Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Honouring World TV Day (Nov 21) with the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Commercials

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 11.20.15


Want to know what makes a Multicultural Commercial Successful? Read Our Blog!

Want to know what makes a Multicultural Commercial Successful? Read our Blog!


When a company, or brand, is looking to sink some serious cash into a 30-sec. or 60-sec TV commercial, it better generate a buzz or make the cash registers ring. It’s high stakes in the TV world, but there is so much to be gained if you can pull it off. A good creative strategy will yield increased sales, increased awareness and it could very well be the defining moment for your business! That being said, we have some recommendations if you’re specifically trying to capture the hearts and minds, and dollars, of multicultural consumers.

In honour of World TV Day on Nov 21st, we have some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to culturally-focused TV commercials. After all, these are big dollars we’re talking about, and for all that expense and time, you want to have a commercial that will launch your brand into advertising history, not one that tosses your brand, and reputation, into the reject bin.


How can you avoid the DON’TS and follow the advertising DO’S? Take a look at these 3 Commercials and then see if your assessment matches our own…


COMMERCIAL #1: Kraft Canada, in 2011, produced ‘Moving Day’ for its Oreo brand: 



Rationale:  For 100 years, Oreo has captured a good share of the consumer packaged goods market in Canada. However, by 2010, “because of competitive pressures, evolving food values, aging boomers and slow adoption in multicultural households, the baseline business had started to decline,” reported Strategy Magazine, one of the organisers behind Canada’s Cassies Awards, which honours excellence in TV advertising.  “Oreo was becoming a once-in-a-while indulgence, despite strong brand-related measures and spending support at competitive levels.” Even with the adoption of popular U.S. creatives, such as the ritual of “Twist, Lick and Dunk”, consumers in Canada were not responding.


Insight: “There was a clear need to bring a Canadian angle to the “Twist, Lick and Dunk” ritual,” explains Strategy. The planning process zeroed in on what makes Canadians unique, such as our celebration of multicultural diversity. “ Kraft Canada also wanted to show that the love of Oreo cookies knows no boundaries,” explained Emmanuelle Voirin. “What we were trying to do with this spot was to make Oreo relevant for Canada and make sure we reflect our cultural fabric and diversity. Exploring the new Canadian experience makes the ad relevant and contemporary,” she explained.


The Results: The 30-sec. “Moving Day” spot was launched in April 2011, and marked the brand’s first Canadian-specific ad since 2005. Media involved a broad-reaching TV buy with airings on top conventional and specialty stations. While “Moving Day” was on air, baseline dollar sales spiked at 12% and remained ahead 6% by year end. The ad also received a Silver Cassies Award in the category ‘Off to a Good Start’ and a Bronze award for ‘Best Insight’.


What this commercial does right. The DO’s:

  • It reflects cultural diversity within our communities but also shows our common interests as Canadians


Where this commercial could have been better. The DON’T’s:

  • Although it speaks to the new immigrant experience in a humorous manner, it’s too PC (politically correct). Don’t avoid reflecting the real challenges, big and small, faced by newcomers to this country. Don’t shy away from topics such as the sometimes stressful experience of integrating into a new community. Again, humour can help you do this in a fun, light way that will automatically disarm any naysayers.


  • It would have been more “culture brave” if the commercial had added a slight shoulder shrug, or even raised eyebrows and a smile, after the first non-English reply. Actually, the overall message would have been more touching. It would have ultimately shown that language, or even culture, needn’t be a barrier between us when something as universal as food is shared and enjoyed.


COMMERCIAL #2: Tim Horton’s, in 2006, produced ‘Proud Fathers’ for its ‘True Stories’ campaign:



Rationale: According to industry experts, brands like McDonald’s, Arby’s and Harvey’s were thriving as QSRs (quick service restaurants), especially for the masses in the 70’s and 80’s. Tim Hortons, on the other hand, stuck to its main source of revenue, coffee and baked goods, and found success by being a niche player. The whole coffee shop industry changed in the 90’s, however, when Starbucks entered the Canadian market. The public was already familiar with the American brand and viewed it as a higher-end coffee experience, bringing with it the perception of higher quality coffee. If Tim Horton’s didn’t want to lose a hefty portion of their customers, it had to refocus its marketing efforts on its main seller, coffee. So, how do you galvanize people to buy a product they can make in their own home?


Insight: The company conducted some critical research and found that common ‘Canadian’ values included things like personal friendships, loyalty and perseverance. In addition, unlike Americans, our greatest heroes were not athletes or superstars, but our parents, who had “made something of themselves”. This cultural insight eventually led to the “True Stories” campaign concept. Thenew spots brilliantly positioned Tim Hortons as the Canadian coffee retailer that can help bridge generational, and even cultural gaps, as shown in the ‘Proud Fathers’ commercial.


The Results: ‘Proud Fathers’ launched during the 2006 Winter Olympics, and it was a relatable spot, featuring an immigrant dad reconnecting with his adult son over a cup of coffee at the grandson’s hockey practice. Due to the effectiveness of these “True Stories” spots, “the brand grew immensely during this time,” explains Strategy. They also implemented a more robust 52-week media buy that also focused on new product offerings. But the Tim Horton’s “True Stories” are what elevated the brand, making it highly relatable to a broad demographic of Canadians. This is in sharp contrast, experts say, to most beer ads, such as Molson’s, that frequently presents a vision of Canadian culture that is overwhelmingly populated by young white males.


