Inclusion in advertising

Strategy recently received an email with the subject line: 'Racism in commercials.' It asked why there were rarely people of color in commercials in anything but secondary roles. Good question. The consumerscape in Canada continues to diversify, but have marketing departments and ad agencies kept pace with the change? Do marcom programs reflect the new multicultural mix? What can be done? We decided to find out.

Strategy recently received an email with the subject line: ‘Racism in commercials.’ It asked why there were rarely people of color in commercials in anything but secondary roles. Good question. The consumerscape in Canada continues to diversify, but have marketing departments and ad agencies kept pace with the change? Do marcom programs reflect the new multicultural mix? What can be done? We decided to find out.


Barb Tilly is marketing communications manager at Ford of Canada, where she oversees multicultural communications, as well as Lincoln marcom. Previously she led multicultural research with a focus on opportunities to grow Ford’s image within the Asian communities in Canada, and oversaw its Chinese-language TV and print executions.

Jacquie Hood is sales development manager at OMNI TV, whose remit now includes Roger’s new OMNI channels in Calgary and Edmonton.

Tony Pigott is president and CEO, JWT Canada. In 2001, he launched JWT Social – now Ethos – a service specializing in strategic marketing for non-profit institutions. He has chaired the Committee on Diversity in Advertising, which researched Canadians’ perceptions of how the industry is doing on the inclusion front.

Saul Gitlin is EVP strategic services, Kang & Lee Advertising in New York. He spent nine years in senior marketing roles overseas – seven in China and two in the Middle East. He serves on the Asian American Advertising Federation board and the Advertising Research Foundation’s Multicultural Research Council.

Prasad Rao is business director and partner at Toronto-based Rao Barrett and Welsh, with experience in integrated multimedia campaigns. The agency has worked in Asia and Africa, and specializes in communicating to the South Asian and Chinese communities. Its clients include TD Canada Trust, CBC, Bell Mobility and Diageo. Rao was also formerly CEO of Ammirati Puris Lintas in Tanzania.

Mark Childs is VP marketing at Campbell Company of Canada, where he leads the Canadian soup, beverage and cracker brand portfolios and participates on the Canadian senior leadership team. Childs is active in the company’s diversity programs, and launched OPEN – Our Pride Employee Network, an internal GBLT affinity network.


Joan McArthur is a partner at 27 Marbles Training, where she teaches courses for advertising and marketing professionals. She also teaches at OCAD, and has 20 years of experience at agencies including Ogilvy & Mather and McCann Erickson (now MacLaren McCann).

When a leading paper in Toronto pictured five toddlers from different ethnic backgrounds on its front page, it echoed Statistics Canada’s prediction of the country’s cultural composition in the near future. The 2006 census data reveals that from 2001 to 2006 the number of visible minorities grew at a rate of 27.2% – five times that of the population as a whole. Of these ethnic groups, the two largest, South Asians and Chinese, already account for 8.5% of the population, and are pegged to constitute 15% by 2017.

But switch on the TV, and chances are these segments are not reflected in the same ratios, beyond government advertising. Interestingly, when Canadians across the country were asked a few years ago if advertising was geared too much to white consumers, 45% said yes. That number rose to 48% with the visible minorities polled.

Our roundtable experts opined that Canada’s huge ethnic segment has not been included in most marketers’ mainstream advertising and marketing communications, prompting the question: do we all need to increase our cultural intelligence?

While financial institutions, telecom and auto companies have taken an early lead in including the new consumer segments, others such as consumer packaged goods companies have yet to keep pace. One historical barrier for more multicultural programs has been created by a lack of third-party metrics within ethnic media as well as timely, arm’s-length research on the segments.

However, given the exponential growth of the Chinese and South Asian communities and an increasingly diverse consumerscape overall, some marketers feel being inclusive in mainstream activities is more of a ‘why not?’ question than something that needs to be justified with extensive tracking data.

As Mark Childs, VP marketing at Campbell Company of Canada and a passionate advocate of diversity, asked: ‘Why is inclusion a question, given who we are as a country and a population?’

The lack of data hasn’t deterred some major marketers, such as Ford Canada, which is now active in these two growing communities – with efforts including a Chinese website and ads running in B.C. and Ontario that feature Canadian Mark Rowswell, a media superstar in mainland China under the name Dashan. Ford’s marketing communications manager, Barb Tilly, says it just ‘makes business sense.’

Christine Comi, national language account executive at Omni TV in Toronto, concurs: ‘Chinese and South Asian metro population in 2006 represented 23% of Toronto and 30% of Vancouver’s total population.’

But numbers are just half the story. Spending potential and cultural traits of savings and investment are also key for marketers, adds Comi. ‘The Chinese, South Asians, Italians and Portuguese in Toronto have an estimated annual household expenditure of $38 billion, which represents 25% of the total household expenditure in Toronto,’ she explains. ‘Of that, the South Asians and the Chinese have the lion’s share of $28 billion. In Vancouver these two groups account for 24% of annual household expenditure.’

Like boomers, it’s a big market to ignore. Perhaps one factor is that at the HR level, within the marketing fraternity Canada’s diversity isn’t reflected, and especially within advertising agencies, little is being done to catch up.

