At last count in late 1996, Canada's Chinese population numbered about 900,000-most well-educated, affluent and easy to reach through Chinese-language media. That market is growing as well: Estimates say that by the year 2001, Canada's Chinese community (those of Chinese descent) will number about 1.2 million people.
The increase translates into opportunities, challenges and substantial rewards for marketers. Already, international players as diverse as Volkswagen, Campbell Soup, Sony and Clairol are offering multilingual packaging and Chinese-language creative efforts.
"One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to realize this is the market to get in to," said Ken Koo, president of advertising agency Ken Koo Creative Group in Vancouver. "It's definitely a sizable market to reckon with."
But marketing to this group requires carefully tailored messages. The Chinese have brought to Canada their language and culture, which emphasizes education, communal activities, family, conformity, success and respect for social conventions.
So forget about translating existing English creative into Chinese and expecting success, suggests Aida Liang at the Vancouver Chinese Advertising, Marketing and Media Association. "If you use a Western character to appeal to an Oriental audience, it won't work," said Ms. Liang, vice chairwoman of the 200-member industry group. "Michael Jordan doesn't work [as an endorser]." The concept, she said, is "out of the norm."
About 47% of Canadian Chinese live in Toronto and 31% live in Vancouver, which thanks to its geographic location has strong economic, historical and political ties to Hong Kong and the Pacific Rim. In all, about 14% of consumers in Vancouver (one in seven) are Chinese, representing the highest percentage of Chinese speakers in any North American city.
Moreover, international marketers are taking notice because a Chinese advertising campaign can cost about the same as a mainstream approach but yield better results. "They would have to spend a great deal of money to get a 1 percent share increase" in the English-speaking market, said Mr. Koo, who worked at Grey Advertising in Hong Kong before opening his Vancouver agency in 1982. The Chinese, he suggested, are a 10% share that's "right there."
It's clear that Canada's Chinese market has money to spend-on luxury cars, business travel and banking services. Further, a continuous flow of immigrants mostly from business-oriented Hong Kong has brought Chinese families to Canada with the money to set up businesses and buy new homes.
And don't forget playing the lottery. Ken Koo Creative cashed in on this Chinese indulgence in its campaign for the British Columbia Lottery Corp. By putting a Chinese spin on a number of the corporation's lottery games, Koo's campaign saw a 32% boost in sales in that market in 1996.
Before Mr. Koo adapted the creative, a game called Extra was falling flat
with Chinese lottery players, who make up a high percentage of total
lottery sales. For an extra dollar after buying a ticket for Canada's
national lottery, players can "play the Extra" and get another chance at
winning-although the Extra's prize is far less than the lottery's usual
multimillion dollar jackpot.
Chinese players used to pass up the Extra game, preferring to go only for
the biggest prize possible. By renaming the game to suggest "good luck
charm" in Chinese, however, Koo's creative repositioned it as something
players don't want to go without.
"How can you not buy the lucky charm with all the tickets you've bought?"
Mr. Koo said of the new positioning. "Chinese people are very
superstitious, particularly when it comes to gaming."
National credit union Canada Trust likewise found that customized efforts
speak to the Chinese. In a bilingual print campaign, the credit union's ad
agency, Terry O Communications in Toronto, relied on traditional Chinese
symbolism to stress security, stability and trust-all important values to
a C hinese audience.
A figure of the God of Fortune, for example, adorned one English and
Chinese brochure for Canada Trust's line of credit. The underline read,
"He may be traditional but his thinking isn't." Another ad, running in
both Chinese and English, urged Chinese readers to "Find out for yourself
why we've become a trusted financial partner to so many Asian-Canadians."
The copy also directed readers to a toll-free telephone number where they
could get more information in either language.
"It's a significant market," said agency president Terry O'Connor. "A lot
of mainstream marketers don't realize that."
Tradition was likewise the approach with Terry O's campaign for
Volkswagen Canada. Print creative used three red eggs-playing on a Chinese tradition which calls for newborn to be rubbed on the forehead with a red egg for good luck-in ads to launch new models and evoke VW's shared lineage with Audi and Porsche. The Chinese headline read, "A family with an impeccable pedigree celebrates a new generation."
By adding in special driving clinics and sponsorship of a major gala fund-raiser for a Chinese senior citizens home, Volkswagen boosted its brand awareness substantially in the market. Sales to Chinese buyers were up by 25% following the national campaign, which ran from 1994 to 1995 and gave way last year to local marketing handled by the dealerships themselves.
Above all, successful marketers have found that trust goes a long way with Chinese consumers. "Trust is No. 1," association official Ms. Liang said. "With the Chinese mentality, the most important thing is that I have to trust you first."
Even a simple smiling frog can help. Mr. Koo's agency used this and a popular Chinese expression to lure new subscribers to BC Tel Mobility's cellular phone service.
In the Cantonese dialect, the saying used for print and radio went, "There isn't a frog that big that hops around." For the purposes of the ad, however, an English speaker would better understand the nonliteral translation: BC Tel's special promotion included so many free incentives and accessories that it seemed almost too good to be true.
"What's hard is crossing the cultural barriers to make your message relevant to them," said Mr. Koo. "Quite often marketers don't understand that."
The Chinese market in Vancouver
Education/occupation: About 58% have post-secondary education, well above the 27% average for Canada. More than 33% are professionals, self-employed entrepreneurs or white-collar workers.
Home countries: 56% are from Hong Kong, 18% from mainland China and 14% from Taiwan.
Spending power: Average income of about $21,000, roughly 14% higher than the Canadian average. Four in 10 have no personal debt like mortgages, loans or credit card payments. An estimated 55% have assets worth more than $75,000.
Home ownership: 72% compared with 64% for the Canadian average.
Language: More than 90% prefer to speak in their native language, predominantly the Cantonese and Mandarin dialects.
Age: Half are between 18 and 34.
Canadian media: A Chinese television network, local Chinese radio
stations and three major Chinese daily newspapers, including the
well-known Ming Pao and Sing Tao dailies.
Sources: Statistics Canada, DJC Chinese Media Index 1995
Canadian media take note of Chinese boom
Canada's Chinese market is worth attracting.
First to launch a Chinese edition was Maclean's, Canada's national news magazine, which made the move in October 1995. Its bimonthly issues mix translated stories from Maclean's English edition with original Chinese material designed to help readers better understand national events.
Marketers that are advertising in the magazine in Chinese include Toronto Dominion Bank (investor services), Chrysler Canada (minivans), Cathay
Pacific (air travel), Land Rover (four-wheel-drive vehicles), Nokia
(cellular phones), Acura (luxury cars) and Fidelity Investments (investments/mutual funds).
Now the national Financial Post business newspaper is reaching out to the Chinese, and it has partnered with the Sing Tao newspaper to do it: Since
last Se ptember readers have found a page of Financial Post copy in
English tucked in along with their usual Chinese-language daily news.
Financial Post editorial director Maryanne McNellis called the
cooperation a win for both papers. "Sing Tao recognizes FP's expertise is covering Canadian business," she wrote in announcing the news late last
year. "We recognize their importance as a general interest newspaper
serving the Chinese community."