Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

Multicultural Marketing and the Changing Face of the Canadian Consumer: New Times call for New Strategies!

Posted by Vanessa Vachet | 01.19.15

The business world is changing. One-size fits all marketing strategies are a thing of the past. The fact is, our society is comprised of many different ethnicities and cultures, backgrounds and beliefs, and if you hope to link into these markets, you have to understand your audience and what matters to them. Do you want your message or campaign to do the following:

  • Reach across Canada?
  • Span to other countries?
  • Enlarge your product footprint?
  • Reach new audiences?
  • Appeal to different groups?


You might need to take a closer look at your marketing strategy. Are you reaching the markets you need? Is your message effective and relatable to a wide variety of consumers? Is it generating sales or an increase in business? Or have you exhausted the mainstream market and reached a plateau that you cannot break past? That’s when you should consider tapping into other diverse audiences- ones who haven’t heard your message yet, or who may be interested in what you have to offer, but have no real connection to you, your company or your brand.


8348494862_2ed4ffebd8_oWhat is Multicultural Marketing?

You may ask yourself that exact question. You hear buzz words floating around the marketing world and the web: cross-cultural marketing, multicultural marketing, total market approach… But, what do they all mean? What do they involve? Three marketing concepts have largely dominated the ad industry in recent years. But, due to their similar natures and overlapping theories, people can often get confused. Let’s look at the definitions briefly, so you can familiarize yourself with these marketing concepts.


When we refer to Cross-Cultural Marketing, what we generally mean is: One marketing program or campaign that leverages ethnic markets to reach across ethnic and mainstream audiences alike.

Defining Points:

  • With this marketing approach, it’s all about the role of ethnic consumers, which are front and center in a cross-cultural model.
  • The idea is that ethnic markets will drive the general market, versus the other way around in both the multicultural and total market models.
  • Example: McDonald’s has mastered this concept with its well-known mantra of “leading with ethnic insights.” They include ethnic diversity in their advertising campaigns and have introduced diverse food choices that appeal to ethnic markets.


We also have what we call, Multicultural Marketing, in which targeted marketing efforts are directed towards specific, clearly defined, ethnic groups.

Defining Points:

  •  In the US and Canada, this model has been the baseline for the last 50 years. Multicultural marketing is ethnic-specific. Marketing campaigns are directed towards a particular ethnic segment, whether Asian, Indo-Canadian, African-American or Korean.
  • These are often separate but distinct campaigns, each targeting a certain ethnic market.
  • Example: Based on their research in 2011, Clorox launched a limited-edition red water filter for its Brita brand in celebration of Chinese New Year. In just the first eight weeks after the product was launched, the red filter became one of the fastest-selling Brita pitchers ever.


Lastly, there is the Total Market Approach, a relatively new and controversial concept that has been gaining ground in recent years, mainly in large advertising firms. This model argues that there is no such thing as ‘ethnic markets’. Instead, marketing programs are designed to reach all consumers, across both general and ethnic audiences.

Defining Points:

  • Total market campaigns reflect diversity in all their marketing strategies. This includes the use of diverse talent, leveraging cultural cues, and focusing on universal truths to gain efficiencies. It is a shift away from ethnic-specific targeting, with the argument that our societies are all diverse and that in the future, ethnic minorities will become the mainstream, therefore, there is no need to target them specifically.
  • Example:  You start with a general marketing campaign and then layer or adapt ethnic elements. The healthcare industry has used this model to introduce birth control products to foreign nations. Their campaigns included the same underlying message, but with various adaptations that reflect local cultures, languages and beliefs.


As you can see, these concepts overlap and their differences are subtle, but important to understand. This process may seem daunting and 2364696515_3b7423de2b_zsome may ask, is it really worth branching out into culturally diverse markets? Isn’t it more trouble than it’s worth? How much business could they really generate?


According to the 2013 Statistics Canada Consumer report, “immigrants and visible minorities are ever more present in the Canadian mosaic.” Between 1991 and 2000 alone, 2.2 million immigrants were admitted into Canada. The number of Canadians born abroad was recorded at 18% in 2001 and is still climbing. In terms of immigration, we were second only to Australia, which held the record at 22% (Statistics Canada 2003d). This, in turn, has increased the number of Canadians identifying themselves as visible minorities, from 5% of the total population in 1981 to 13% in 2001, and this is projected to rise to 20% by 2016.


Besides Toronto, Vancouver is the top destination for newly landed immigrants. Vancouver has the second highest rate of visible minorities: 37% reported as foreign-born, compared to 44% in Toronto. That means 2 out of 5 residents identified themselves as a visible minority, three times the National Average!


Which ethnic groups dominate the Canadian cultural landscape?

According to the Government study on Immigration and Ethno cultural Diversity in Canada, Asia is the largest source of immigrants. Among those who arrived between 2006 and 2011, roughly 661,600 or 56.9% came from Asia, including the Middle East. The rest came from diverse nations such as the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa and Oceania, as well as other regions. And close to 913,300 immigrants, or 13.5% of the total immigrant population, call Vancouver their home.


