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Culturally Correct?

Advertising to a multicultural Canada


By Whitney Stinson



According to Statistics Canada, 1.4 million immigrants entered Canada between 2001 and 2006. Are Canadian magazines including ads to catch their attention? There’s one publication that has every reason to do so.

Canadian Immigrant Magazine has its bases covered, say Diane Amato and Mark Whitmell, marketing directors at Royal Bank of Canada. They say the Torstar-owned magazine is thriving on a new advertising strategy that caters to the needs of new Canadians and their struggles settling into new homes. Amato and Whitmell say they gladly pay for the cheap space in Canadian Immigrant Magazine.

While most companies are crudely translating their mainstream commercials into different languages and trying to pass them off as cultural advertising, RBC is creating numerous advertisements using different ethnic talents and the specific dialects of the target audience’s language, says Kathy Cheng, associate vice-president of Ipsos Reid. And when the bank needed relevant research, it turned to Ipsos Reid’s marketing research sector for guidance.
Companies have always marketed demographically, but two years ago, Ipsos began researching target marketing to different ethnic communities. What started out as an experimental project has expanded into a multi-million dollar enterprise. Cheng volunteered to work on RBC’s requests for syndicated studies of its multicultural campaign two years ago and became one of Ipsos’ trailblazers in her quest for new research on Canada’s immigrant communities.

“Clients always want to see what kind of differences you have to pay attention to so they can modify the product or messages differently,” Cheng explains. “But the biggest finding was what different groups share in common is more important than what is different across the groups.” Cheng says that people who have been in Canada one year, whether from China or India or elsewhere, will have the same needs, including opening a bank account and applying for a credit card.

Once the results came in to RBC, Amato and Whitmell were hard at work with the launch of their Welcome to Canada campaign, featuring products specifically geared to newcomers. Canadian Immigrant Magazine runs these advertisements as a way to attract its target audience. A 2003 Statistics Canada study showed advertisements in Canadian magazines accounted for over 60 per cent of a publication’s revenue; advertising revenues hit $993.5 million that year. Marketing Magazine published an article in January 2006 protesting the lack of diversity in North American ads, but the idea of cultural advertising suggests companies could benefit from targeting specific communities.

Albert Yue is the president of Dynasty Advertising, an agency that focuses on Chinese and South Asian culture. As a long-time advertiser, Yue has seen a rise in interest over the past two years. “I think advertising has to be based on what the product has to offer,” Yue says. “There are many companies now tailoring their products to attract the growing cultural or ethnic group.”
Yue says advertising ethnically is not a new idea, but it’s still a concept that most companies have yet to tap into.

Dynasty and RBC have launched many campaigns with the message that RBC can get newcomers set up. They used the correct language and ethnic talent, and two years later, Whitmell says the results have been overwhelming.

“People are saying things like, ‘We love your TV spots, they help give us the confidence to make the right decisions’,” says Whitmell. “I hear that and think, ‘That’s exactly what we wrote in the marketing brief’. So the message that we wanted to get across is exactly what the target audience is saying back to me and I just think, ‘Can it get better than that?’”

There’s an undeniable power in authenticity, and Yue believes the lack thereof can hurt a company’s credibility when trying to target a specific group.

“Some companies slap on some Asian faces or translate the English ad and say, ‘Sure, this is cultural market advertising’,” he says. “That market will laugh at it and say, ‘This is silly. You really think you understand me?’”

Tim Blackmore, a media professor at University of Western Ontario in London hasn’t yet brought this new approach to niche marketing into his lecture hall, and suggests it may encourage the separation of communities throughout Canada.

Regardless of his stance, Blackmore is not surprised by this cultural approach to marketing. He says that niche marketing has become more aggressive in the past 10 years.

“Targeting different uses and needs from each group…it’s racial profiling of a kind,” he says. “It’s the next step to moving closer and closer to getting the group you want, so you can squeeze every last nickel out of these people.”