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Saturday, November 24, 2007,9:54 PM
Many not putting theory into practice
Big-name clients support multicultural marketing in theory but are reluctant to assign the dollars

by Laura Pratt
page B 2

The British Columbia Lottery Corporation got a lesson in multicultural marketing it won't soon forget.

Five years ago, the corporation's research revealed less than impressive sales among Chinese consumers, who make up a significant proportion of the population in B.C.'s Lower Mainland (see Vancouver language population statistics p. B6). To counter this, BCLC embarked on a large-scale campaign featuring print, TV and radio advertising.

It made noise on Chinese-language TV and radio stations. It plastered ads in Chinese newspapers. It was, remembers Barry Auliffe, BCLC's director of marketing, an utter failure. There was no noticeable change in the target group's playing patterns. Neither was there an upward swing in the Chinese community's attitude towards the corporation. "There is nothing to justify ever doing it again."

Such is the nature of pursuing cultural groups in Canada: When you're dealing with a relatively small population to begin with, divvying up scarce marketing dollars to pursue even smaller targets is expensive - and risky.

A poll of leading Canadian advertisers across a range of categories reveals a loud show of support for the idea of multicultural marketing. But probe for specifics and the truth emerges - precious few big-name clients in this country are putting their money where their mouths are. Some have opted for the relatively economical route of sponsorship. Most figure they target ethnic minorities because they target everybody.

Magda Kapp, manager of public relations at Kelowna, B.C.-based Sun-Rype Products, explains that targeting by cultural segment would simply go against the grain for Western Canada's largest manufacturer and marketer of juice-based beverages and fruit snacks.

"The types of programs that we select reach a wide audience - an audience of moms and dads with kids under 10, whatever culture they might be. In terms of the marketing dollars we have, we have to take a very broad approach."

Over at Toronto's Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs, one finds no "stated objective" when it comes to multicultural marketing. Instead, says director of sales Jim Edmands, the company mounts "very strong community efforts" driven by the community relations departments on both sports teams. Here, the focus is mainly on children at risk, with programs such as Raptor Ball and Jam Van inviting youngsters to get involved. Such initiatives cast a wide net, says Edmands, and target all cultures.

Still, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment has had some success reaching various ethnic communities with its group nights. In April, the Raptors will host their fourth annual Baisakhi Day Celebration, under the auspices of a Sikh "superfan" who has never missed a home game. Last year, the company sold approximately 1,000 tickets to that event.

There is also a Chinese New Year Raptors game, and a game that celebrates Black History Month, both to be held in February. But marketing for these events is minimal. There are posters and some promotional material, says Edmands. "But it's really focused on how our group leader communicates with his constituents."

Rogers AT&T Wireless recently announced a segmented approach to the marketplace. Now, rather than divide its marketing efforts along different products, the company is segmenting its market according to customer - youth, consumer and business. Heather Armstrong, assistant vice-president of communications, has no doubt that this approach will include some crossover with diverse ethnic groups.

"With the exception of some of our individual dealer advertising and marketing activities, the company hasn't done anything on a national basis to segment individual cultural communities," she says. "But our new segmented approach to the marketplace is going to provide an even greater understanding of our customer base."

Ironically, one Canadian marketer that's had a great deal of success with a specific cultural group hasn't even tried to market to that group specifically - which either goes to show that the wide-net approach works, or that certain cultural groups are drawn to certain products and services with or without targeted marketing.

More than half the clientele at Casino Rama is Asian. Director of corporate affairs and public relations Sherry Lawson says she's frequently asked how the casino has managed to attract such a preponderance of Asian gamblers, but she says she doesn't know.

"We certainly never set out to go after any specific group. Even though we have a large Asian market, we don't do ads in Cantonese. We're just carrying on with the usual ads and we're very successful. We went after everybody, and they're all coming. Age group, ethnic group, male, female: It doesn't matter to us."

Just the same, the casino endeavours to cater to the needs of its Asian customers. There are hosts who are fluent in Cantonese. When Asian visitors asked for a fine dining restaurant serving Asian food, management opened up the Willow. When they asked for fast food, Casino Rama added a noodle bar. And when the Asian guests said they'd like to play an ancient game called Pai Gow Tiles, the casino added it, making it the only gaming centre in Ontario with that kind of offering.

"We got that about 10 months ago, and those three tables are always busy," says Lawson. "So we put out the call to the world: Come here and have fun. And then, what our customers say they want, we get it for them. That's as far as multicultural marketing goes for us."

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