Unless you currently live in the Stone Age, you would have noticed that we are currently in the midst of the largest wave of migration ever seen worldwide, and global cities today are becoming more and more diverse than ever before. Diversity, the heart of multiculturalism, defines the world economy and social fabric of cities around the globe, and most certainly characterizes the populations of Australia, Singapore, India, Brazil, Canada, the United States, UK, South Africa, UAE, Dubai, Indonesia, Switzerland and many other European nations—and will for generations to come.
Globalization has opened new markets around the world and cities are attracting more foreign people than ever before. According to the most recent data, the total number of international migrants in the world is approximately 175 million - 200 million, which includes refugees but does not include undocumented migrants, who escape official accounting. This burgeoning multiculturalism is enhancing the fabric of societies around the world, bringing colour and vibrancy to every city it touches.
A country’s economic potential flows above all from its human capital, from the many talents, unique cultures and heritage of its people. We don’t fully appreciate the value that our immigrants represent. Too often, we take our multiculturalism for granted. Take one of my good friends for instance. Just another Caucasian ad copywriter? True, but he is an Anglophone married to a Japanese lady in the banking business. They have one daughter and all live and work in Hong Kong. Each of them is an immigrant to Hong Kong. This is the reality of Asia and the world today.
I’ve recently been doing some work with a very talented designer at our agency Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing and Advertising. I met him in Hong Kong several years ago, but our very first conversation was over the phone. I assumed that on the basis of his first name and his English accent, that he was British. He told me he had been working in London and Singapore for the past few years. But as soon as we met for coffee, it was clear that he was Chinese. He explained, “My mother was from Guangzhou, my father was Dutch, I was born in Amsterdam, raised largely in London, England, and have spent most of my professional life in Hong Kong.”
Multiculturalism—and its impact on marketing
Multiculturalism is an unstoppable trend worldwide, and countries such as Brazil, Canada, Singapore, UK, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Australia and New Zealand are leading the way. have rapidly changing demographics where ethnic consumers are the fastest growing, biggest spending demographic in history. And major brands like McDonalds, P&G, Walmart and Coke realize the importance of these diverse ethnic communities to their bottom lines. When it comes to purchasing power, the multicultural communities of Australia, New Zealand, USA, and Canada, spend 1.5 times what the general public spends on consumer goods including digital products, automobiles, real estate, clothes, food, luxury travel, furniture, and entertainment.
Visible minorities now make up 27% of Australia’s population, followed by Canada with 20.6%, Germany with 13%, the USA with 12.9%, and the UK with 11.5%. An inflow of between 20,000 and 25,000 new citizens will be needed to keep the population of Singapore stable, according to a report by the government’s population arm. Even if Singaporeans were producing enough babies to sustain a population of perhaps about 3 million people, the number of working-age citizens would still fall by about 300,000, it said. So immigration is a must.
Here’s an example: Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and a multi-cultural country. The second largest ethnic group in Malaysia is Chinese who make up 24.6% of the population. The third largest group are Indians comprising 7.1% of the population. Due to the rise in labour-intensive industries, the country is estimated to have over 3 million migrant workers; about 10 per cent of the population. Immigrants - both legal and illegal - contributed to Sabah's population explosion. In 1970, Malaysia's second largest state had just over 600,000 people. By 2010, the number had more than quadrupled to a staggering 3.2 million.
Most ethnic communities live in the world’s major cities. In Canada, 80% of immigrants live in major cities. In Australia that number is 82%. Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world with 50% of the population being foreign born. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken by its residents. 30% of its people speak languages other than English or French. Immigrants are coming from the Philippines, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and the Middle East.
London’s population is 30% foreign born with five main minority groups – Indian (Hindu, Sikh and Muslim), Pakistani, Bangladeshi, black Caribbean and black African (Muslim and Christian). Manchester, for example, has large Chinese, Afro Caribbean and Indian/South Asian communities. A 2012 census revealed that 13 per cent of people resident in England and Wales were born abroad, and the fact that less than 90 per cent of the country is white for the first time ever.
The city of Melbourne is the home and workplace of one of the world's most harmonious and culturally diverse communities. The ethnic population springs from a wide variety of countries, including, Korea, China, India, Vietnam and Cambodia.
