The second critical factor when attempting to engage a multicultural audience is language.
Seems obvious, doesn't it? But wait, here's the secret.


Before you can get under someone’s skin you’ve got to live in their skin.
In other words, understand their psychographics.
Get on the same bandwidth.

This approach requires open-mindedness, an appetite for cultural nuance and subtlety, a love of challenge. But it can be done.
To borrow the words of the great Hollies song, he ain't heavy, he's my brother.

Much is made of the cultural differences between various ethnic groups in Canada. Chinese market experts tout their expertise in reaching their fellow immigrants. South Asian market experts flaunt theirs.

Meanwhile, south of the 44th parallel, the Hispanic population has outstripped the African American population. Though one might think this would establish the position of Hispanics in the mainstream, advertising agencies and marketers are spending vast amounts of time and brainpower to say that only a Hispanic agency can produce messaging that will connect with this powerful new audience effectively. It’s an old idea. It’s a well-used idea. It’s an idea whose time has gone.

There is one way to reach a minority audience. To connect, to engage, to be significant, one has to understand what it feels like to be that minority.

“Ich bin ein Berliner” said JFK (unfortunately claiming kinship with a sausage in the process – but we know what he meant).
“I am a Berliner. I am one of you. I too live with the Wall. I feel your pain at being separated from your countrymen.”
The brilliance of the line, of the sentiment, was not one of timing important as it was. Its brilliance lies in empathy.

You aren't heavy if you're my brother.

The door to the mind of a Chinese housewife in Mongkok, Hong Kong or in Agincourt, in the GTA is the same.
And it takes the same key to open it.
That very key also opens the door into the mind of a Tamil accountant in Matunga, Mumbai or in Cedarbrae, Scarborough.

That key is openness. Openness is all. So, marketers, are you?
No habla multiculturalese? You're screwed.

copyright 2007 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved

Right. This posting picks up where the "...Stoopid" posting left off. So how do you talk to the multicultural market without pissing anyone off? Here it is. For free. No holds barred. Nothing hidden. Nothing held back. A drum roll please, for step one:


or, to put it another way


That's right. We tell all our clients that any multicultural advertising they do should bear a strong resemblance to the brand work they are currently running in the mainstream. We find our clients tremendously relieved to hear this.

The truth is, if you've created a brand you have already created an idea of who you are in the public space. A relationship exists. For a multicultural audience, you now need to explain that relationship in a culturally relevant fashion. But you don't have to change who you are to do it.

We know that this works from experience. Here's why:

It reinforces your brand in the advertising; in other words the advertising helps your brand while doing the job it needs to do.

It reinforces your advertising by linking it to your brand (which already lives in the public space); in other words your brand helps your advertising do its job.

In addition, it prevents the alienation of ethnic audiences, who are hypersensitive to obviously “segregated” approaches.
This seems paradoxical, but it is simpler to understand when we put it in the words of a multicultural consumer.
"Treat me the same, but understand my differences."

Our approach is very much in keeping with best practices in ethnic marketing. Case studies of ethnic campaigns that correctly engage their audiences while maintaining brand fidelity are aplenty. (Rogers, Telus, Bank of America).
For a company devoted to establishing what the best practices are in a nascent industry, this sounds like a waffle. It isn't.
A good idea is a good idea even if it's someone else's - in the case of Rogers though, it was ours.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved
A short Eid wish from us.
Click on "Eid Mubarak" (above) to view the greeting.

Because it is better to have an idea than to curse the multicultural market with more darkness.
A short Diwali wish from us, Click on Shubh Labh (above) to view the greeting.

Because it is better to have an idea than to curse the multicultural market with more darkness.
You don't have to speak to us slowly. Or loudly. We're not dumb. Or deaf.

Yet, for some reason, majority culture marketers often assume that visible minorities are, gosh darn it, stoopid.

Now these aren't bad people. They even mean well. They really do want to connect with minority markets.
But, as with so many well-educated anglophone North Americans, ethnocentrism gets in the way.

"They won't understand."
"That's a lovely idea but it's too clever for this audience."

If only they knew. Here's the thing. Ethnic audiences in Canada and the USA are dominated by the post 1990 immigrant phenomenon. These immigrants are well-educated, well-travelled professionals - an affluent white collar audience who must be treated as such.

There is still more to it. These are audiences who have seen their home economies change overnight.
The changes have been radical. Their impact has been global.

The middle class markets that have sprung up in India and China, are surprisingly subtle and sophisticated.

South Asian and Chinese immigrants are exposed to advertising in their home countries that is in many ways more sophisticated than mainstream Canadian advertising. (Watch this blog for great advertising from those markets - it will blow you away, I promise.)

In other words, ethnic audiences are not simple-minded. They do not require simpler messages. In fact they often take offence when treated in this fashion.

These audiences come from ancient cultures and are accustomed to incredibly complex forms of communication. They handle subtlety and nuance to a degree rarely understood by western minds.

So, how should you, as a marketer speak to these markets? More on that after my Diwali and Eid postings.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved
For the last 21 years I have been privy to the tone-und-style diktats of some the largest brands in the known universe.

These brand guidelines or style guidelines or brand documents, as they have been variously and unimaginatively called, were written by some of the most august, venerable touts of branding in the world - great names writing about great names hoping to make a still greater name for themselves.

