Opinion: Is multicultural marketing really the issue?

Derek Craig
By Derek Craig | 14 April 2014

There’s been a bit said recently about Australia being about 10 years behind when it comes to multicultural marketing. Most of it’s probably, sort of, right.

On the other hand, I'm not sure it’s that we’re not getting multicultural marketing that’s actually the issue here.

Hasn’t effective communication simply always been about understanding exactly who you’re supposed to be listening and talking to, and then initiating the conversation accordingly to achieve the desired interaction?

Yes, we may be required to talk to a very diverse group of people at the same time, but surely the brand’s DNA remains the same, regardless of who we’re talking to. Is it not about finding similarities and common ground, rather than identifying and talking to the differences?

Diversity and multiculturalism play up the differences and separate people, whereas integration acknowledges the similarities.

Indeed, the makeup of the Australian society is changing dramatically. What was ‘being Australian’ 10 years ago is not the same as what ‘being Australian’ is today. If we think that it is, well then yes much of our marketing will miss the boat. And that’s where I believe we may be getting the whole ‘multiculturalism’ thing wrong.

We need to refocus thinking, taking into consideration a much more eclectic and richer cultural audience. We need to focus on how the brand behaves rather than obsess about the message.

It’s worth a reminder that 2011 was the first time Britain was not our largest source of permanent migrants. And, for the first time in 2013, we had more skilled migrants from China than any other nationality.

Mandarin (not including Cantonese) has displaced Italian as the most spoken language other than English. And unlike the migrants of old, the new Chinese migrants are dead-set savvy and have much greater financial clout.

More than 60% of permanent Chinese migrants invest in excess of $1.6 million. In fact, all the stats point to massive financial capacity, which cannot be ignored. Their contribution is significant to supply and demand, particularly when it comes to accommodation, education, motor vehicles, services and finance, as well as government funds and the contribution is so important for economic growth. And that’s just our Chinese migrants. Add migration from other Asian and middle-eastern countries and we’re talking a very rich cultural mix in excess of 30% of the overall population.

At the same time, many marketing departments and particularly agencies are still staffed predominantly by Aussie blokes (not nearly enough women for starters) and our Pommie brethren. It could be why, often, so-called multicultural communications don’t quite hit the mark.

Not surprisingly, much multicultural communication amounts to nothing more than tokenism, in our book anyway. And in many instances, targeted multicultural communications also feel horribly and uncomfortably bolted on and ‘forced to fit’, and inconsistent with brand DNA.

Of course, we should consider tactical/topical communications for special events like Chinese New Year, as we do Christmas, or Valentine’s Day, or St Patrick’s Day, but that’s where it should stop.

Evidently, some agencies even have standalone multicultural offerings, why?

Why not a more integrated and diverse staff complement?

That way we may have a more holistic, open-minded and integrated approach to campaigns, a total communication strategy that takes into consideration our much vaster, richer new markets?

In our minds, far too much multicultural marketing is condescending and disrespectful. Well-targeted, integrated campaigns are not. They respect the audiences they’re talking to. They understand that marketing is not about messages but behaviour. Don’t say what you are; ‘be’ what you are.

Say for example you’re marketing a multi-tower development in a cosmopolitan CBD, surely you make sure you find out who would be most likely to have an interest in inner city living, and then create the comms accordingly. If it happens to be predominantly Chinese, you make sure the communications pay respect to their taste (without alienating other potential markets), and that they’re not loaded with obvious and condescending symbolism, clichés and naming conventions.

Derek Craig
10 Feet Tall

comments powered by Disqus