6756615157_4425c28a4f_zSouth Asians are in fact one of the largest visible minority groups. A total of 1,567,400 individuals identified themselves as South Asian and they accounted for one- quarter or 25% of the total visible minority population and 4.8% of Canada’s total population. The second largest visible minority group was Chinese, who numbered just over 1,324,700  and 21.1% of the visible minority population.


Over the years, those numbers have risen so dramatically, that the immigrant experience and the resulting cultural clash have been very impactful on recent arrivals to Canada. New immigrants have been given a fast and abrupt exposure to the full panoply of consumer products and North American-style marketing. These ethnic communities have even influenced certain sectors of the major urban marketplaces, enriching them with multi-ethnicity flavours and new and different products, such as food services.


What does this mean for the future of marketing in Canada?

The further “internationalization” of Canadian consumer demand can only be expected, explains the 2013 Consumer Report, and cultural differences will play an increasingly important part in consumer matters and consumer demand.


The report also states, that the Canadian marketplace may be difficult for some immigrants to approach, especially those from significantly different cultural backgrounds. Language barriers, cultural misunderstandings, little protection for immigrant consumers, all of these aspects make doing business in Canada almost impossible for recent arrivals. Providing quality and accessible consumer information to newcomers is also a major concern.


Even industry leaders have recognised the need for more culturally diverse marketing in both TV, online and in print. In 2014, Joinville Industry surveyed 234 respondents from various multicultural marketing firms in North America, Europe and Asia. They found that the majority of the marketers plan to increase their digital spending by 68%, followed by an increase in ethnic event marketing activities by 40%. Media buying trends included social media advertising (Facebook/Twitter) that targets multicultural audiences and some TV advertising, though they had very different views on TV advertising and its impact on multicultural marketing campaign performance. According to Multicultural.com, “The Asian Multicultural marketcontinues to attract new categories and brands, as well as welcoming back clients whose Asian programs have lapsed”. This trend is underscored by the Census 2010 data, which has been released in the last year. It confirms that Asians are the fastest growing population in the country and remain the most attractive segment with respect to many other critical demographics.


Research indicates that there will soon be an expansion of product categories and the entrance of new category players in the Asian 5652699228_68587eb26c_zmulticultural space. “Financial services and telecoms will continue to remain active,” explains the Joinville report, “[while] new growth will come from increasing marketing activity in the automotive, retail, and luxury products sectors. Healthcare and pharmaceutical marketing programs will also deepen as major over-the-counter brands turn toward the Asian segments for the first time.”


However, unlike the general market, online and social media campaigns will not replace traditional Asian media programs, but will serve as an essential, integrated ‘complement’ to such programs. This is due to the long history of Asian offline media in the country, the ever-expanding offline content sophistication, the continued strong reach which Asian offline media affords within the top ‘Asian’ cities.


The face of Canada is ever-evolving and as children grow up in this culturally diverse nation, we need to re-define what it means to be Canadian. Children are learning about different cultures at a very young age, say industry analysts, and as marketers, we must learn to tap into this new, multicultural ‘mainstream’, because the children of today will be tomorrow’s future customers.



Future Consumers should be an important focus

Future Consumers should be an important focus

We must ask ourselves: who is the typical Canadian consumer? And who will that person be in the not-so-distant future?


The reality is that multi-cultured audiences are the fastest growing population segments, wielding ever-increasing power and influence with a combined buying power of $3.8 trillion by 2017! And given that they come to the marketplace with their own needs and desires, their own motivations and cultural beliefs impacting what they want, where they shop and which media they consume, many companies will need to target their products and services based on this new bourgeoning population.


But, don’t we already represent and include diverse cultures in the mainstream media?

The answer to that is sadly no and what baffles industry experts is that the immigrant or ethnic perspective is still largely omitted in mainstream advertising. According to a 2011 Joinville Survey, many companies (around 47%) only spend between 0-20% of their media budget on the multicultural segment. Ad agencies are not much better, spending only 36% of their media budget on multicultural media, with Brands spending the least amount. This beggar’s belief when most of the respondents believed that brands benefit from multicultural marketing efforts.
Businesses seem oblivious to the fact that these largely un-tapped markets have huge growth potential. They ignore this fact at their own peril. “There is a huge opportunity cost to be borne by ignoring it,” explains N. Kimron Corion, Entrepreneur, Blogger and Advocate for Entrepreneurship. “Costs such as a huge loss in profits, since people may misinterpret messages in ads. Additionally people tend to stay within their cultural boundaries, their norms, traditions, culture [and all of these factors] tend to influence buying habits. Multicultural marketing or ethnic marketing is very important and it is one of the factors that will help determine the success of many marketing campaigns.”


