The Irani restaurant is one of Bombay's great multicultural traditions, serving hearty working-class meals, hot tea and colonial throwbacks like bread pudding studded with sultanas. Irani restauranteurs demanded tolerance and mutual respect from their multi-faith clientele; demands were typically delivered via idiosyncratic exhortations hand-lettered on placards and strategically placed in key areas - at the cashier (No Bargaining), over mirrors (No Hair Combing), on the menu (No Beef), - and my favourite - on walls, mirrors or wherever space allowed (All Gods are Great).

To honour the spirit of this supreme Irani restaurant directive, I thought I would celebrate with a gallery of good and/or provocative festival advertising for this holiday season post - a sort of "best of all gods" approach. I hope you enjoy them (let me know which ones are your favourites - or send in your own). A Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukkah, A Chillin' Kwanzaa and a Freakin' Fantastic Festivus to you.

Or whatever particular wish rings your bell, rocks your boat, or turns your crank baby.


Article: Creative Commons License 2011 Gavin Barrett, all images are the property of their respective copyright holders. Irani restaurant photograph from IraniChai, via flickr and Wikipedia contributor belasd.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.

Why this Kolaveri Di? wails the singer. You tell me. Here's what I can tell you. Bottle one Tamil pop music video. Add polyglot Tanglish lyrics (that's Tamil + English) in eyedropper doses. Stir in some auto tune on steroids. Add handclaps, tambourine and addictive Indo-folk music rhythms. Chuck in a bunch of subtitles that add nothing by way of meaning. Shake bottle vigourously. Release. 10 days and 11 million plus YouTube views later, open champagne and buy Ferrari. As with anything truly viral it has become memetic - inspiring spoofs, lip-dubs and Japanese dancercise videos. 

Watch the video on our FB page!

Am disappointed and repulsed by this campaign from Grey Hungary for Chevrolet that seems to come from a bygone era. 

I am disappointed because the creative team completely shortchanged a valid brief.
I am repulsed because it is based on ignorance - like all things filled with prejudice.

In terms of execution, the ads coyly hint that made-in-China parts will never replace "high quality Chevrolet genuine parts." 

The hint is delivered through a typographic treatment that slickly replaces Roman script letter forms with Chinese characters that resemble them. While effective, this device is hardly original - it has been used by every non-Chinese art director since the first Chinese take-out menu was ever designed - but I digress. 

So, what is the agency attempting to say with these ads? 
It's a question that provokes a cascade of questions. 

Where does the agency think parts for a Made-in-China Chevrolet car come from? Michigan? 

Or are they saying that it's good enough to manufacture a whole car in China but not the parts? (For context, I should state here that Chevrolet claims an annual manufacturing capacity of above 300,000 cars in China and 380,000 in India. They also manufacture parts aplenty.)

Or is the agency saying that Chevrolet keeps a lower standard for the parts and cars they manufacture in India and China - but that a lower standard is just fine as long as those cars are not sold to Europeans? 

For additional irony, consider this: Chevrolet is an American brand with global manufacturing facilities including one in Hungary where this ad was made. 

I think this is a scam ad campaign that wasn't worth the effort and which may prove to be a very embarrassing mistake for Grey Hungary and GM. 

I count many Chinese art directors and writers as friends - they are outstanding creative people. 

And I can say this for sure: if this ad had been made in China, by them, it would never have been this bad.

Tonight, multicultural awards will be handed out for the first time ever at Marketing Magazine's Annual Marketing Awards. As chair of the inaugural multicultural jury I have been asked to say a few words to the gathering, and I thought I'd share them online.

At Barrett and Welsh we like to say it's not mainstream if it's not multicultural.

The multicultural advertising industry has come a long way since I arrived in this country in 1996 - but it still has a long way to go.

Multicultural advertising is too often dismal - in design, writing and concept.
Agencies and clients make excuses - "the budgets are low".
Or they blame each other - "they don't get us."

An advertising award show is no place for that. There should be room only for excellence, not excuses.
So when Dave Brown of Marketing Magazine invited me to chair the inaugural jury, that was the direction we agreed to take.

It's not good enough to take an American ad, tweak it and release it in the Canadian market.
We don't take a dude in a Stetson with a Texas drawl and replace him with a mullet-headed guy in a plaid shirt who says "how aboot those Canucks, eh?"
Adaptations are not good enough for the mainstream and they're not good enough for multicultural.