What this Commercial does right. The DO’S:

  • Do incorporate the sometimes difficult-to-watch immigrant experiences and the challenges faced while they adjust to the ‘Canadian way of life’. And remember, the challenges can be felt from one generation to the next.


  • Do honor the changing values of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants and the generational clash that can sometimes occur.


What this Commercial does wrong. The DON’TS:

  • The commercial seems a little too ‘stereotyped’. Many viewers thought it drew upon a range of cultural stereotypes and created a ‘sanitized’ immigrant narrative. Maybe it was done to satisfy the brand’s fears? Perhaps they were concerned that a ‘culturally-focused’ commercial wouldn’t be relatable to the broader Canadian population.


  • Don’t forget to make your ad authentic and always keep in mind your target audience. Research conducted by Tim Horton’s marketing agency, showed that consumers have to feel a marketer is authentically Canadian, or these types of advertising messages will ring false. Is this commercial truly authentic? Maybe not to some. It can be perceived as a little unrealistic, especially to people who know of the challenges often faced by many immigrant families, who despite an interest in the sport of hockey, are often left out due to a range of social, cultural, and economic barriers (read more in this 2009 CBC article).

What they could have done differently:


COMMERCIAL #3: Cheerios,  – 2013 U.S. Super Bowl campaign, ‘Just Checking’: 



Rationale: In an attempt to reflect the diversity in modern American households, Cheerios created this original 30 second spot, part of its ‘Just Checking’ campaign in 2013. It featured a mixed race couple, in this case, an African-American man and Caucasian woman and their adorable biracial daughter, Gracie. The reason for including such a diverse cast? “At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all,” said Doug Martin, marketing manager for Cheerios, in a statement to Ad Age.


Insight: The overriding takeaway that Cheerios wanted viewers to share was not only about the health benefits of Cheerios, but that the cereal brand is also diverse and accepting.


Response: Unfortunately, the original commercial generated such a strong racist backlash on YouTube that General Mills had to close the comments section. Commenters on the cereal’s Facebook page said they found the commercial “disgusting” and that it made them “want to vomit.” Yet, the ad had received more than 1,600 likes and more than 500 dislikes.


Cheerios was unfazed by the racist backlash. In fact, a year later, it created ‘Gracie’, a second, follow-up commercial that featured the same actors and was released during the 2014 Super Bowl. In the end, the controversy turned out to be a good thing for the brand. The ad racked up nearly 5 million views on YouTube and generated a country-wide debate that raged both online and offline, gaining exposure and visibility for the brand, even if the cause was not a positive one.


What this commercial does right. The DO’S:

  • We have to give this brand credit for exceptional bravery. It won our seal of ‘culture brave’. Cheerios refused to apologise and even in the face of a backlash, it stood by its original message. And experts agree, even if there was a discernible backlash, “it’s important to see reflections of what modern families actually look like on TV,” explains Ian S. Thompson, of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.  “These kinds of families should not be cloaked in near invisibility on TV when they are so common in real life.” So, don’t be scared of taking a stance on cultural or social issues.


  • Do your research. Like Cheerios did, get to know the ‘true’ cultural diversity in your local communities and then reflect those findings in your advertising. For instance, were you aware that Canada leads the way in interracial marriages? According to Statistics Canada and their 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), there were 360,045 mixed-race couples, either married or common-law, living in Canada in 2011. The findings? Mixed unions are no longer unusual, especially in the culturally-diverse cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver and Toronto. Today, cross-cultural couples have become a commonplace feature of Canadian society and ads should reflect that.

What the commercial does wrong. The DONT’S:

  • Perhaps Cheerios could have been more culturally sensitive. Although we live in a diverse society, with many different ethnicities, mixed marriages are still a relatively new feature in TV commercials and must be approached with caution and respect, to avoid giving offense. Perhaps the reason the second Cheerios ad met with greater success, and fewer negative comments, is that the ad injected an additional dose of humour, with the little girl quite insistent that a new baby brother must equal a free puppy for her. It also has the entire family gathered together in the same room, talking about the soon-to-be arrival of a new baby brother. Whereas, in the first commercial, neither parent was ever seen together. Perhaps that’s why viewers focused on the actors’ ethnicities rather than the message of good family health.

A Parting Word of Advice:

Though advertisers constantly strive to reflect diversity in their commercials, it must be acknowledged that some unions between cultural groups can still cause controversy. In newer immigrants, there could still be some remnant of old-world values which discourages inter-marrying. Older generations may come from countries where mixed race marriages are rare and where cultural diversity is much less pronounced. More conservative viewers could be put off, or worse, offended, by the introduction of mixed-race couples on TV.


In the end, your creative idea may be great, but make sure it’s not unrealistic. “Often, it’s what the agency world would like to see, it’s what they think a multicultural world should be, but it’s not yet 100% reflective of the reality,” says our media relations expert.


That’s when you want to consult marketing agencies with the proper knowledge of ethnic communities. “We have the cultural expertise that is required to make a memorable and relatable commercial that is effective and modern, without veering too much into the territory of stereotype, or crossing cultural boundaries and values that may be different from our own,” explains Alisa Choi Darcy, founder of QEQ.


If you need advice on how to approach cultural audiences, or how to make the best multicultural commercial, feel free to contact us LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter @QEQculture.



Sources: All commercials sourced through Vimeo or YouTube