Canada’s broadcast industry has recognized the importance of reflecting diversity both internally and visibly. In 2004, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) stated that big steps needed to be taken to address the imbalance, and that there was a lack of adequate representation of aboriginal people and people of Asian heritage on air.

Sarah Crawford, VP public affairs at CTVglobemedia, was part of that CAB initiative and says, ‘Diversity is not separate from the mainstream. The mainstream is diverse, and therefore diversity is the mainstream. That’s been the mantra at CTVglobemedia.’

The company recently received an award from the Ministry of Labour for being one of the top organizations in Canada in promoting a diverse workforce. CTV Montreal was also awarded for achieving a perfect score with its employment equity results in hiring people with disabilities, visible minorities and aboriginal people. Crawford says her company is funding a start-up called Lights, Camera, Access, the first organization in Canada that caters to actors who have physical, visible or invisible disabilities, and a one-stop development resource and casting agency.

This will help with one other historical barrier for advertisers who want to be inclusive in their commercials – finding the right talent. And as TV programming benefits from these efforts, the advertisers who don’t keep pace could stick out even more.

Strategy wanted to see where the industry is at in terms of connecting with its new audiences and integrating a more inclusive approach. So we brought together industry players with experience in running inclusive cultural programs to identify the market opportunities and explore the barriers, and the ways to overcome them.

Joan McArthur: How has the ethnic population changed over the past few years, and how have marketers addressed this growing segment through their communications?

Tony Pigott: The population, particularly in big cities, has changed, but I don’t believe most marketers have assessed exactly how that pattern has emerged.

There is some important learning particularly as it relates to the 10 to 12 top markets. Most people think this phenomenon is Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but it’s more widespread. Everybody knows things have changed, I just don’t know that there’s a real understanding of the implication for broader marketing issues.

Saul Gitlin: Across North America, there is a transition. In earlier times, immigrant groups tried to assimilate to become Canadian/American. Now due to a rise in population, they are moving to acculturation. That’s defined as maintaining a celebration of my own culture and language within my community, but acculturating, to the extent that I need to, within the greater society.

Prasad Rao: India and China are now superpowers. Suddenly the Indians and the Chinese don’t feel they need to disappear in the background and be as Canadian, because they are saying, ‘I am fairly secure in my identity.’

Mark Childs: In 2004, Campbell Canada made a clear strategic articulation about the journey that we wanted to create, which was ‘authentic nourishment for all.’ A year later, a few folks took the initiative to understand what ‘for all’ meant in Canada. There were two paths: how do we become more inclusive in our mainstream advertising? And are there specific populations that we can talk to credibly to realize that opportunity?

We shot six advertisements in the mainstream media in 2006. At the end of the commercials was a vignette showcasing people of different ethnicities enjoying soup. The slogan, ‘M’m! M’m! good,’ was translated in six different dialects, such as Gujarati, French and Ojibway.

The second strategy was to connect with first-generation Chinese-Canadians to share insights that Swanson’s broths are also available here, as in their home country. The aim was also to increase the usage among that audience, and those ads ran on Fairchild TV in Cantonese and Mandarin.

Barb Tilly: Our communications and marketing strategy is to connect with South Asians and Chinese through advertising, but also by creating goodwill, understanding and respect and PR, and that’s done in a relevant way that connects with them.

The Chinese strategy is to speak in their language, which is their preference, but interestingly, all our South Asian advertising is done in English. So we will be on South Asian media but in English, and that comes down to the work that we have done determining preference.

Gitlin: We made a Chinese campaign called ‘In your Hands’ that takes from Ford’s overriding principle ‘Powered by you,’ which is putting the customer first. ‘Powered by you’ is translated using the word ‘hand’ in Chinese and takes the Chinese principle of palm reading, and the three lines in the hand – success, relationship and the lifeline. In the ad one can see Dashan driving three separate vehicles on three separate roads with heavy visual cues from Chinese culture as to what the roads are.

McArthur: What are some of the barriers faced by marketers, media outlets and advertising agencies in addressing this growing market, and how can they be overcome?

Childs: We struggled with the casting. For our ad for a native Canadian, we had only two people show up, and that was in the second call. During the wardrobe session we discovered that they were to be stereotypically dressed, and we wanted them to dress as they would themselves – however that may be. I think there is still a tension of finding talent, unless one is specific in writing a casting brief.

When we created the ‘Meet the Campbells’ ads and wanted to find real Campbell families across the country, we found they were all of Scottish descent. So we ran a second ad specifically looking for ethnic Campbells, which was a bold move. And we found them – because of mixed marriages, Jamaica has a Campbell strand!

Tilly: There’s not a lot of metrics out there, and we have done a lot ourselves. But we are in it for the long term, so we did ad tracking last year and continue this year. We also have market share being measured; it didn’t exist and does not exist. And how do those results look to us? We are not looking for the payoff now. We see success if the brand’s awareness is widening out there.

Pigott: I think the challenge for agencies is to do with time, money and information. Marketing is a multi-partnered undertaking, and the issues reside within how businesses see this territory. It needs to begin at the strategy stage. Agencies are pushing, but change will start when clients embrace the business and the brand-building opportunities.

