I am fond of saying that in today's Canadian market, if it ain't multicultural it ain't mainstream. But the more multicultural our markets are, surely the more fragmented they become? Not so.

The way I see it, it's not our new multicultural society that's fractured - it's old mainstream that is fracturing.

But wait, there's no reason to panic. It's not as bad as it seems. All this fracture business sounds painfully like we're talking about a bone breaking when in reality we're talking about an egg, hatching.

After all, we never really had a homogenous culture in bilingual Canada - and perhaps bilingualism and the distinct identities of Quebec and the First Nations were always a sign that this idealized (by some) homogenization would never come to pass.

Our changing demographics tell us that this is now a matter of fact, not opinion, borne out by the 2006 census (the fruits of the sainted "long form"). 6.1 million Canadians were born elsewhere and that population is growing 4 times faster than the Canadian born. The 1.1 million new Canadians who arrived between 2001 and 2006 accounted for 69% of all the population growth.

If advertising and marketing courses don't begin teaching multicultural marketing and advertising now, they'll be turning out students who will see markets that don't resemble their textbook markets in the slightest way. At the very least, they need to begin changing their syllabi now. Multicultural advertising and marketing needs to be taught, at least as a module in established courses.

In about five years, the mainstream as we know it today will have changed - by 2017 it will be an entirely different marketing reality and by 2030 it will be a brave new world for the bright, smart marketers and universities who took what their stats and research departments told them and applied it to their strategies and syllabi.

The fundamentals aren't changing because the new mainstream is a different colour. It's changing because the new mainstream is fundamentally different in every way - culture, conservatism, language, religion, cultural habits around money (saving it and spending it) and cultural habits around food. And the most fundamental thing about advertising/marketing is that it is about how people work. This is not an old "us" vs. a new "them". This is just a new "us."

One of the cool things about Canadian immigrants is that they want to be Canadian and they are proud to be Canadian, but they also discover very early that it is really difficult to define what "Canadian" is. Ultimately however, they come to realize in a single, empowering, incredibly Canadian moment that being Canadian is... being themselves.

And that is why I believe we need the Canadian marketing industry to invest in understanding this new emerging mainstream better - it's not going away. It's going to get stronger, richer, more vibrant and more challenging to deal with. Preparing for it is simply good business.

In fact, in our multicultural, polyglot, many-hued future, our local need for hybrid minds is going to serve us well globally - a rare instance where Canada is destined to be uniquely competitive. This is a time to learn how to spread our wings. One day we're going to have to fly. If we don't, we're going to have egg on our face.

Sunrise by the Ocean by Vladmir Kush via www.vladimirkush.com © 2008 Kush Fine Art. All Rights Reserved.
When I talk to my colleagues in the multicultural marketing and advertising industry, I hear the same cries of pain, the same complaints, the same scars of battles lost and I've been hearing them for a few years.

We bemoan the poor quality of work that we tend to see in the multicultural market - some of us even confess, shamefacedly, that we made some of it - because business needs forced us into it (never a valid excuse in my opinion). But, set aside for now, multicultural advertising's collective inability to have a spine. Let us say, for the purpose of argument, that we always face our clients fully armed with intelligence, commitment, knowledge and integrity. Are there still roadblocks that stop the most creative advertising from making it into the market?

I believe there are. Here are the five most common impediments.

1. Multicultural "councils".
Do you do this with Quebec? When did merely being brown qualify anyone to judge multicultural advertising? Do clients do this with mainstream ads? Do they ask random white folks if their multimillion-dollar campaign works? And then, do they yank it?

Advice to clients: Follow the same discipline you do in the mainstream and set a budget for tracking the effectiveness of your work with genuine research. Don't take comfort or guidance from the opinions of random pink, green or polka-dotted folks who work for you just because you are doing a campaign for the pink, green or polka-dotted market. And, if you absolutely must, then for Buddha's sake, make them proper members of your team, at the table from the creative briefing through to the creative presentation.


2. Junior staff assigned total multicultural marketing responsibility.
Insulting. If you aren't ready to commit, don't. When a senior client assigns an untrained junior to the multicultural portfolio it is a clear and simple message to your agency: this is not important. At best, you will get safe, predictable advertising that mindlessly mimics your mainstream advertising in another language with none of the value addition that insight-driven ideas bring. The worst thing that can happen unfolds if the junior employee is culturally insensitive to boot. Instead of a beautifully timed series of controlled chain reactions that power your brand forward, you get a multicultural Chernobyl - your brand will become radioactive in the very market you were trying to win - the fallout is that your consumer won't come anywhere near you for a long, long time.

Advice to clients: pick your multicultural advertising leaders carefully - they do not have to come from minority markets themselves but they should have the marketing chops for the job and they should demonstrate curiosity about cultures other than their own, and an openness that an alternative cultural viewpoint can even exist.


