Telus Mobility targets Chinese Canadians with cult Cantonese cartoon celebs

I think it's a pig

A back-to-school promotion for Telus Mobility will introduce popular Hong Kong cartoon characters to Canada for the first time. The company is targeting Chinese-Canadian teenagers and university students with two characters that have already achieved fame overseas.

The centerpieces of the promotion are the world-famous McMug and McDull. You may not have heard of them, but the stars of the animated television series My Life as McDull have long been popular both in Hong Kong and in Chinese communities internationally. The piglet McDull first appeared in a comic book series and now stars in an animated feature film that describes his life in a world of both animals and humans, including trips to his mother’s TV cooking show and a trip to the Maldives. Critics describe the film as ‘delightfully funny and affectionately satirical,’ and loaded with Cantonese slang and cultural in-jokes.

The film took home the Best Feature award from the Annecy, France-based International Animated Film Festival. Fresh on the heels of the movie came a karaoke DVD. The series also spawned merchandise including stationery and small toys. One2Free, a Hong Kong mobile phone carrier, ran a successful promotion with the characters, including McDull-themed handsets. Telus will be the first to bring the craze to North America.

‘This is a niche marketing program,’ says Alice Lee, manager of Telus Mobility’s Toronto-based niche marketing department, which also makes overseas efforts in the Italian and South Asian markets. ‘Only the targeted segment will know who they are. If you ask someone in the mainstream market, they will just find them very cute.’

‘I am from Hong Kong,’ says John Leung, president of Toronto-based Prime Advertising, which implemented the campaign. ‘Each year I go back, so I know these are very popular items. The character ties in with our existing image.’

‘They fit into our brand image because they are future friendly and everybody likes them,’ adds Lee.

Telus Mobility is offering all new subscribers who sign a two- or three-year contract one of five free plush McMug toys: Angel McMug, Apron McMug, Chef McDull, Swimming McMug or Baby McMug. Telus hopes to make the cuddly characters synonymous with the mobile phone carrier.

Prime Advertising maximized the use of pre-identified Chinese channels to announce the program to its target market. A one-minute infomercial, which shows McDull and McMug explaining the logistics of the promotion in a Telus Mobility store environment, appeared on Fairchild TV. Print ads ran in Chinese newspapers. Radio ads appeared on local Chinese-language stations, featuring McDull and McMug talking about the promotion.

In-store advertising was a major component. Dealerships in predominantly Chinese neighborhoods in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta, which routinely place among the top 10 performing dealerships for the company, featured prominent poster displays. Many stores have already had to re-order the promotional items multiple times, and feedback from clients is positive. Sales figures are still in the process of being tracked.

The program is in keeping with Telus Mobility’s long-term strategy.

‘The overall acquisition strategy of Telus Mobility is to target the cream of the crop, the highest-value clients,’ says Lee. ‘[People in the] Chinese market are early adopters and traditionally have high usage rates.’

That explains why Telus Mobility has such a long history in the Chinese community. In 2000, it worked with Prime Advertising to create a Chinese version of the company name. An extensive search and survey helped them come up with four Chinese characters that translate roughly into the phrase ‘explore, develop, technology.’ Beside this is always printed a reasonably precise translation of the English tagline: ‘The future is friendly.’

The company operates a customer service hotline in Cantonese and Mandarin that is always included in advertisements and also operates a Chinese-language Web site.

Previous campaigns targeting the Chinese market include a promotion tying in the Telus name with Samsung, one of the company’s handset manufacturers and a brand with high recognition in the Chinese community. People who purchased a handset were offered the chance to scratch and win. One out of eight people won an electronic item from Samsung, from DVD players to video cameras. Seven out of eight people won $50 gift certificates towards Samsung accessories for their new phones, including batteries and cases.

Its most popular campaign so far was a charity event designed to raise funds for Mon Sheung, a Chinese charity in Toronto. Telus Mobility raised over $21,000 through a silent auction for a vanity telephone number that included the number eight.

‘The number eight means so much,’ says Lee. ‘All Chinese like to pick the number eight.’ The number, in Chinese, signifies wealth, among other things.

A similar event raised slightly more money for a similar Chinese charity in B.C. The events involved almost no costs and went directly towards brand recognition in the Chinese community.

‘Their commitment is long-term,’ says Leung, who is pleased with the strategy. ‘They are interested in the market. They care about our people.’