January 20, 2021 admin


Last week someone asked me a very simple question – Why aren’t more companies engaging in multicultural marketing?  The numbers are clear – one in five Canadians is foreign-born, equivalent to the size of the population of Quebec.  1.2 million Permanent Residents will be arriving over the next three years, and 640,000 International Students are coming here for college and university, with a growing percentage staying post-graduation.  The same question was raised recently in the United States by a group of the leading multicultural Agencies, and the CMOs of some of America’s largest brands, from CPG to auto.  Their rallying cry was that corporations needed to do more.  They indicated that American corporations were spending only 5% on ethnic marketing.  Their position was that the investment should be equivalent to the size of the ethnic population.  In Canada, that would translate into 20% of everyone’s budget – growing yearly.  Many corporations aren’t even spending the 5% quoted in the States.

My friend said, surely with the recent headlines, statements and commitments to the BIPOC communities, we will see a change.  I certainly hope so – it all depends on leadership from the top.


Our experience is that significant investment in ethnic communities, for the most part, must start with the President/CEO or CMO.  We’ve been retained by companies because the CEO understood the opportunity behind the numbers, and multicultural marketing became item #18 out of 20 for that year’s priorities.  Another CEO said, “I asked my brand team to implement a multicultural marketing program last year and nothing happened.  This year we’re going to tax those brands and make sure the job gets done.”  Another said, “We’ve been around for decades and decades.  Most Canadian-born consumers within our bullseye target audience know about us and our brands.  The real opportunity begins with Newcomers.”


We’ve also heard the exact opposite position from other CEOs.  They say, “We have other priorities.  We’re already reaching them with our mainstream advertising.”  When we evangelize about the multicultural opportunity, the name of our talk is – “The Changing Face of Canada: The Why & The ROI”.  We never suggest corporations engage in multicultural marketing because it is the “right thing to do” from a CSR perspective.  It’s always about the business case for so doing.  We do so because we know the math bears us out.  It’s not only the large numbers that these communities consist of – it’s also the fact that in many categories they over-index in likelihood to purchase, due to the “cultural baggage” that they’ve brought from home.  They also provide greater R.O.H. – Return on Household – as they tend to have more people in the home, 2.4 versus 3.12.  They also have more kids in the home.


In terms of reaching them through mainstream media – yes, this is okay for some – but for most you are losing significant share-of-voice.  Nineteen percent of the Chinese community don’t speak English.  Even those who do spend 50% of their time in-language on Chinese social media.  The behemoth of them all globally – WeChat – has over a million subscribers, of the approximately 1.6 million Chinese consumers.




Some marketers would concede on the Chinese front but argue that they are reaching other ethnic communities with mainstream media and in English.  The reality is that while English is not a barrier to communicating with the 1.9 million South Asians, the 1.2 million Blacks, and the 700,000 Filipinos, and so on – that doesn’t mean you are reaching them in the advertising medium they are consuming, nor with a relevant message.  The best example of this is what has happened in Brampton where despite proficiency in English, the social distancing message didn’t get through and it became a pandemic hotspot.  Part of the reason is the fact that many of the residents are frontline workers, but equally a factor is the reality that the message wasn’t delivered in a culturally relevant context to a community where being social in large groups is an inherent part of the culture.


We conducted a research study during COVID of Chinese and South Asian behaviours, and one of the key findings was the fact that ethnic communities’ consumption of cultural media only increased.  TV and radio anchors within these communities are key opinion leaders.  Ethnic consumers value the opinion of these Influencers.  In Canada, a recent WARC study showed that Influencer effectiveness is 10%, 12% in the United States, and then 44% for Filipinos, 23% for Chinese, and 30% for South Asians.


In fact, 76% of Newcomers and 71% of immigrant consumers in general prefer to speak a language other than English or French at home.


Some CEOs and marketers face multicultural marketing with trepidation because they fear making a mistake and being called out.  It has been said that Google Translator isn’t a good multicultural strategy and that it’s just as important to be “in culture” as it is to be “in language”.  We would agree with those marketers that it’s important to not only not say something inappropriate, but to also go one step further and to be culturally relevant.  In fact, a recent October 2020 study revealed that ads perceived to have high cultural relevance are twice as likely to enhance brand perception, three times more likely to be effective as compared to brands with low cultural relevance, and three times more likely to lift purchase intent.


And for those CEOs and marketers who say “I have other priorities as it is more important to target Millennials or Gen Z-ers”, here are the numbers:  30% of Millennials in Canada are ethnic, the number for Gen Z-ers is 26%.  These numbers continue to grow every year.


To quote Marc Pritchard, the CMO of Procter & Gamble in the United States: “If you aren’t doing multicultural marketing, you aren’t doing marketing”.