How to win with visible minorities in Canada

Barrett and Welsh CEO Ishan Ghosh lays out three principles to consider when approaching multicultural marketing.


By Ishan Ghosh

The mainstream consumer is fast becoming an obsolete description in Canada, as visible minorities become the majority in our major cities. This has led to a major shift in the way we market in Canada, because, as a client recently told me: “A good marketer would be cautious not to isolate or alienate any segment of their audience and would do everything possible to be inclusive.”

It sounded like a challenge – or perhaps a challenge for the marketers whose knowledge of this diverse market is only peripheral. In fact, in multicultural marketing, it’s easy for a campaign to have the opposite result of what was genuinely intended. For example, a national grocer that advertises halal meat in all major South Asian print dailies might ignore the fact that large sub-segments of the community do not eat beef and consider it sacred.

But, at the same time, leveraging the right insights can result in strong and lasting relationships with these cultures and communities. Inevitably, at some point every marketer in Canada will need to commit to engaging the “real Canada” – a mosaic of cultures, religious beliefs, visible minorities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals and indigenous communities. It is what another client called “future proofing your brand.”

Having worked in this space for more than a decade and having travelled this journey, helping some of the largest marketers in the country, our agency has developed a list of best practices to bring more inclusiveness to campaigns.

Show you get them (understanding vs. empathising)

Many a marketer believes their job is done if they represent the minority group in their campaign, or even further, communicate in their language. The reality is that this conclusion is condescending. It makes the group feel good for being recognized, but leaves them asking, “Can I trust you?” Only empathy brings trust.

Empathy is not only about what you say but also how you say it. It can be the difference between building a true connection with a brand that “gets me” versus one that just “knows who I am.” Empathy is intimacy and is created when you know something about the consumer that only an “insider” would know (such as the meaning behind the Canadian expressions “going on pogey” or “grab me a double-double”).

Go beyond the stereotype (knowledge vs. insight)

Yes, knowledge of halal products can help us relate to the Muslim community. But insight helps us see that there’s a difference in the kinds of halal meals Muslims cook in Montreal (where 6% of the population is Muslim) versus in the GTA (7.7% of the population), and that the difference depends on which countries – or even sub-regions – these consumers came from.

Knowledge tells us that the month of Ramadan is observed by all Muslims. Insight tells us that because Ramadan is pronounced differently by Muslims from different parts of the world (“Ramadaan” in Indonesia, Malaysia and North Africa; “Ramazan”in Pakistan and India; “Ramjaan in Bangladesh), while the word “Ramadan” is generally an accepted non-offensive variant it doesn’t necessarily connect with consumers. Insight also helps us see how Ramadan is not a time of celebration or feasting but one of prayerful reflection and abstention.

Get permission (intrusive vs. inclusive)

There will always be a number of foreign-born consumers who are unfamiliar with brands they did not grow up with. To this group, whether they have recently arrived in Canada or have been here for decades, the brand must prove itself worthy of being accepted and invited into their lives. Does it offer something specific to them that makes life better in Canada? (See, for example, how TD speaks directly to the needs of South Asian customers).

While engaging a specific minority group, care must be exercised, whether in messaging or media, so as not to offend or alienate the greater audience being exposed to the message. This could make the difference between a campaign becoming intrusive and offensive, versus intriguing and welcoming.

Ishan_2Ishan Ghosh is partner and CEO at Toronto-based agency Barrett and Welsh, which specializes in diversity and inclusion marketing.