Multicultural Marketing: The Visible Majority

Still segmenting your multicultural outreach from your 'regular' work?

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Still segmenting your multicultural outreach from your ‘regular’ work?

At every turn, Bobby Sahni says he can see the cultural diversity of Canada’s largest city reflected back at him, whether it’s the people he passes on the street, the food he eats, music he listens to, clothes he buys or events he attends. “I use my niece as an example. She is at a Montessori school in Mississauga and the school concert at Christmas is more of a holiday concert in which all the practices of the cultural communities within the school are represented, from Ashura to Hanukkah,” says Sahni, senior manager and head of multicultural marketing for Toronto-based Rogers Communications. “Children are learning about different cultures at a young age, and as marketers we need to pick up on that because they are our future customers. We need to recognize that the definition of who is Canadian—or what it means to be Canadian—is changing.”

For marketers it begs the question: who is the “typical” Canadian consumer today? And who will that person be in the not-so-distant future? According to recently revealed results from the 2011 Census, the country’s population totalled 33.5 million, an increase of almost 6% since the 2006 Census. While that growth rate is highest among all of the G8 countries, Doug Norris, SVP and chief demographer at Environics Analytics, says the growth isn’t because of the country’s birth rate, which has been in precipitous decline since the 1960s (see chart on pg. 59).

Environics attributes two-thirds of Canada’s current population growth to immigration, led by new Canadians coming from the Philippines (see sidebar on pg. 62). And more than one out of three newcomers land in one of the country’s three largest cities: Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal. While 2011 Census figures that break down the country’s ethnic make-up won’t be released until later this year, Statistics Canada forecasts that 63% of the population in Toronto, 59% in Vancouver and 31% in Montreal will belong to a visible minority group by 2031. “Together, these changes will have a profound impact on the Canadian marketplace,” says Norris. “Many companies will need to target their products and services based on the new realities of the Canadian landscape in order to thrive.”

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However, executives at multicultural ad agencies say that, outside of telcos and financial institutions, Fortune 500 companies have been slow to respond to the demographic shift. But that’s starting to change. Automakers, for example, are showing signs of catching on. For the first time last year, Nissan Canada allocated a portion of its traditional advertising budget to reach South Asians.

Research showed that South Asians coming to Canada are comfortable with a Japanese vehicle brand, says Judy Wheeler, director of marketing for Nissan Canada. A media strategy including TV, digital and social media was developed to ensure Nissan is at the top of the consideration list. Dv8 Global Media Communication is Nissan Canada’s agency of record for the South Asian market and works closely with Nissan’s traditional ad agency, TBWA.

“One of the first things South Asians do after getting a job when they come to this country is buy a car,” says Wheeler. “South Asians have extended families—the average family is 5.6 people, with a husband and wife, two kids and at least one parent—so they need a vehicle to fit their lifestyle. We focus on those kinds of vehicles in our ads.”

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Nissan Canada’s South Asian-targeted communications also focus on in-vehicle technology and all-wheel-drive systems. “South Asians like technology, and most of them also come from countries without winter weather so they feel safer with all-wheel drive,” says Wheeler. While she admits it can be difficult to track the success of ethnic media campaigns, she says “we’re hearing from dealerships that we’re bringing more of this targeted demographic into our showrooms. So we know that it is working.”

Clorox Company of Canada also invested in ethnic marketing for the first time last year, following a company leadership meeting in which multicultural marketing was put on the proverbial table. “As the consumer landscape in Canada is changing, we felt we had to make some fundamental changes to our business model,” explains Kaery Lall, shopper marketing team leader at Clorox, who had ethnic marketing added to his portfolio. “We saw the country is letting in about 250,000 immigrants every single year. So we want to make sure we are talking to those consumers in a way that we maybe haven’t done in the past.”

Clorox started by commissioning research from several firms, including Nielsen Canada. The firms zeroed in on the country’s two largest ethnic groups—South Asians and Chinese—to give Clorox a detailed picture of their demographics and psychographics, including their tastes and preferences in relevant product categories as well as what the immigrant experience is like for them.

The research was conducted from April 2011 to December 2011, but rather than wait to get back all the data, Clorox launched a limited-edition red water filter for its Brita brand in celebration of Chinese New Year. The decision was made based on the fact that Brita over-indexes among Chinese consumers and red is associated with good fortune, especially during New Year celebrations. In just the first eight weeks of launch, Lall says the red filter became one of the fastest-selling Brita pitchers ever.

Now armed with the success of the campaign plus the now-completed research, “we have a full-blown multicultural strategy specifically targeted towards Chinese and South Asian Canadians,” says Lall. “We’re not just going to alter the packaging once and call that ethnic marketing. We’re aiming to create a long-term, meaningful relationship with these customers. They have unique needs, especially in the first five to 10 years of immigrating to Canada, in terms of their product education and usage.”