The multicultural sectors are the ones primed for growth. With increasing incomes, as well as higher levels of education and access6848822477_11c5a7dfab_z to new opportunities, minority groups are changing their buying behaviors and it is up to us as marketers to tap into this expanding category.


Yet many continue to miss opportunities to reach out to a ripe population of potential buyers.

For example, while Pew Research Center findings have demonstrated that black Americans make up a large share of Twitter users in the U.S. (more than 26%), the social network lacks a demographic targeting tool that allows brands to target ads based on race. Perhaps this may seem like a controversial form of targeting, at worst a form of racial profiling, and it could come across as discriminatory. To ignore the fact that certain populations respond differently to campaigns or certain marketing forms such as Twitter, seems a waste, if not counter-productive. If we want to reach a certain ethnic group, then it should follow that we reach them through the media forms to which they are accustomed and for which they show preference. If we don’t, we miss out on reams of potential consumers with money to spend.


The previous example, where Clorox designed a Chinese New Year-themed Brita, is just one way companies have recently put a significant stake into multicultural marketing. And it’s paying off! Clorox plans to develop even further multicultural campaigns, viewing it not as “a complementary initiative within the marketing mix, but as an important component within the overall marketing strategy.” The only way brands will begin, is to “to truly understand the reality and implication of the new ‘mainstream’.”

Chinese New Year Brita, introduced in 2011

Chinese New Year Brita, introduced in 2011


If I invest in Multicultural marketing, will it increase my ROI?

While we can’t always guarantee an outcome, the shift towards ethnic markets has already occurred and many industry leaders have proved successful in generating sales and an increase in brand awareness through multicultural advertising campaigns.


CASE STUDY: 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. And what did their market research suggest? “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.” 6848823919_724f516a05_z

Their media strategy included TV, digital and social media and was developed to ensure that Nissan came out on top. “South Asians like technology, and most of them also come from countries without winter weather so they feel safer with all-wheel drive,” explains 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.”


CASE STUDY: Rogers Communications also has a dedicated strategy and budget for multicultural marketing, which includes traditional advertising and community outreach and support. After the massive earthquake in Japan, for example, 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. Thanks to a positive response, Rogers continues to look for 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.


CASE STUDY: In a bid to reach a more diverse customer base, L’Oréal acquired Carol’s Daughter, a brand known for producing natural hair products for women of color. “It’s an area that’s underserviced,” says Bloomberg analyst Deborah Aitken. “[and] Carol’s Daughter possesses an expertise in the multicultural consumer segment, [which is] a rapidly expanding market that represents an important growth opportunity in the beauty industry,” said Frédéric Rozé, chief executive officer of L’Oréal USA. There is a market out there for a wide range of ethnic consumers. The challenge lies in reaching them with a message that is genuine, tailored to their interests and values and that has resonance within their culture and the local community.

Carol's Daughter purchased by l'Oreal in 2014

Carol’s Daughter purchased by l’Oreal in 2014

What can we learn from these examples?

It’s important to designate at least some of your marketing budget to multicultural or cross-cultural efforts. “Incorporating the multicultural consumer into the overall brand strategy is key,” explains leading market professionals in a post for forbes.com. “One of the reasons why marketers don’t target and connect with minorities is that a multicultural approach is often an afterthought—a strategy that marketers don’t consider fundamental.”


Still, despite their growth, many budding multicultural markets are being overlooked. Yes, universal insights and generic advertising help bond us together as a larger collective, but they’re most effective when brought down to a subtly nuanced level which speaks to individuals and compels them to do something different with brand offerings.


A Multicultural Society should be Inclusive

A Multicultural Society should be Inclusive

But, in today’s world does ‘culture’ really matter?

Yes. Absolutely. It may not define a person’s entire identity, but it does influence who you are, what values you adhere to and it is an essential component of what makes a person unique. The purpose of your marketing efforts should be to find that ‘key’, that particular message, which will resonate deeply within a certain cultural collective. Whether you use the whole market approach or the more often used multicultural model, the constantly changing Canadian landscape requires a constantly shifting and diversified marketing focus.

We should aim to create uniquely tailored, inspiring experiences that will speak to the continually growing spending power of the multicultural markets. Culture is underleveraged, and to win over important growth communities, it can no longer be seen as an after-thought.


If you need help reaching multicultural markets or audiences, or just need some advice and insight on how to proceed, call us at 778.371.3629 or connect to us through email at: connect [at] quoteendquote.ca, and we will help get you started.


– Written By: Vanessa Vachet- Marketing Blogger, QuoteEndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy



(Images: All images courtesy of Flickr- Creative Commons: From Top to Bottom: George A. Spiva CenterDigitalRalphScott MaxwellChen YuSheng, epSos .de, University of Salford Press, 401(K) 2012, Brita image: marketingmag.ca, 401(K) 2012Carol’s Daughter: www.classyblackgirl.com; Richard foster)