Multicultural advertising 101

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.

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