With the demographic and population shifts, globalization and advances in technology and communication, the mainstream market has become more diversified, segmented and scattered. As the thought of “individualism” is getting popular everywhere we hear more “I, my, me, mine, myself” words in our daily conversation.

No matter if you are the client, the agency or a small business owner, the word “diversity” has likely become a more frequent topic discussed among your clients, colleagues and friends. “Diversity” refers to a wide range of dimensions such as ethnicity, age, gender, culture, sexual orientation, abilities, religion, etc. Today, let us focus on the “ethnic” segment. Let us try to explain the differences among “multi-cultural,” “cross-cultural” and “diversity” marketing before we discuss the Chinese market in Canada further.

Multi-cultural marketing is mostly used by the public service to promote their messages to ethnic audiences, by adapting the original English advertising (e.g. TV, radio, print) into ethnic languages and delivering it through ethnic language mediums.

Cross-cultural marketing is more often chosen by the private sector to focus on a few selected target ethnic markets. They either trans-create their mainstream materials or newly create the ethnic edition and deliver through the ethnic language medium.

Diversity marketing is a newer way to market to both the older immigrant with more familiarity with Canadian culture as well as second generation members of the ethnic market. The content is newly created or custom-made for the group, but the execution can be in either English or ethnic languages and delivered through English or ethnic channels, too.

In the past 25 years, most marketers have done one or few of the following marketing communications activities in the Chinese market:

  1. Adapted the mainstream English materials (television commercial, printed advertisement and collateral mostly) into the ethnic languages and delivered them through ethnic mediums.
  2. Adapted mainstream market promotions (e.g. new product, seasonal sale or inventory sale) for one or a few select ethnic markets.
  3. Within different ethnic communities, many organizations or associations have organized a series of events during the year because of festivals, religious, alumni, community, training or charity reasons. Sponsorship and advertising opportunities were available.
  4. During these periods, database marketing was used by some marketers. Because of the difficulty in getting a good and clean list and/or low response rate, most have decided not to continue after a few years of attempts. Other methods like telemarketing, couponing or newspaper inserts were sometimes used by few clients from the long-distance phone, credit card and packaged goods categories.

Now, let us look at a few common questions to explore your thoughts or practices about your Chinese marketing.

Q: About budgeting, it is all right to set up the media budget first, then a separate portion for creative and production?

A: I disagree. No matter if you are doing the conventional or direct marketing way, you should set a single budget (combination of the two) and offer the freedom for your mainstream or selected ethnic ad agency to plan, recommend and execute the project. In this case, it is easier for you to measure or evaluate the effectiveness of the ad agency and ROI (return on investment) of your campaign.

Q: If my original mainstream creative concept (and copy) is working, can I just translate the advertising materials into Chinese and place it through the Chinese media?

A: I disagree. The original mainstream creative concept and design is prepared for the mainstream customer. All the major marketing components are different. Unless it was seriously researched and evaluated, we don’t see how it will work as the mainstream market. These components include values and norms, lifestyles, education, Canadian experience, business and career. Please find out exactly who they are and what they want rather than creating some unrealistic and impractical images or figures for them.

 Q: The Chinese market is basically divided by immigrants from mainland China and Hong Kong, right? Reaching them by “Mandarin plus simplified character” or “Cantonese plus traditional character” should be good enough?

A: I disagree. The Chinese market is segmented by their country of origin (please refer to the accompanying table) but the demographic and psychographic data of each targeted customer category (like housewife, student, entrepreneur, professional) is different. Direct marketers should do some fieldwork and get to know them in a more precise and concrete way. Then you choose who you should target and how to deliver your messages.

Segment/Culture Mainland China Hong Kong Taiwan 2nd Generation
Verbal Mandarin Cantonese Mandarin English
Written Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Traditional Chinese English
Lifestyle East Mixed East West
Note: In China, Mandarin is called Putonghua. “2nd Generation” includes all who are born in Canada (second generation, third, and so on).  

Q: If I have a good advertising agency or media planning house, my mainstream campaign should be able to work for Chinese customers?

A: I disagree. Even for the Chinese market, as a direct marketer you still need to go through or set up the normal internal marketing process/channel to back up and to ensure it will work, such as marketing strategy and plan, packaging, distribution, customer services and merchandising, especially at the forefront.

We always recommend our clients either take diversity marketing seriously or not to do it at all. If you’re not ready you will waste your time, efforts and money and it will get you nowhere

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On the other side, we do come across many successful Chinese campaigns in the market, just to mention a few which were executed by us in the past.

  1. A mainstream supermarket chain ran a Chinese New Year promotion for three brands within few weeks across Canada. They had received a high double digit percentage sales increase by using the original creative through the Chinese television and newspaper medium.
  2. A mutual fund company ran an advertisement in a few Chinese newspapers to promote the new product with a simple original concept and their response rate was four times higher than expected.
  3. A tobacco company created an original concept special event to launch a new packaging of cigarette and achieved low-double digit and mid-double digit sales growth over a 10-week period in the first and second year, respectively.
  4. A leading mobile phone network company used a newly created marketing strategy and Chinese out-of-home media to successfully promote an expensive new phone to the young adult.

Over the past 12 months, we have noticed the following multicultural marketing and advertising activities targeting the Chinese market in Canada:

  1. Two mainstream retailers were aggressively promoting their line of cosmetic products through printed advertisements and newspaper inserts on a regular basis.
  2. One of the major banks has produced a few infomercials that are now on their website and promoted through a few major social media channels.
  3. At least three mobile/home phone network companies were promoting by television commercial and printed advertisement to the Chinese market.
  4. A few automotive companies (European, Japanese and American) were promoting their new models or seasonal sale by television commercial and printed advertisement on a regular basis.
  5. A leading luxury fashion brand retailer has arranged an exclusive V.I.P. event for their selected customers. The event will most likely focus on the topic of clothing and make-up and be lead by experts.
  6. More and more Canadian universities, colleges and private high schools are aggressively promoting their brands locally and globally to the Chinese students and their parents.

In the end, as a marketing consultant, I would like to offer some simple advice for you as reference.

  1. Do your market visits or fieldwork on a regular basis. Your personal experience and direct contact with the customers will always to be a valuable asset to you.
  2. Even in a small capacity, try to do your marketing strategy and plan, creative concept, media plan and project review seriously. Don’t totally rely on your mainstream ad agency, media house or selected ethnic ad agency to handle it; they are just part of the game.
  3. As a direct marketer, you can try to apply your thoughts and practices in each project. The direct marketing approach, in my opinion, is quite appropriate for ethnic marketing.

In conclusion, we can dare to say that getting your fair share of the Chinese market in Canada all depends on your know-how and practices. Remember to research, review and evaluate whether what you are doing the right or wrong things.

Cleve Lu is strategist and creative director of Era Integrated, an east/west marketing consultancy which was transformed from a 20- something-year successful ethnic ad agency in Canada called Era Integrated Marketing Communications. He is a Certified Management Consultant and his name was featured at the Canadian Who’s Who (University of Toronto Press) and Who’s Who in Marketing (Marketing Magazine). Cleve can be reached at cleve.lu@eraintegratedinc.com.


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