Increase in Mandarin-speakers shifts Chinese market

As stability returns to the former British colony of Hong Kong, Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China are gradually replacing the Cantonese-speaking immigrants who came to Canada in great numbers before them. In the decade between 1987 and 1997, more...

As stability returns to the former British colony of Hong Kong, Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China are gradually replacing the Cantonese-speaking immigrants who came to Canada in great numbers before them.

In the decade between 1987 and 1997, more than 170,000 Chinese immigrated to British Columbia. Nearly 57% of those were Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong who were fleeing the uncertainty of the looming reunification with China. However in 1998, more than 71% of new Asian immigrants to B.C. were Mandarin speakers from Taiwan and mainland China, according to a new survey of Chinese media compiled by ACNielsen-DJC Research.

The trend does not appear to be waning, according to Joseph Chan, general manager of the Fairchild Media Group, who presented the survey findings in Toronto. While Cantonese speakers still dominate the Chinese market in both Toronto and Vancouver, most of the new Mandarin immigration is centered in Vancouver, he says.

While there are many similarities between the two ethnic Chinese groups, there are also important differences that marketers wanting to reach the Chinese market must take into account, Chan says. Among the differences, he says, are that ‘people from Hong Kong and Taiwan are generally very affluent, while new immigrants from China are less so.’

Sonny Wong, president of Vancouver’s Hamazaki Wong Marketing Group, says Hong Kong immigrants are also more likely to understand English, thereby providing marketers a better opportunity to reach them through either the mainstream or ethnic media. However, people from Taiwan and China are more likely to speak Mandarin alone, a fact that underscores the need to market to them in their own language, he says.

Elizabeth Reade, vice-president and general manager of Toronto-based EthnoWorks, which has been helping the Burger King restaurant chain to market to Canada’s Chinese community for more than a year, agrees.

‘More and more companies are realizing that if they are to reach these markets, they must talk to them in their own language,’ she says.

Burger King, for instance, has expanded its Chinese ethnic marketing efforts with the completion last month of a number of television spots that feature local Chinese-Canadian celebrities. The spots – ‘Now we’re speaking the same language’ – have already run in Cantonese in Toronto and both Cantonese and Mandarin in Vancouver.

Chuck McAulay, Burger King’s director of marketing, says the chain is looking at ways of further expanding its reach to the Canadian Chinese community. However, he says the ethnic divide makes reaching the entire community more difficult, as it creates the risk of an advertiser splitting its resources and subsequently diluting its message to the point where it becomes ineffective.

‘It comes down to priorities,’ McAulay says.