There was a common denominator in almost all of these documents.
They specified that the brand voice must be Approachable.


Which moron wrote that?
Has there been a commercial venture since the beginning of time that wanted to be unapproachable?

Approachability has been the core of every act of commerce, from the oldest profession in the world to the youngest. Approachability is about what makes you friendly (don't get me started on that word!) and accessible.
Anyone who is selling anything wants to be friendly and accessible.
Butchers. Bakers. Candlestick makers.
Whores. Priests. Doctors. Clairvoyants. Snake oil salesmen. Arms dealers. Pushers.
They all want you to be able to find them, and, having found them, to like the experience of dealing with them enough to want to come back for more.
(There are exceptions and we will come to those another time.)

A pedestrian crossing is approachable.
A pedestrian crossing is also, well, pedestrian.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved
A recent Marketing Magazine issue interviewed research maven Kaan Yigit on how the increase in our multicultural population will affect banks and their marketing.

“The growth of major ethnic cultural groups has been quite rapid in the past 10 years and it will continue for the next 10,” said Kaan, director of Solutions Research Group’s new Diversity in Canada study. “Every 10 years, you’re looking at 2.5 million new immigrants. That’s a lot of people with no brand preference–they don’t know one bank from the next."

Think about it. 2.5 million people.
A population the size of Toronto, every ten years. A population that will need to borrow to finance a new life.

That's a whole lot of new homes, new cars, new kids in school.
That's a whole lot of money in the pipeline.
Mortgages. Car loans. RESPs. Student loans.

The immigrant class Canada attracts is well-educated, professional, equipped with a strong work ethic and a fairly sophisticated world view. For immigrants, bad debts have a cultural stigma associated with them. In other words, to a bank, immigration provides a tide of well-behaved, low-risk customers.

So are Canada's banks making their presence felt among new Canadians?
Actually, the silence is deafening.

Name one bank RESP campaign that is based on the insight that South Asians and Chinese place a very high value on education. Or name an ad that leverages the cultural tendency to save and invest.

One thing banks seem to execute effectively enough is what I call the "insert-visible-minority-here" (IVMH to friends) strategy. It's better than nothing I suppose. IVMH is itself a relatively new phenomenon, accounting for the sudden appearance (c. 2002) of multiple ethnicities in bank advertising. Advertising that until then, had been - how to say this delicately? - colourless.

And now? Surely they've learned?
Oh no. Banks continue to offer the same insipid generic products.
Bank multicultural communications seem to be limited to meaningless sponsorships at random cultural events.
And the absence of cultural insight in bank advertising means that when anything is said, it is sans resonance, sans relevance, and alas, absolutely sans colour.

“Whoever reaches a little bit more deeply, with a little bit more enthusiasm, and perhaps makes sense of (immigrants’) life stages or cultural context, is going to have a bit of an edge.” said Mr Yigit to Marketing Magazine.

I said something very similar to Strategy Magazine when it came out with a multicultural issue - a full five years ago.
I guess the banks just can't understand our accents Mr Yigit.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved
Received some feedback that my posting titled "Where do we come from" required some clarification.

It's all very well having multiculturalism in your DNA when you were born into a fragmented 300 language market.
But how does it actually work?
How do you advertise to multicultural audiences in a predominantly anglophone or francophone society?

You asked.

When we work on a multicultural campaign, we start with anthropological, observation-based research.
We identify the habits and patterns our target audiences have formed since arriving in Canada.
We isolate their motivators and stumbling blocks. We observe them closely, as they live, where they live – at home, in malls, in chat rooms, at events. How closely do we watch them? If they sneeze, we’re there to say gesundheit.

In short, we look hard at our consumers. We listen hard to what they say.
We think hard about what will motivate them most.
And we work hard to produce the best advertising.

It’s easy really.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved
What on earth is a Bheja Bazaar?

Bheja is the Hindi word for brains.
Bazaar is the Hindi word for market.

So, Bheja Bazaar, my multicultural amigos, is a market for brains.
Or to look at it another way, it's brains, for market.

Grey sells.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved

Just recently, I was confronted with two questions
"Where do you come from?"
And "Where are you headquartered?"

Barrett and Welsh is headquartered in Toronto, Canada.
We have roving branch offices in dim sum restaurants, bubble tea parlours, kabab houses, dosa palaces, Turkish cafes and roti huts.
We have affiliates in Vancouver, Washington D.C., New York, Mumbai (India), Hong Kong and Dubai.
We have ideas in bathtubs, backyards, bedrooms and cars.
(Not to mention elevators and lifts, apartments and flats.)

We were established as a full-service agency in 2004.
Before that we operated as a creative consultancy, serving some of Canada’s largest agencies.
Our Mom was a Mughal queen. Our Dad was Genghis Khan.

And where do we come from?
Bombay. Hong Kong. Delhi. Singapore. London. Toronto. Calabria. Berlin. Beijing. Palermo. Next door. Faraway. Neverneverland. Narnia. Bollywood.

Or to look at our origins another way. we were appalled by the poor quality of advertising Canada's ethnic markets are faced with - produced mostly by ‘translator agencies’. We wanted to change all that.

And that, dearly beloved, is where we come from.

copyright 2006 Gavin Barrett All rights reserved

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