Agency makes festival a favorite

One of Vancouver's smallest ad agencies has built the annual Dragon Boat Festival into one of the region's most popular events.Apart from a limited advertising campaign, Hamazaki Wong Advertising (hwa) uses sponsorships, fundraising efforts, public relations events and educational programs to...

One of Vancouver’s smallest ad agencies has built the annual Dragon Boat Festival into one of the region’s most popular events.

Apart from a limited advertising campaign, Hamazaki Wong Advertising (hwa) uses sponsorships, fundraising efforts, public relations events and educational programs to build awareness for the event, now in its fifth year.


The project began in 1988 when b.c.’s lieutenant-governor, David Lam, a Canadian of Chinese descent, was lamenting the animosity toward the Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong arriving in the province’s Lower Mainland.

It was Lam who suggested the idea of holding a cultural festival featuring the traditional Chinese sport of dragon boat racing as a way to counter racial tensions.

The first festival in 1989 drew a respectable 50,000 visitors to watch 35 teams of dragon boat competitors race their canoes along the scenic stretch of water known as False Creek off Granville Island.


A cultural festival was held alongside the race, featuring an assortment of entertainers and Asian foods.

Last May, nearly 120,000 visitors came to watch 101 dragon boat teams from around the world compete.

Organizers say the Vancouver event is the most important dragon boat race in North America.

More importantly, the three-day festival has established itself as the official opening of summer in Vancouver.

Summer solstice

The event is held over a three-day weekend around the summer solstice, which on the Chinese lunar calendar roughly falls on the fifth day of the fifth moon.

Despite the early success of the Canadian Dragon Boat Festival, sponsorships from community businesses were beginning to decline by the early ’90s with the onset of the recession.

Clearly, the race was a top draw, however more sponsors were needed to support many of the educational programs aimed at retaining the multicultural focus of the event.

Sonny Wong, president of hwa, the advertising agency that had produced and promoted the event from the beginning, decided to take on the additional responsibility of increasing sponsorships.

‘I wanted the festival to improve itself as a special event,’ Wong says. ‘I also wanted to educate the public on its message of cross-cultural communication.


‘To do this, we needed to expand public and team awareness and participation and, of course, put bums in seats,’ he says.

Wong and his staff provided the corporate community with custom-designed sponsorship proposals in which sponsors could tie into a program that would complement their own marketing direction.

hwa staffers took with them Spirit of the Dragon, a 23-minute documentary the agency had produced a year before in partnership with Troika Productions and the cbc, which aired the film last December on Sunday Arts.

Googoplex, a toy manufacturer from Richmond, b.c., signed on to sponsor the youth portion of the festival, called Kid’s Corner.

Canada Dry

Canada Dry picked up the cost of sponsoring the race bleachers.

Brights Wines sponsored the International Wine Bar, while the law firm of Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang brought vips together for a cocktail reception.

The Hongkong Bank sponsored the Bankers Cup Race, featuring dragon boat competition between various regional banking teams.

hwa also initiated a cross-promotion with Shoppers Drug Mart, in which customers could get $2 off a three-day Dragon Boat ticket price with the purchase of Kodak film.

Now assured the event would break even, hwa needed to raise additional funds to expand the awareness campaign.

A mid-winter gala dinner featured a silent auction among more than 500 guests from the corporate community who paid $200 a table to attend a dinner dance.

This event included a chance to win a trip for two to Hong Kong via Cathay Pacific Holidays.

Wong’s research indicated that 70% of all Lexus cars were bought by Asians, so hwa organized regional Lexus dealers to support a fundraising raffle of a Lexus LS400 automobile.

20 new sponsors

In total, 20 new sponsors were added to the festival’s roster, contributing a total of $650,000 of sponsorship value. Of this amount, direct cash contributions increased 150% over 1992.

As part of hwa’s year-round effort to raise multicultural awareness for the festival, the agency began presentations to schoolchildren at the elementary and secondary levels through the sponsorship of the Asia Pacific Foundation and Googoplex Toys.

Presentations were given to schoolchildren in the Lower Mainland, along with a two-day free pass to attend the festival.

About 1,500 schoolchildren and teachers attended the festival.

With the support of Googoplex and the Asian Foundation, the Dragon Boat outreach program has since been instituted as a multicultural teaching unit by the Vancouver School Board.

With the educational program under way, hwa turned its attention to increasing attendance.

Shoppers Drug Mart, which sold tickets across its 41-store chain in the Lower Mainland, reported an increase of advance ticket sales of 50% over the previous year on the strength of the Kodak promotion and other events.

hwa also motivated about 2,500 paddlers and corporate paddling teams to generate advance ticket sales, awarding prizes to the teams with the highest sales figures.

PR program

It co-ordinated a media relations program to place stories in the local community press, featuring the False Creek Women’s team – the reigning world champion women’s dragon boat team – as well as the False Creek men’s team, a consistent finisher in the top five internationally.

The coverage was helped by the fact that the People’s Republic of China was sending a dragon boat team to Vancouver to participate, the first time one of its teams has competed outside of Asia.

The event was also drawing teams from the u.s., Australia, Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand and Indonesia, the reigning two-time world champion men’s team.

The publicity focussed the coverage on cultural events, which included operatic singers and acrobatic performers from the u.s. and China.

The advertising, translated for area Chinese radio, tv and newspapers, featured a brightly colored mural painting, which was also used in posters.

Collateral materials, in English and Chinese, were distributed widely through ticket outlets and sponsor retail locations.

In total, more than $200,000 was spent on media and promotion, including production costs. Of that total, Wong says 90% was donated by media sponsors.

10% increase

When the results were tabulated at the end of the event, the organizers reported an attendance of 125,000 visitors, a 10% increase over 1992.

Wong is already fielding calls from international corporate sponsors anxious to become a part of the 1994 Dragon Boat Festival.

While the attendance figures were impressive, Wong insists the real success lay in communicating the original mission statement: ‘to celebrate the rich and diverse multicultural heritage of Canada through a large visual and performing arts festival.’

Wong says the Dragon Boat Festival is a success ‘because we had a vision to start with.

‘We looked at everything we were doing and asked ourselves, `Is this going to fulfill our mission to promote the diversity of people?’ ‘ he says.