language in advertisement communications. The findings reflects the overall importance of indigenous language in the process of creating advertisements through a review of the history of Nigerian advertising and the presentation of theoretical concepts that revealed the relationship of advertising and language.

The mass audience that the advertisers need to address consisted of individuals who possess different motivations. They perceive, learn and hold opinions, attitudes, beliefs and prejudices.  All these factors create difficulty in the communication process. In order to establish a connection beyond these barriers, the advertisers needs to find a common ground by which they can relate to the consumers. The use of indigenous language when properly identified will, in the long run,  create more meaning  advertising messages.

In order to effectively recognize the target market, exploration of the languages serves as representation of the society. Language does not only serve as a bridge for the communication of words. It also creates an understanding for the culture of the community and the advertising approaches that are applicable for them. Using indigenous language to address a market will establish a connection by which advertising practitioners essentially need to send effective messages and to produce an impact. Knowing the indigenous language is not enough for the creation of effective advertisement messages. The practitioners needed to understand, appreciate and respect the indigenous language in order effectively utilize the language for their benefit.

 Overall, the goal of advertising is still to move the consumer to buy the products and patronize the services. The consumers need to understand the message before they could recognize that they have a need for the product or the service.  The recognition of the need and acting on this recognition is essential in advertising. More than understanding the message, advertising objectives requires action from the consumers. The advertisers need to present a message that could be understood and they need to present a message that could influence the audience to act according to the advertisers’ intentions.

Preliminary findings from the discourse analysis pointed out that the use of indigenous language in advertising messages is used in the earliest forms of advertisements in Nigeria. It is something that both local and foreign advertisers acknowledge to be effective.  The influences of indigenous language create a better package of advertising in the aim of properly disseminating the information about a product, service or idea targeted to the local people.


The discourse analysis is an effective research method that reveals the relationship between indigenous language and advertising. It is something that could be stretched according to the availability of resources. It is also a flexible methodological framework because it targets the text and the context in a wholistic manner. Further research could be done to include the perception of Nigerian locals on foreign advertisements. Since the use of indigenous language already received initial investigation, it will be productive to investigate the use of foreign language as a point of comparison. The effectiveness of indigenous language in Nigerian advertisements could be further established with a comparison to the use of other languages.

The recommendations for further research involved an effective study for receiving and measuring feedback for the messages the audience receive using indigenous language. It was also beneficial to structure future studies that would expound on multicultural advertising and benefits of the creation of a cultural profile of the country in relation to communication processes.


Arens, William (2004). Contemporary Advertising, McGraw Hill Irwin, New York.

Berelson, Bernard (1952).  Content Analysis in Communication Research, Free Press, New York.

Bidemi, Osunbiyi (1999) Advertising Principles and Practice, Gbenga Gbesan Associates, Abeokuta, Nigeria.

Cook, Guy (1992), This Discourse of Advertising. Routledge, New York.

Dyer, Gillian. (1982) Advertising as Communication (University Paperbacks). Routledge, USA.

Jensen, Klaus and Jankowski, Nick (2002). A Handbook of Qualitative Methodologies for Mass Communication, Routledge, New York.

Kaynak, Erdener and Alozie, Emmanuel (2009). Marketing in Developing Countries: Nigerian Advertising in a Global and Technological Economy. Routledge, New York.

Kahle, Lynn, Beatty, Sharon, and Mager, John (1994). ‘Implications of Social Values for Consumer Communications: The Case of the European Community’ in Global and Multi-National Advertising, Englis, Basil (Ed). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ.

Malickson, David, and John Nason (1982). Advertising: How to Write the Kind that Works. Scribner’s, New York.

Moolj, Marieke (1998). Global Marketing and Advertising: Understanding Cultural Paradoxes. Sage Publications, California.

Ogwo, Ogwo, E. (1987), ‘The Status of Marketing in Nigerian Small Business.’ Journal of Small Business Management, Vol. 25, No. 64, pp. 64 +.

Schultz, Beth, (2001) ‘Language and the Natural Environment’, in The Environmental Reader, Language, Ecology and Environment, Continuum Publishing Company, USA, p. 109.

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