A growing global influence

With the North American free trade agreement continuing to be in the headlines, a lot of Canadian marketers are thinking along north-south lines.Yet it is the East-West connection that ultimately may prove more profitable for many.The Chinese market in Canada is...

With the North American free trade agreement continuing to be in the headlines, a lot of Canadian marketers are thinking along north-south lines.

Yet it is the East-West connection that ultimately may prove more profitable for many.

The Chinese market in Canada is today providing an opportunity for firms to examine a market force that is shaping up to be a major global influence in the 21st century.

TOP 5 Canadian Cities Re: Chinese Population

Total % of total pop.

Toronto 231,820 6

Vancouver 167,425 10

Montreal 34,355 1

Edmonton 32,960 4

Calgary 32,515 4

Source: Statistics Canada, 1991


As mainland China moves towards a market economy, the Chinese market here in Canada not only offers North American marketers a lucrative niche right here and now, but a window on how to adapt their future business for Asian markets overseas.

Economic experts are forecasting China to be the engine for economic growth and prosperity in the coming century. Yet it is the ever-expanding Chinese market in this country that offers the most immediate opportunities.

In five years – between the1986 and 1991 census – the Asian population in Canada witnessed tremendous growth, increasing 34% to 961,225.

Of that figure, 61% are Chinese, with the majority residing in Toronto or Vancouver.

The Chinese population is expected to grow by 30,000 people per year through immigration from Hong Kong, with 60% of those immigrants settling in Toronto and about 35% moving to Vancouver.

In fact, while the rest of Canada has had to deal with a recession-weary economy, Vancouver is still experiencing economic growth – fuelled largely, it is felt, by the influx of affluent Chinese.

What makes the Chinese market so unique and mysterious? China is a country rich in history and tradition, with a value system based on many ancient beliefs and superstitions.

Chinese culture has always put a strong emphasis on family, education and prestige. The pursuit of wealth, health and happiness is viewed as the Chinese ‘holy trinity’ and, in this, perhaps they are not too different from the typical North American.

And yet there is a wealth of differences and idiosyncrasies that affect the way they conduct business and personal affairs – from how ‘lucky numbers’ can influence real estate transactions to why red and gold are the preferred colors for many products and packaging.


Through Hong Kong, the Chinese have been exposed to and become familiar with many European and North American products. The immigrant from Hong Kong is therefore a bit of a hybrid – Chinese, yes, but with strong Western influences.

The success and prestige aspirations of the Hong Kong immigrants help explain their appetite for designer fashions, luxury cars and expensive homes. They look to Western culture to provide the latest in consumer styles and trends.

I am often asked, ‘How do we properly market our product or service to this group?’

My checklist begins with the product’s current market share in Hong Kong.

Dominant brands in Hong Kong have continued to be successful in Canada with the Chinese. We have seen it in automobiles, consumer electronics and food products.

It is not surprising. Their tastes and product preferences have naturally been shaped in their homeland and, depending on the brand’s success there, this will often indicate the advertising strategy to pursue in Canada.

The strategy’s success is also frequently dependent on the firm’s commitment to putting in place a Chinese-speaking sales staff.


While the Hong Kong immigrants are becoming conversant in their new language, still they feel more comfortable speaking their native tongue, particularly when buying a high ticket item or service.

Some of the other key variables to take into account are the individuality of the Toronto and Vancouver markets, and the availability of Chinese media in the target areas.

Which strategy is most effective will also depend on the industry/ retail distribution network in those markets.

For consistency’s sake, a Chinese campaign should complement the English market execution, yet it should generally be more sales-driven rather than awareness-oriented.

Ready to buy

Why? As the Hong Kong immigrants have settled into their new life, they are ready to buy – to outfit their families with all the accoutrements of North American living.

So Chinese marketing programs should complement mainstream campaigns in terms of strategy, but should have a stronger sales message in order to be successful.

Brands that have been demonstrated as successful are obviously at a competitive advantage during the early years.

Yet as the immigrants become more comfortable with their new life in Canada – as they integrate into this new society – there is a chance to change their perceptions and attitudes, to introduce new products or convert them to new brands.

Now is the perfect time to tap into this thriving new market.

And once you feel confident in your abilities to address the Chinese in Canada, then perhaps you can think about taking your message directly to the one billion Chinese consumers across the Pacific.

Martin Seto is president and creative director of The Reflex Marketing Group, based in Markham, Ont.