Adapting to this special group

Oh East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgement Seat; - Rudyard Kipling A recent study commissioned by the Canadian Advertising Foundation estimates that Canada's Chinese population...

Oh East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat;

- Rudyard Kipling

A recent study commissioned by the Canadian Advertising Foundation estimates that Canada’s Chinese population will grow to 1.3 million by 2001, up from 613,000 in 1991.

People of Chinese ethnic origin are and will continue to be the largest group of visible minorities in Canada. How best to reach them is the subject of this special report.

Six experts with experience in marketing to the Chinese community write about the opportunities available, the values of Chinese consumers and the importance of tailoring one’s message to the target group.

Shall the twain ever meet?

If Rudyard Kipling were alive and living in Canada today, I’m certain he would not state this proposition in such absolute terms.

The Eastern culture’s presence is felt increasingly in many centres across the Western Hemisphere.

Canada, in particular, has become one of the most popular destinations for Hong Kong Chinese entrepreneurs and professionals seeking a new homeland.

A recent study by the Canadian Advertising Foundation projects that the Canadian Chinese market will grow to 1.2 million by the end of the decade.

Finding an effective way of marketing to this growing sector of the population is a challenge facing many Canadian companies in the 1990s.

Reaching this community with your marketing message requires special communications skills and a solid understanding of this demographically and psychographically complex market.

The range of immigrants include: those who arrived at the turn of the century, the Vietnamese refugees of the 1970s, a constant influx of students since the ’60s, and the more recent entrepreneurs.

Canadian immigration policies, coupled with uncertainty about the annexation of Hong Kong in 1997, brought this latest wave.

These Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking newcomers are well-heeled, well-educated, and arrive with an appetite for quality consumer goods.

Upon coming to Canada, their goal is to quickly settle in and make a new life.

As a group, they are intensely brand-loyal and rely heavily on word-of-mouth referral when making a buying decision.

This small, wealthy group represents the primary target audience for many companies wanting to enter the Chinese market.

When marketing to this community, companies should be aware of the subtleties in the Chinese culture. Puns and slight turns of a phrase are important nuances in the Chinese language. Being insensitive to this and other customs can spell doom to an advertising campaign.

Taking an English advertising campaign and adapting it to Chinese is something we call ‘transcreating.’

One has to be careful transcreating, for there are serious pitfalls.

Ching, for instance, can be written with 40 different characters and can have upwards of 80 different meanings depending on pitch, tone, duration, rising and falling inflections. You can imagine the implications.

Recently, North American Life created a Chinese translation of its corporate name. The written characters ‘Ba Mei,’ while technically correct, can be misunderstood (when spoken) to mean ‘not fulfilling.’

Old Chinese attitudes believe that by buying life insurance you are betting against your own life. So having a name that could be construed as ‘not fulfilling’ only makes matters worse.

On our advice, North American Life settled on the Chinese name ‘Ga Mei’ which means ‘Canada’ and ‘America’, but also means ‘added value’ or ‘very fulfilling.’

In another instance, BMW Canada ran an ad campaign with the double entendre headline ‘Active 8′, to promote its V8 engine series.

An ad was transcreated for the Chinese market that matched the company’s marketing objectives and captured the essence of the creative. In Chinese, the headline reads ‘Dong Lei Yan Fatt,’ which means ‘Active 8′ but also ‘powering toward prosperity.’

The Chinese culture is replete with elaborate and exotic customs related to food.

In developing an image for a promotional poster for a special Chinese banquet, it was suggested that a carved steaming melon set in a silver server should be the image used.

We pointed out that in Chinese the translation for melon, dong gua, sounds too similar to the Chinese word for ‘dead’ – not the right image to be linked with such a celebratory banquet.

In another case, we cautioned a client against sending clocks to Chinese businesspeople as an incentive item.

The translation for clock is jong, and for gift is song. Together, ‘song jong’ is too similar sounding to a Chinese expression for paying your last respects to the dead. Again not the best way to promote your service or product to the Chinese market.

There has been much written about Chinese interest in numerology and how there are certain numbers (2,3,6 and 8) that rhyme with Chinese words that mean luck while others, alone (4), and in combination, (5 and 8), sound like unlucky terms.

However, not much has been said about the Chinese attitude to color and how it plays a role in marketing a product.

In the North American design and advertising community the psychology of color is well known.

To a Western consumer, a package that is deep blue and white could convey images of tradition, trust and reliability.

To Chinese consumers, that color combination is associated with colors used for funeral ceremonies and would only add to their superstitions of bad luck or ill fate.

As a general rule, Chinese tend to react well to bright colors. In particular, attention must be paid to specific hues.

For instance, bright red suggests happiness and good luck and is used for celebratory occasions. However, a deep oxblood red is seen as something old and stale, connoting sickness.

In the early ’90s, one of Canada’s largest trust companies wanted to establish an identity in the Asian market.

It was unaware that many Hong Kong immigrants lost their life savings to bankrupt trust companies.

To the Hong Kong immigrant, even the Chinese term for ‘trust’ (‘xin tou’) sounds like ‘tou,’ as in ‘tou sui long,’ which means ‘money which has been appropriated.’

To counteract this inherent distrust, a Chinese idiom was used. Translated, it reads, ‘A heritage of trust and security. Our objective is to pay the highest respect to our customers.’

The visual element employed was a traditional Chinese lock embossed with the saying: ‘This lock will secure the family’s treasure.’

The colors reinforced this positive message – red for good luck, and teal green for richness.

On a cultural note, hiring a ‘Geomancer’ to check the Feng Shui of a residence or office building is no longer scoffed at.

Feng Shui is the Chinese science of manipulating and arranging things in one’s environment to achieve prosperity, good health and good luck.

A number of developers now recognize that the directional placement of the house, the juxtaposition of the rooms, airiness of the stairways, and attention to the angularity of shapes are all critical considerations factored into a real estate purchase.

The Chinese culture is rich in maxims, proverbs and sayings which can be incorporated into a marketing campaign.

The Dragon Ball, a gala evening and fund-raising event, required a visual concept which could be used in both print and broadcast.

The idea recommended was based on an idiom, ‘Wot long dim jing,’ which refers to the legend about a painting of a dragon that came to life when its eye was completed.

A dinner plate with the image of a dragon on it was photographed. A pair of chopsticks holding a pearl was placed exactly over the eye of the dragon.

The visual elements were thus imbued with multiple levels of meaning and reference. By coupling culturally based images with business objectives in this way, the campaign’s effectiveness was ensured.

To effectively reach the Chinese market, and encourage trial and retrial, you must package your marketing to fit the Chinese-Canadian community.

Ensuring that the planning and creative is sensitive to cultural issues and values is essential.

Using concepts and idioms that spring from the culture will ensure that your marketing message is effective.

It means rethinking traditional ways of marketing products and services with emphasis on different marketing tools.

Terry O’Connor is president of Terry O Communications, a Toronto-based company that specializes in design for corporate and marketing communications.