Panasonic taps into Chinese community

When Nancy Biderman joined Mississauga, Ont.-based Panasonic Canada as manager of consumer and corporate communications in the summer of 1998, the company had already been adapting its English creative into other languages - like Cantonese, Italian and Spanish - to target...

When Nancy Biderman joined Mississauga, Ont.-based Panasonic Canada as manager of consumer and corporate communications in the summer of 1998, the company had already been adapting its English creative into other languages – like Cantonese, Italian and Spanish – to target different ethnic groups in both television and print.

But, as someone who had played a large role in helping IBM enter various ethnic markets, Biderman knew that Panasonic could be doing more. ‘One thing I wanted to do was increase our presence,’ she says. And because many of Panasonic’s products are ideally suited to the Chinese market, that was where her main efforts were directed.

The first thing the company did was hire LLT Advertising in Markham, Ont. as its multicultural agency of record. The second thing it did is put its money where its mouth was – setting to work to create original spots and print ads to target the Chinese community.

The first such spot launched just in time for Chinese New Year, 2000. It was for the company’s National brand rice cooker. Called ‘Ice Breaker,’ the television commercial featured a scene all too familiar to most cultures.

The spot shows a young woman bringing her boyfriend home to introduce him to her parents and grandparents. There is an uncomfortable silence, made that much more palpable by the ticking of a clock. The girl encourages her boyfriend to say something. He spots the National rice cooker and remarks that it’s the same brand his family uses. His comment succeeds in breaking the ice and the family opens up, welcoming the young man into the fold.

‘The creative not only keeps in mind our business objective but also who we are marketing to,’ says Biderman. Combining humour with respect for the culture resulted in a spot that was embraced by the community, she says. ‘It was very successful.’

The National rice cooker enjoys the highest share in Canada and the spot not only reached those looking for their first rice cooker – but its new features also encouraged upgrades, according to Biderman.

The second spot, launched just before this year’s celebration of the Year of the Snake, promoted the National brand Thermo Pot. An appliance that not only heats water to boiling but also keeps it at 98 degrees all day, the Thermo Pot features a special purification filter designed to produce a better cup of tea. Because tea is such an integral part of Chinese culture, it was important to play up the pot’s benefits in a cultural landscape. The spot highlighted one of the culture’s most important traditions – the renowned tea ceremony performed at weddings, to symbolize filial piety and respect.

According to Biderman, the spot opens on the new bride in traditional wedding garb serving tea to her in-laws. She waits for their reaction. Eventually, the mother-in-law says that it tastes different but seems obviously pleased, as does the new father-in-law. The bride comments to her new husband that she has even more secrets to charm her new in-laws. Again, the melding of humour with something culturally recognizable works to promote the product and brand, according to Biderman.

Wendy Luk, general manager of LLT Advertising, the agency behind the spot, says that electronic teapot ownership is a lot higher in the Asian community than the community at large. The spot works because it’s something the entire community – whether first generation or recent immigrants – recognizes. ‘We wanted to marry the unique product features and make it relevant to the culture,’ she says.

Armed with the knowledge that Canada’s Chinese population is split between Cantonese speakers from Hong Kong and Mandarin speakers from mainland China and Taiwan, the 30-second spots – which aired in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto – were shot in both dialects.

The company has also been busy creating customized print advertising. Its most recent effort, for a leather electronic massage recliner, features a ‘Help Wanted’ ad calling for a masseur to be available 24 hours a day. Beneath the fake ad is a visual of the recliner.

Last year, Panasonic also owned the back page of Ming Pao’s weekend magazine for the entire year, using the space to advertise a number of its electronic products.

While the Chinese community is rich with early adopters – making it critical that Panasonic promote the launch of products like ShockWave and Tau TV in the Chinese press – there are some products that are lost on the audience, according to Biderman. There’s no point in advertising two-way radios to the community, she says. ‘They don’t use them.’

Also in this report:

- Many not putting theory into practice: Big-name clients support multicultural marketing in theory, but are reluctant to assign the dollars p.B2

- Shuffling towards the new diversity: Who’s doing what to reach cultural groups in Canada p.B4

- Asian routes lead Air Canada to Asian ads: When the airline debuted Hong Kong flights, communicating in Cantonese made good business sense p.B6

- Bell Mobility targets key Chinese market: Community ‘an active and growing segment’ for the wireless service provider p.B7

- Ethnic marketing just good business for HSBC Bank p.B7