Ford gets specific

Ford of Canada has set its sights on the burgeoning Asian-Canadian population, which clocked in at 1.6 million people in the 2006 Census, including South Asians. Its most recent campaign targeting

Ford of Canada has set its sights on the burgeoning Asian-Canadian population, which clocked in at 1.6 million people in the 2006 Census, including South Asians. Its most recent campaign targeting Chinese-Canadians specifically features comedian, TV presenter, expat Canadian and Olympic ambassador Mark Rowswell, known as the most famous foreigner in China. His Chinese stage name is Dashan, which means ‘big mountain.’

Ford’s campaign featuring Rowswell includes a TV spot, print ads and a website, All efforts are done in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and are running in Toronto and Vancouver. The campaign plays on Ford’s ‘Powered By You’ tagline, translated roughly into ‘Controlled By Your Own Hand’ for the Chinese efforts.

‘There’s a real opportunity to talk to Chinese-Canadians in media relevant to them,’ says Barb Tilly, marketing communications manager at Oakville, Ont.-based Ford of Canada. ‘Our goal is to be the top domestic manufacturer in sales to Asian-Canadians.’

This is the first time a Canadian automaker has designed a website specifically for Chinese-Canadians. ‘Online is such an important way to speak to our customers as a whole, and we didn’t want to miss that opportunity with Chinese-Canadians,’ says Tilly.

We asked Albert Yue, managing director at Toronto-based multicultural agency Dynasty Advertising & Communications, and David Allard, senior brand manager at Toronto-based Campbell Company of Canada, to weigh in on whether this highly targeted effort hits the mark.

Overall strategy

Yue: Case studies support that Chinese-specific executions are more effective than an English commercial dubbed into Chinese. Ford needs to establish itself among the new immigrants and Chinese-Canadians, and this is the right strategy to go about doing it.

Allard: Given the current challenges faced by North American auto brands, it makes great sense to invest now to build relationships with a growing, important consumer group in Canada. Using familiar cultural icons that align with the brand positioning and vision is a good first step to building a dedicated, credible conversation with these consumers.

Choice of spokesperson

Yue: 50/50. Mark Rowswell has a strong and positive image among immigrants from mainland China, but is quite unknown among those from Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, recent mainland Chinese immigrants are a bigger and therefore more important group for Ford, so Mark Rowswell is a good strategic choice.

Allard: Use of Rowswell as a spokesperson is a fantastic opportunity. He’s respected in both countries, articulate and recognizable. Ford did well to secure him as spokesperson now, not only to leverage the press generated around the Olympics, but possibly before he becomes associated with other brands with similar objectives.


Yue: I find this execution very cliché. Rowswell is an impressive Chinese-speaking Caucasian, but his dialogue forces in clichéd Chinese elements and phrases. It’s as laughable as selling fortune cookie messages to Chinese people as though they’re factual statements. While it’s clear that Mark Rowswell endorses Ford, he can be better used.

Allard: It’s well-produced, but lacks originality save for some design elements. Perhaps future executions might make better use of Rowswell’s xiangsheng [comedic banter] approach to further deepen cultural relevance while driving breakthrough brand distinctiveness. I almost felt it could have been any recognizable Chinese celebrity in this spot.


Yue: The print ads are colourful and the horses analogy is well done. However, I don’t feel that the floral and animated fantasy treatment helps uplift Ford’s ‘American car’ image.

Allard: These feel inconsistent with the strategy of leveraging Rowswell to build cultural relevance. Why use horses and rainbows to connect creative elements when you have a powerful spokesperson who can lend brand context via a strong and appealing personality like few others?


Yue: This is a high-quality site that has effectively integrated the Mark Rowswell strategy. It’s colourful and easy to navigate. However, if mainland Chinese natives are the target (as using Rowswell as a spokesperson would suggest), this site should be using simplified Chinese characters rather than traditional Chinese characters, which are more popular among Hong Kong immigrants.

Allard: I admit I couldn’t understand most of the website, but the digital elements featuring Rowswell did seem to give a little more exposure to his personality. The site looks clean and functional, but I wonder whether more could have been done to tie the different elements of this campaign together visually, or make it a little more conducive to exploration specifically by the target market.
The creds

Ford of Canada

Barb Tilly, marketing communications manager; Terry Spyropoulos, marketing communications manager; Jim Hartford, director marketing communications; Dean Stoneley, VP general marketing

Ad agency – Kang & Lee Advertising

Tammy Ho, ACD; Kalun Nam, AD; Albert Tsang, AD; Phoebe Wung, copy supervisor; Joette Spinelli, producer

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