In fact, "good enough" isn't.

Multicultural category entries could not win if they were "Insert Visible Minority Here" ads.
They could not win just because they used some dumb joke about curry or dim sum. Or an exotic foreign script.

The winners had to be excellent. Excellent work is always original, always insightful, always well crafted, always based on a genuine idea.
The judging was tough but fair. And this year's winners, I am proud to say will set the bar for the category in the future.

My congratulations to them. They proved that small budgets are not the enemies of big ideas.
And that whether your ads run in Punjabi, Mandarin or Tagalog, they can and should come from a common culture - the culture of the Big Idea.

Multicultural wealth is intellectual treasure. Shakespeare knew that when he borrowed from Boccaccio and Ariosto.

I've always believed that diversity gives us inspiration, sources, variety, talent - that it enriches us culturally because it expands our knowledge.

So it was a pleasure to discover this 24 min video by the VCU BrandCenter. It's a thought-provoking look at the impact of diversity on advertising and how it has brought us to the edge of a new creative revolution in the industry.

80 years ago, Maxwell House began doing a Passover campaign that touched the Jewish community in a then new and now still intensely relevant way. Stuart Elliot, the New York Times' Media And Advertising reporter covers the campaign here.

Today it's called multicultural advertising.
80 years ago, it was called good business.
It still is.
Every now and then I like to showcase a multicultural talent that has nothing to do with marketing or advertising.

Today, I'd like to feature Shilpa Ray, an Indo-American rocker. Her instruments: the harmonium - that instrument so ubiquitous in Indian music accompanied by caterwauling vocals. NYTimes describes her as Patti Smith meets Nick Cave. I hear Tom Waits being channelled too. And perhaps a soupçon of Billy Idol?

Watch Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers rock the harmonium.

An interesting pair of developments have happened in the political multicultural space since the beginning of this week.

On one hand, Canada's federal Minister for (the word "for" has rarely been so loaded with irony) Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, was discovered to have stealthily slashed visas to skilled workers by 20% and made it more difficult for elderly parents to join their adult children in Canada - it could take as long as 13 years now. Here's a link to the article as it appeared on

On the other hand, he issues a cleverly crafted, very public statement that purports to show how much he loves cricket and immigrants and Canada's World Cup cricket team - and boasts of the high volume of immigrants that came to Canada from cricket-playing countries last year.

In a surprisingly common phenomenon, pro-conservative ethnic media outlets have simply run Minister Kenney's release as is - without any reporting, no questions asked. Click here for the original.

Judge for yourself - compare the original with a quick scan of ethnic media websites next.

On the media coverage front, is this a case of the Progressive Conservatives' substantial "say the right thing while doing the opposite" policy paying heavy dividends or a mere case of printing the silly, mid-on, by sympathetic ethnic media? I leave it to you to decide, dear reader.

The deployment of cricket politics by the federal Conservatives may represent part of their new strategy for new Canadians. It's an entertaining notion. Ladies and gentlemen, next on stage Prime Minister Stephen Harper will shimmy Bollywood-style - possibly to "jhooth bole kauwa kaate..." (trans: "if you lie, crows will peck at you"). Watch for something like it at the IIFAs.

Yes, this is another case of Progressive Conservatives talking out of both sides of their mouth, but one thing's for sure: they have pursued a disciplined, sustained strategy of engaging new Canadians. They have looked for a fit in the area of Asian-style social conservatism, combined it with high-visibility opportunistic PR like the cricket world cup, while neatly skating around their anti-immigration policies. The PCs still lag behind the Liberals as the natural party of new Canadians but they have been working hard to change this. Watch this space for more.
How North America's growing diversity has changed the way advertising is created. Our increasingly diverse market:
1. prevents the use of gratuitous inside jokes (i.e. unique only to a single culture)
2. heightens sensitivity to cultural irritants or flashpoints (for example: don’t use the number 4 in a toll-free number if you have a large Chinese audience) and to negative stereotypes (jokes on accents), something the advertising industry was previously oblivious to.
3. Places increased demands on advertisers to fairly represent this diversity in their advertising
4. Most importantly, it often demands that ethnic consumers be treated as an important focus market.

