Marketers overlooking youth audience

Is it just us, or have a lot of advertisers begun to seem a little like older guys in the grip of mid-life crises lately? Just consider, for a moment, all the youth-targeted campaigns we're seeing out there in the marketplace...

Is it just us, or have a lot of advertisers begun to seem a little like older guys in the grip of mid-life crises lately?

Just consider, for a moment, all the youth-targeted campaigns we’re seeing out there in the marketplace these days. Somehow, it’s hard not to think of middle-aged guys sucking in their guts, donning boarder gear and checking out the action at the local rave.

Yes, advertisers have rediscovered the youth market. And, as typically happens when a lucrative niche presents itself, they’ve pounced on it with all the subtlety of a hungry mountain lion – or a fortysomething investment banker – on the prowl.

Now ponder, if you will, another trend we’ve witnessed in recent years: the rise of multicultural marketing. Mainstream marketers haven’t been quite as swift to embrace the notion of targeting ethnic Canadians – but they’ve certainly stepped up their dollar investment in this whole area.

So let’s see: Marketers are interested in the youth market. They’re interested in ethnic markets. The logical upshot? That they’re keen on putting dollars toward ethnic youth, right?

You’d think. But you’d be a little off the mark.

‘I personally haven’t seen a lot of that take place,’ says Sonny Wong, president and creative director of Hamazaki Wong Marketing Group, a Vancouver-based agency with expertise in Asian marketing. ‘[Advertisers] may not see the audiences as being large enough to warrant throwing money at them.’

Mainstream advertisers have a number of reasons for their reluctance to spend money pursuing under-30 ethnic Canadians, multicultural marketing experts say.

Economics, of course, is the big one. ‘When you’re talking to a client about their multicultural budget, you’re really talking about a small percentage of their overall budget,’ says Justin Poy, president of Toronto-based Justin Poy Media. ‘That’s already considered niche marketing. To break that down and talk about targeting a further niche within that is often just too much for them.’

Another factor often cited is the relative paucity of targeted media vehicles. Then there’s the shortage of demographic and psychographic research. And, finally, there’s the issue of assimilation: Most young people from immigrant communities, it’s generally assumed, have either integrated into the mainstream culture, or aspire to become integrated. So why bother targeting them specifically through ethnic media channels, when you can probably reach them more easily as part of the mass audience watching Friends or Frasier?

The catch, of course, is that it’s unwise to make sweeping assumptions about any large group – especially one made up of individuals from many different cultures. The term ‘young ethnic Canadians,’ after all, encompasses everything from second- and third-generation Italian and Portuguese Canadians whose first language is very likely English, to recent arrivals from Hong Kong or Taiwan who still communicate primarily in their mother tongue.

What’s more, cultural heritage and identity can be a powerful force even in the lives of those whose families have long been settled in Canada.

‘Their cultures are often very strong in them,’ says Elizabeth Reade, a partner with Toronto-based Hennessy, Bray & Reade and its multicultural marketing division, EthnoWorks. ‘They may speak English without a trace of an accent. But often they still live at home, even in their 20s and 30s. And they hear their parents speak their mother tongue, they listen to media in their mother tongue. They shop locally at merchants who are part of that culture. The language, the cultural mores – all of that stuff can still be an extremely strong influence.’

It’s much more convenient for a mainstream advertiser simply to assume that young people will assimilate, says Melanie Farrell, director, business development language sales with Toronto-based multicultural broadcaster CFMT-TV. But if anything, there seems to be a resurgence of interest in cultural heritage among younger ethnic consumers.

‘If you look at communities like the Italian and Portuguese that have been here for a while, the younger generation that is having families now has begun to revert back,’ she says. ‘There’s a pride in their heritage and culture, and they want their children to share in that. So they send their kids to heritage schools on weekends to learn the language. And there’s a real opportunity now for advertisers to reach out to these people. If you take that extra step and talk to them [within the context of] their language and culture, you’re going to score points.’

While the range of media vehicles available for targeting ethnic youth may still be somewhat limited, the options are more numerous today than at any time in the past. Ming Pao’s Sunday magazine, for example, now affords advertisers an avenue for speaking to young Chinese consumers. On the broadcast side, CFMT now boasts an extensive lineup of youth-oriented music shows, such as Latin Vibes and Solo Musica. And Canada’s Italian and Hispanic broadcaster, Telelatino, has recently revamped its own schedule to increase its appeal to younger viewers. (See story, opposite.)

‘In Canada 15 or 20 years ago, we didn’t have all of these media reaching out,’ says Susan Mui, director of client services with Markham, Ont.-based multicultural marketing agency Admerasia. ‘Now kids from Hong Kong can watch the same shows in Toronto that they used to watch at home. And the same is true for other groups as well. We have all these different options now.’

There’s room, of course, for many more additions to the menu. Sonny Wong, for one, sees untapped potential for development of bilingual vehicles that would cater to both new immigrants and young ethnic Canadians who were born in this country.