In its first tactic of a year-round communication strategy, Clorox was the presenting sponsor of the Chinese New Year: Carnival China 2012 event. Balmoral Marketing provided agency support. “There will be a lot more coming,” promises Lall. “We’re looking at [adding more resources] because we see such tremendous opportunity there.”

Clorox is an example of a company that has recently put a significant stake into multicultural marketing, which is needed for companies to really harness its potential, says Sharifa Khan, president and CEO of Balmoral Marketing. “In order to gain market share from this changing demographic landscape, there has to be attitudinal change from within a company—both top down and bottom up.”

And she says marketers also need to implement multicultural marketing not as a complementary initiative within the marketing mix, but as an important component within the overall marketing strategy from the get-go. She says that’s the only way brands will begin “to truly understand the reality and implication of the new mainstream.”

The Filipino Market is Bigger Than You Think

The “new mainstream” is a term often used by multicultural advocates to describe the coming demographic shift in urban centres, when visible minorities will become visible majorities. On the media front, there’s already been a blurring—or what some would characterize as a collision—between “traditional media” and “ethnic media.”

This past January, for instance, Global News launched a Mandarin-language evening newscast in both Calgary and Vancouver. A month before that, the Vancouver Sun launched a Chinese-language website,, meaning “Sun newspaper,” which combines the resources of Western Canada’s largest newsroom, national and international content from Agence France Presse’s Chinese-language division, plus a network of local and international bloggers.

Among ethnic media, Multimedia Nova Corporation, a diversity publisher and printer, along with a number of ethnic media partners, launched The Canadian Experience (, described as a “civil literacy project for the new mainstream.” The Epoch Times newspaper, meanwhile, publishes in Mandarin, but also has editions in English and French serving both Chinese and non-Chinese readers. Last year, it also undertook a Canadian Circulations Audit Board (CCAB) audit, the first and only Chinese-language daily newspaper in Canada to open its books to independent scrutiny.

Cindy Gu, publisher of The Epoch Times in Canada, says “the audit helps media buyers have confidence in the investments they make on behalf of clients” and also helps them evaluate the newspaper against similarly audited non-ethnic newspapers.

Within marketing departments, ethnic marketing has, for the most part, been segregated from the mainstream marketing function. But how long can the two be separated given the emergence of this new mainstream? It is an issue that even sophisticated multicultural marketers are addressing, including Rogers Communications (which owns Marketing magazine).

Rogers has a dedicated strategy and budget for multicultural marketing, which includes traditional advertising and community outreach and support. After the massive earthquake in Japan last year, for instance, Rogers provided a free preview of its TV Japan channel so digital cable customers in Ontario could stay up to date on news and information from Japan.

Increasingly, however, Rogers is looking at ways to integrate its ethnic communications into its mainstream advertising, whether it’s using more diverse talent in its TV spots or promoting multicultural programming on media properties like the TV Guide Network. “At Rogers, multicultural marketing has been a separate entity and mainstream marketing has been another entity,” says Sahni. “The opportunity has been a bit isolated, and it is time for those two worlds to collide and collaborate a little more, meaning in our mainstream communications you’ll see more reflections of the communities we serve.”

Perhaps because of the global nature of its money transfer business, Western Union has no need for a multicultural department, says Joycelyn David, the Edmonton-based director of product marketing for Western Union Financial Services Canada. “We essentially have an integrated marketing communications team, and the diversity of the team is something that is reflected in our media mix. Diversity is innate in everything we do across marketing and all our departments.”

Western Union relies on analytics to identify demographic trends and then tries to get into the mindset of its consumers through specific exercises. For instance, it arranges for its marketing executives to spend a day shadowing sales agents or call centre employees so they can get a sense of the issues customers face. That has led to the creation of a number of workshops, which Western Union holds across the country, ranging from those catering to caregivers in Canada to small business owners. Western Union works with agency AV Communications on ethnic marketing.

“A big part of our strategy has been a focus on community-based marketing because hearing the customers’ feedback and being able to respond to it is absolutely critical,” says David. “Canada is rapidly changing and welcoming new people every day to a big country with a small population and that is only going to continue. The challenge therein is understanding the insights behind the numbers.”

Of course, before advertisers can even start digging for consumer insights among visible minority groups, they need to first start recognizing the country’s urban centres are on the cusp of a new mainstream. “I stick by the quote which I’ve often said: in the future multicultural marketing will just be called marketing,” says Rogers’ Sahni. “The way I see it, all marketers will have to brush up on their multicultural marketing competencies.” 

For more insights on Canada’s multicultural consumer markets, subscribe to Marketing.

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