3. Lip service (let's just translate) and tokenism (IVMH).
Don't waste my time. I won't waste your money. We routinely turn away translation clients.
IVMH stands for Insert Visible Minority Here and refers to the tendency of many marketers to simply replace mainstream talent with a random brown or Chinese face. I will write more about this in another post - and I spoke briefly about it in the CBC interview. The patronizing attitude that lies behind this sort of business decision is not lost on your consumers.

Advice to clients: Stop doing this. Immediately. Save your money and invest it in insight-driven idea-centric communications instead.


4. Pretend expertise.
Too many agencies pretend to be more than they are. We see Hispanic agencies that swear that they can manage Asian American markets without an issue - or vice versa. We see Chinese market agencies that say they can handle South Asian markets - or vice versa. There are some that do, but these are few and far apart.

Advice to clients: Make sure they have the expertise - ask to meet their creative teams.


5. A dearth of creative talent:
This is a hard fact that we must face in order to change things. We have a shortage of high quality creative talent in Canadian multicultural advertising. Here's my requirement of my multicultural creative team - and my minimum definition of "high quality": they need to be good enough to work at a good Canadian mainstream agency and they need to have won mainstream awards. If they haven't they aren't. Why do I say this? Because, for your sake dear client, they need to be able to understand the discipline and rigour of Canadian mainstream strategic planning and advertising, they need to rise above the ad hoc, anything goes mentality that dominates so many multicultural agencies.

Advice to clients: ask your agency who from their team has worked in the mainstream.

In closing, some general recommendations that I believe will help us fix things.

If you're an agency: train, support, inspire, invest.
Lead by example: don't compromise because the business is small or the sector is weak.
Teach your creative staff how to walk the talk.
For my part, I am founding an organization that will recognize the best creative work in the category, with judges who are world class. If you're interested in supporting or joining this, write to me.

If you're a client: Commit to and demand the best.
Expect the same things from your multicultural agency as from your mainstream agency.
Work of the highest strategic and creative quality for your market. People you can enjoy working with and can trust to deliver.
I would challenge you to provide the same things to your multicultural agency as you do your mainstream agency. Great, disciplined marketing briefs, the involvement and interest of senior marketing management, and the same respect for the process you give mainstream work.

If you're the industry: Of course, the industry needs to support this: how much multicultural marketing or advertising is actually taught in universities and schools? I haven’t heard of a single real commitment to creating a sense of multicultural advertising as a real discipline. It is not taught at any of the advertising programs in Canada - which is both, a shocker, and sadly reflective of how the Canadian advertising industry has long been the last, late adopter of multiculturalism.
video

For S Asians, bragging rights around the joy of travel are directly connected to the sights and sounds of home and family.
We tap into this visceral connection with "home" in our latest spot - for TD Visa First Class.

The team:
Client: Graham Robertson, Anne Kerekes, TD Canada Trust
Agency: Barrett and Welsh

Creative Directors: Mike Welsh and Gavin Barrett
Writer: Gavin Barrett
Art Director: Bhupesh Luther/Gavin Barrett

Directed by: Richard Picton
Producers: Augusta Brook/Wendy Errington
Agency Production Coordinator: Tina Chan

Editor: Chris Brook

Music/Sound Design: Mark Dwyer, Zoo Music
Sound Engineer: John "Wheels" Hurlibut

DOP: Johnny Askwith
Studio: Deb Cochrane
Motion graphics: Alwyn Pereira


In April 2010, I was interviewed by Marc Montgomery of CBC's The Link on why so much multicultural work is so poorly made and why it so often misses the point.

There are a few reasons and I touch on a couple in the interview. Click here or on my post title to go to an archive of the show.
The interview only begins at 26:20 - so move the slider forward to that point if you're short of time.


Interview via CBC Radio International podcast archives.
Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.
When did merely being brown qualify anyone to judge multicultural advertising? Do clients do this with mainstream ads? Do they ask random white folks if their multimillion dollar campaign works? And then, do they yank it?


Full disclosure: this campaign was my brother's work.
(Russell Barrett - at the time Executive Creative Director at Bates in India - is now at Bartle Bogle Hegarty Mumbai in the same role).

Warning: 110 commercials.
Relax, they're about 10 secs each.

Ok, now that's out of the way... this is a great campaign.

It's for Virgin Mobile and it's work Richard Branson could gladly dip his beard into and sign big fat cheques with.

110 commercials in which die-hard Indian cricket fanatics from several different Indian states call each other.
To deliver the kind of insults that, in English, are best begun with a "Yo' mama...".

Where does Virgin fit in? (Get your mind our of the gutter, people.)

Well, Virgin makes it possible thanks to long distance calling rates that are a mere .005 cents/min. This is smart, funny. pertinent, timely, salty, saucy work in the pure vernacular (yes, I know that's an oxymoron). And it's utterly satisfying as a result. Want to know what it means? Write to me and I'll tell you.

Or if you're in Canada, why not call me? It's just 10c/min, long distance, on Rogers. Oh, what's that, let's see... a mere 200 times more expensive.

Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.