‘One idea that I think would work effectively for the youth market is a radio show with two DJs, one speaking English, the other Cantonese or Punjabi or what have you,’ he says. ‘It would attract young people [born in Canada] who don’t have high proficiency in their mother tongue, but don’t want to lose sight of their heritage – they would understand what’s being said in English, and be able to learn their own language better. On the other hand, you’d also get people who are more comfortable with their mother tongue, but who want to learn English.’

ChineseWorld, a glossy Markham, Ont.-based magazine that launched in January, applies that same principle in the print medium, publishing articles in both English and Chinese. (Most of the ads that appeared in the premiere issue were either English-language or bilingual.)

The goal of the magazine is to reach both young people and their parents, says co-publisher Ed Cowan. Young Chinese Canadians generally live at home a lot longer than their counterparts in the mainstream culture, he notes – and they have a profound influence on household purchase decisions by their parents. ‘So we set out to get the two generations to talk to each other. We thought that if we had articles of interest to younger as well as older people, it might provoke dialogue in the household.’

The parents in these households are generally voracious consumers of Chinese media, Cowan observes – and they tend to be anxious that their offspring retain strong ties to the culture.

Research data on young ethnic consumers, it’s generally acknowledged, is hard to come by. Those insights that multicultural marketers can offer tend to be based heavily on anecdote and observation. (There’s consensus, for example, that young people recently arrived from Hong Kong tend to be more brand-conscious than their counterparts who were born here. The reason? ‘There’s not much for a young person to do in Hong Kong, except shop,’ says Justin Poy.)

Elizabeth Reade, however, isn’t impressed when mainstream advertisers cite lack of data as a reason to steer clear of multicultural marketing initiatives.

‘It’s an excuse, as opposed to a legitimate concern,’ she says. ‘They’ll tell you, ‘Gee I’d really love to, because I believe in it, but unless you’ve got the numbers to show me, I can’t.’ It’s basically just fear of the unknown. For many advertisers, it looks like a big risk.’

Instead of asking why they should bother targeting ethnic youth, Reade says, advertisers should be asking ‘Why not?’

‘Obviously, a lot depends on the product and whether it’s appropriate for that target,’ Reade says. ‘But there’s no research to prove that it doesn’t work, and the media aren’t expensive compared to the mainstream; it’s easy to target a large number of people effectively with very little wastage of media money. So why wouldn’t you? It’s insurance, it’s added value and it shows respect for that consumer.’

CFMT’s Melanie Farrell agrees. ‘It’s a chance [for an advertiser to] connect with people, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money. It’s at the point where I want to be like Nike and tell people, ‘Just do it.’ Do it because it makes sense.’

Also in this report:

- Face of Chinese market is changing p.30

- South Asian films a hit for AMC p.30

- Telelatino tires more mainstream fare: Hopes to build advertiser base with subtitled movies, music videos p.33

Meat and plant-based sales are both strong at Maple Leaf

Both priority areas performed well in the company's full-year results, helped by a boost in marketing for new products.
Maples Leaf All Natural 4

Maple Leaf Foods reported higher Q4 and full-year 2020 sales, driven by its sustainable meats and plant-based proteins. 

The CPG co. reported quarterly sales of $1.13 billion, up from $1.02 billion for Q4 2019, as well as net earnings of $25.4 million, compared to $17.5 million for the same period the year prior (an increase of 45.2%).

For full fiscal 2020, the company reported a total increase of 9.2% in sales, driven by what it says is “strong growth in both the meat and plant protein groups.”

“We have repositioned our portfolio towards two high-growth categories now representing 20% of our annual sales generating a compounded growth rate in excess of 25% over the last three years,” says Michael McCain, the company’s president and CEO.

Meat protein group sales  comprised of prepared meats, ready-to-cook and ready-to-serve meals, snack kits, value-added fresh pork and poultry products that are sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels, and agricultural operations  grew 11.3% for the quarter. 

Meanwhile, sales of plant protein products  refrigerated plant protein brands such as Lightlife and Field Roast, premium grain-based protein, and vegan cheese products sold to retail, foodservice and industrial channels  was up 5.5% over the same period. 

Sales growth for its meat portfolio was driven by “a favourable mix-shift towards sustainable meats and branded products,” but also growth in exports to Asian markets, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases, according to the company. Strong demand in the retail channel was offset by lower volume in foodservice as a result of COVID-19.

For its plant-based offerings, sales for 2020 were $210.8 million compared to $176.4 million last year, representing a growth of 19.5%, or 18.1% after excluding the impacts of foreign exchange. The segment was driven by expanded distribution of new products, continued volume increases in its existing portfolio, and pricing actions implemented to mitigate inflation and other structural cost increases.

SG&A expenses totalled $144 million for the plant group alone in 2020, with investments focused on advertising, promotion and marketing to build awareness, as well as supporting brand renovation and new product innovation. SG&A for meat proteins were $346.6 million for the full year, and the company says it expects SG&A levels and marketing investment in 2021 to be largely in line with where they were in 2020.

The company, which in 2019 announced it had gone carbon neutral, says it’s amplifying this commitment while “focusing on eliminating waste in any resources it consumes, including food, energy, water, packaging, and time.”