Rao: We don’t know if marketers have woken to the spending power of these communities. I see a lot of intellectual interest, I see very little money on the table. Where’s the money?

We are brought in for assignments where the budgets for the Chinese and South Asian efforts are lower than the production budgets of mainstream Canadian advertising, and that budget includes the fee, the media, everything. Yet the processes involved in doing that need to be the same, and so that becomes the real challenge.

Jacquie Hood: Funny, people say they want to go for a bigger share of the market, but they are going after the same people for 30 years. You want something different? There is an untapped market sitting there waiting, and it’s time to jump on the bandwagon. But if you look at the business side, there is no research. We present to clients and they say, ‘Show me a number,’ but we have no number. We have to be committed to research. Fairchild can do it, but people will say it’s biased.

Gitlin: There is a dearth of product-category and brand-specific research and insights for Canada’s visible minority population. One can get creative in the absence of numbers, [but] marketers building a long-term relationship in this market will at some point have to do some research.

McArthur: The pressure has never been greater to get quick results, and it is a challenge for Canadian companies reporting into the U.S. to make a case for Canadian advertising. So how do you justify multiple culture programs?

Childs: We are choosing where we can be Canadian, and where we can adapt U.S. work where it makes sense. We have an internal global recognition program, and the team has just written our Swanson case study and the initiative working with Fairchild.

I can tell you that, in the first year that it took to bring that program to life, the impact of sales in a small period of time does not make sense. We are still proud of the initiative, it’s the right thing to do and it will have a long-term effect on branding and awareness. That’s our future marketplace – it’s a population-based argument.

Tilly: We are doing a better job, our familiarity is increasing and we are getting the hits on our Chinese website, but there’s a lot of opportunity to expand.

I just think that there is an uncomfortable feeling because we are used to so many metrics – do all the boxes need to be checked off to move forward? We got good information that this was the way to move forward, and that continued to build as we went.

McArthur: Are these inclusive communications also driven by the culture of the organization and the intent to be more reflective of Canada?

Tilly: Yes. But it’s twofold. We talk of the business case for it and the population growth that continues. It wouldn’t make sense for us not to do it.

Childs: Campbell’s believes in being a diverse organization, but I believe that when we allow individuals, whether in the agency or on the client side, who have a passion for this to develop ideas and run with those ideas, wonderful things happen.

McArthur: Do agency and marketing staff reflect the current marketplace in an accurate way?

Pigott: I don’t think so. If you go to most agencies, they don’t look like Toronto. There is a certain predictability. You have to involve people and give them the tools and the understanding of how to be better at this. I don’t think agencies are showing enough leadership. We should play a more assertive role about how the brand needs to round out into all aspects of the consumer base, and to think of the advantages. The issue needs to be made more visible and constant, so that it just enters into the way people think in agencies.

Hood: Agencies are changing. We deal with younger planners [from] a different world.

McArthur: Beyond being inclusive in mainstream campaigns, how can marketers address these communities?

Rao: When reaching a multicultural audience, one needs to deliver a value proposition that’s relevant to them, and for that you have to go beyond translating. Some years ago, banks here came up with the idea of a no-haggle mortgage, which to the assimilated Canadian seems fantastic. But to a Chinese or a South Asian, that’s the worst thing you can say. It was interpreted as ‘Don’t talk to me.’

Pigott: It’s tricky. How do we understand the complexities of their identity, and how does one do it authentically? We are not alone in this confusion, but I think it’s important that we understand this.

As part of the UNESCO working group which is developing a world report on cultural diversity and globalization, I can tell you that they are also trying to figure out this global phenomenon. And Canada is on the front end of the global phenomenon of the intermingling of cultures. I suggested we start thinking in terms of cultural intelligence.

I don’t think we are going to get far unless we recognize that Canadians, despite the success of our social experiment, really don’t understand what we need to do. I don’t think you are going to see systemic change unless there is an upgrade in people’s level of cultural intelligence and understanding.

McArthur: How do we raise cultural intelligence quotients?

Gitlin: In Canada we have thriving cultural communities, and they are good resources. Execute research – qualitative or quantitative – so that marketers can learn after engaging in a dialogue with these communities.

Rao: We conduct regular meetings to understand values, attitudes, aspirations and lifestyles and what motivates them. We do these with new immigrants and those who have been here longer, as well as for people who are about to retire.

Childs: It’s important for us to engage in the changing-ethnicity-of-Canada dialogue as individuals, and with agencies as our partners. We are trying to find people who can be a catalyst for change, and they will ultimately attack it.

Tilly: In my company that’s my role, and I work with my colleagues in multicultural affairs, teaming up to handle communications and making sure it’s a comprehensive plan.

Pigott: I think marketing departments and advertising agencies need to get beyond the superficial and understand the dynamics so that we can not only reflect this when we market, but understand this as a business opportunity. It’s fundamental training, and through it you will also accelerate the inclusion of different people within the agency talent pool.

At JWT we say that to study advertising is to study mankind, and if we are true to that principle, we should be at the top of this.