When you should market to ethnic groups: You should always market to ethnic groups if it makes business sense. The size of the ethnic group in the market determines whether they should be targeted. Occasionally, a cultural proclivity among a particular group that predisposes them to a product or service, may also influence this decision (for example, a cultural tendency to invest in the stock market or to buy luxury cars). When an ethnic market has reached critical mass, when there is a cultural fit between product and consumer, and when there is a sufficient marketing budget to advertise effectively, ethnic advertising should be developed without delay.

How to reach multicultural consumers: The rules are the same as for mainstream: find out what their media consumption habits are, always be willing to consider innovative media (as traditional ethnic or multicultural media may not be adequate/appropriate), understand their pyschographics and tailor your communications accordingly.

How to measure success in multicultural communications: Success in this market - like any other - is always measured in results. The form of measurement may vary - it may be measured by sales or responses (to a toll-free number or tracked url). Additionally, a critical measure of success in multicultural markets is often distinguished by a “viral” or word-of-mouth effect and popular recall (and replay) of brand messaging. Ultimate success is when a community adopts a brand.

Which media work better for multicultural communications: TV works best in Canada across most major multicultural markets (South Asian and Chinese), followed by internet in second place, radio and newspapers in third and magazines fourth. Outdoor advertising for these markets is poorly developed and underserved in Canada at the moment. Sponsored event marketing is popular and successful as well, as these markets tend to congregate at cultural gatherings in large numbers to celebrate their diversity and heritage. Innovative media like digital signage and multicultural flyers are beginning to make inroads.

How to communicate across languages and cultures There is no such thing as a universal language.
But there are universal human insights, true across all cultures. Our motivators have been the same since we strode out of Africa in prehistoric, pre-ethnic, pre-cultural times. Shelter, food, sex, love, death, approval and belonging have always been on our mind.

Even now, we have similar needs, ambitions and fears.
We love our families. We aspire to better, happier lives. We want to be healthy. We fear death.

However there is no escaping that these are most effectively leveraged through psychocultural filters.
So, find a universal human insight but leverage it in culture-relevant ways.
Imagine a scene in a TV script that says "Open on a loving family eating dinner together".
For a South Asian the archetypal family is a joint, multi-generational family - between 6 and 10 people
For a N American, it is a nuclear family - four or five people.

The role of language: Language is only a mechanism for communicating, Choosing to advertise in Hindi or Spanish must be based on simple demographics and target preferences. Once that is done, what you say and how you say it is even more important than the language you say it in.

What about pictures? A picture may be worth a thousand words but it still takes words to say so.
I used to have that on my business card. On the other hand maybe I’m biased. I am a writer after all.

"Mainstream ethnic" is not ethnic. Like world music or Canadian Chinese food some ethnic things have gone mainstream. But remember they have been adapted to N American tastes and are often a far cry from the real thing. (Consider: there are no fortune cookies in China). Don't get confused by local cliches. Keep your mind open to the real thing.

The role of marketers from ethnic groups: Being white doesn't make you better at advertising to white folks. Being an advertising professional does. With the ethnic market, familiarity with culture and language has advantages for sure, but you don’t need to be of that ethnicity to be able to create effective advertising. If that was the case, an Indian (me) would never have been able to be successful in Hong Kong – or Canada for that matter. You do need to be open-minded. And interested in that culture. Encourage openness, discourage political correctness, fill your staff's headspace with global influences and examples.

What could possibly make you want a mobile phone so much that you'd pay the equivalent of 5 months' salary to get one?

JWT Beijing, led by Polly Chu (we worked together at JWT HK aeons ago), picked Bruce Lee to twist your arm - and mess with your mind - to promote Nokia's N96 Bruce Lee Ltd edition phone to Chinese early adopters.

As big social network users who look for authentic viral experiences, this is a target audience that wants the bragging rights that come from being first-finders. It's what I call the Speke Effect (after the discoverer of the source of the Nile).

The ad got 16+ million views worldwide - it went viral well beyond China. The phones sold out in 5 days online.

Smashing stuff.

Advertising Agency: JWT Beijing, China
2nd Sales Promotion/Advertising Agency: A4A Beijing, China
Chief Creative Officer: Polly Chu
Creative Director: Shankun Sun
Copywriter: Wei Huang
Art Director: Dechun Qiu
Producer: Lin Ma
Director-In-Charge: Dan Ingall
Senior Account Director: Patrick Yap
Director: Jinjing Zhu, JQK Productions
Producer: Jade Tang, JQK Productions
Post: Wang Yu, JQK Productions

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