At first sight, this Eid ul Fitr ad from Levis Indonesia, seems relatively straightforward. The kind of harmless but useless festival advertising that most banks in Canada like to do, for instance. The headline is what you'd expect of just such an ad: Let us celebrate this day of glory together. Happy Eid ul Fitr.

But a closer look reveals that it's not just another pair of blue jeans - it's a stunning visual depiction of the massed congregations so typical in Jakarta's giant mosques. A beautiful surprise set against that straight headline and proof that, yes, even in advertising, you can find God in the details.



Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.
It's Ramadan again and No Frills the Canadian discount supermarket is running a commercial advertising some halal specials.

They've picked the foods perfunctorily to start with - halal chicken, ground beef, etc.

They aren't promoting or advertising the most common and traditional of iftar foods - dates!

And of all the language choices available to them, they've chosen to run the ad in Punjabi. In a Bollywood movie commercial break. (Bollywood movies, everyone should know, are in Hindi).

It's the equivalent of running an English ad on French television.

To add to the confusion, an almost identical spot runs in the next commercial break - during the same movie - except, this one is for The Great Canadian Superstore and for some mysterious reason, this spot does run in Hindi.

It sounds like a carefully thought, perfectly executed strategy. If your strategy is to utterly befuddle your customers.

I won't even begin to explore the insultingly poor production values and the total absence of a creative idea from these ads.

Instead, I thought I should first show you some great Ramadan advertising, done right. Which is what I did last week.

Ramadan Kareem to my Muslim brethren.
I pray that Canadian marketers may one day do right by you.

Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.
This outstanding video from TED may be one of the most insightful presentations I've heard on the relationship between culture and consumer choice.

Sheena Iyengar dispenses with the consumer focus group and leaves behind some of the more obsolete but dearly loved quantitative testing methods so popular among marketers today. Instead, she dives deep into the the psychocultural motivations behind the act of choosing. Iyengar's research has been informing business and consumer-goods marketing since the 1990s and has produced material for writers like Malcolm Gladwell. All of which makes me think that her new book, the Art of Choosing is well worth buying.




Sheena Iyengar on the art of choosing | Video on TED.com


Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.



I know we're well past the 2008 US election but good design - and its endangered cousin, good multicultural design - lives on.

Take a look at this stunningly designed 08 graphic that rises above and beyond the mono-cultural, duochromatic, partisan world of US politics to present an ideal: a beautiful, harmonized blend.

If only the reality were as attractive (check out the comments via the blog link below and you'll quickly see what I mean).

By designer Renan Molin, via the designyearbook blog.



Article: Creative Commons License 2010 Gavin Barrett
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.


TD Canada Trust continues to make Canadian South Asians feel welcome, as our latest spot for them shows.

The premise here is equally simple and incredibly relevant - i.e. TD makes mortgages comfortable, desi style. Instead of the anxiety of negotiating your first Canadian mortgage in a completely unfamiliar setting, TD's mortgage process makes you feel at home. With mortgage specialists who come to you, who get you, who speak the same language as you figuratively and literally.

It's one reason why the majority of desis bank with TD: TD makes mortgages comfortable, desi style.

This idea is demonstrative - TD is not just saying "we get you" it is showing it, in the ad.
(Desi = a person of Indian extraction)


The team:
Client: TD Canada Trust
Agency: Barrett and Welsh

Creative Directors: Mike Welsh and Gavin Barrett
Writer: Gavin Barrett
Art Director: Bhupesh Luther/Gavin Barrett

Directed by: Richard Picton
Executive Producer: Augusta Brook

Editor: Chris Brook
DOP/Colour: Johnny Askwith
Motion graphics: Alwyn Pereira

Music: Night in Lenasia by Deepak Ram, Golden Horn Productions
Sound design: WantedSP, Toronto


I am going to break an longstanding rule of mine and post 2 commercials made by Barrett and Welsh - in a row. The reason? They're good. And they represent a substantial commitment to the South Asian community in Canada by TD Canada Trust. The first spot is called A Longer Hours People.

What's the idea here? Well, everything is longer for South Asians.
Weddings last a week. Festivals are celebrated over several days.
Bollywood movies last three hours.
Even our favourite sport, cricket, is played over five days.
Since time immemorial, our customs, traditions, passions, work ethics, faith and values have driven us to rise earlier and to stay awake later.

South Asians are a longer hours people. And the longer banking hours that TD keeps are a perfect fit, as this commercial demonstrates.


The team:
Client: TD Canada Trust
Agency: Barrett and Welsh

Creative Directors: Mike Welsh and Gavin Barrett
Writer: Gavin Barrett
Art Director: Bhupesh Luther

Produced by Barrett and Welsh, freelance producer: Munaf Husain/Dancing Light Pictures

Editor: Chris Brook
Music: Night in Lenasia by Deepak Ram, Golden Horn Productions
Sound design: Mark Dwyer, Zoo Music, Toronto
DOP/Colour: Pasha Patriki
Motion graphics: Alwyn Pereira
Stock: Getty Images

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