In the USA, the stream of immigrants in itself has became a prominent feature of its multiculturalism. The country embraces newcomers from many different backgrounds. By 2042, ethnic consumers will make up more than half of the US population. Over the last 10 years the proportion of whites has fallen, while blacks, Asians and Hispanics have increased, black by 21.5%, Hispanics by 57.9% and Asians by 72%.
One of the more remarkable aspects of Singapore is the truly cosmopolitan nature of her population, made up ethnic Chinese (74.2% of the Singaporean population), with the country’s original inhabitants, the Malays, comprising 13.3%. The Indians make up 9.2%, and Eurasians and Asians of different origins making up a combined 3.3%. Immigrants to Singapore have brought with them their own culture, languages, customs and festivals, knitting these diverse influences into the fabric of the state’s multi-faceted society giving it a vibrant and diverse cultural heritage. Singapore is a small multi-lingual nation. The market isn't fragmented like the USA where they have a big Hispanic segment with a mature ad community. What's happening though, is a gradual appearance of targeted communications to foreign workers such as Indians and Filipinos. These tend to appear in Little India/Far East Plaza or virally online.
Why should this matter to us in marketing and advertising?
It is essential for the success of any business to understand the changing demographics taking place in major cities across the globe, and for their marketing strategies to include multicultural audiences.
A new Nielsen survey (for North America) released last week shows that ethnic consumers, and specifically Asian consumers, are both earning and spending more than the average household. With average incomes of 100K or greater, Asian consumer households spend 19% more that the average consumer. They tend to live with multiple generations under one roof, making shopping decisions based on culture, value, efficiency and convenience. This is not new information, but it is further proof that ethnic communities are more than worth listening to. They have serious implications for purchasing decisions and brand loyalty.
With more than 70 million 1st and 2nd generation migrants in Europe, over 50.7 million Hispanics heading the 36.7% multicultural population in the USA, and over 10 million foreigners living in Germany, many markets have untapped potential in them already—it’s growing quickly. Currently, the total purchasing power in the USA for multicultural groups is over USD 2.4 trillion. Many companies have seen the positive side effects from their mainstream campaigns where ethnic sales picked up and from there they started test campaigns to grow the multicultural channel more.
Look at neighbourhoods in most major cities (especially capital cities), and you will see people from all over the world. Each new wave of immigration adds to their cultural mosaic. And each new wave that reaches their shores helps to shift many sectors of the economy. The tastes and buying habits that set business trends are increasingly those of Chinese, South Asians, Filipinos, Blacks and other ethnic groups.
These waves have gathered into a demographic tsunami that is transforming how we think about and manage brands. "Multicultural" is no longer niche. It's the new mainstream. Any brand marketers who fail to understand that will be left behind. Minorities are a major opportunity. And the time to tap into that potential is now.
Why should this matter? Because language and culture matters when people perceive messages with a commercial or informative content. Native language messages tend to be more emotionally perceived than messages in a foreign language. Meaning, if you try to communicate or sell something to someone whose native tongue is different from yours, it will be better received when you use the same language as their native tongue.
In a recent Huffington Post article titled ‘Multicultural marketing: a must for multicultural countries.’ author Kimron Corion put it this way: “I realized that many businesses were using the same marketing message to target everyone, regardless of race and culture. Even though social media and the Internet have made it easier to do marketing, using the same generic message for everyone was not the best approach. I believe that people should be marketed to in their culture and their beliefs. And that's when I came in contact with a term that I believe has been revolutionizing marketing. Maybe not more than the Internet has done, but I believe it's a concept that's very important and many marketers should embrace it. It's called multicultural marketing or ethnic marketing.
“Multicultural marketing refers to marketing to one or more person of a particular ethnic background. This tends to take into consideration a person's age, gender, culture, norms, language, religion, traditions etc. to persuade that person to buy. Additionally people tend to stay within their cultural boundaries, their norms, traditions, culture, all tend to influence their buying habits. Multicultural marketing or ethnic marketing is very important and it is one of the factors that will help determine the success of many marketing campaigns.”
Immigrants the world over would rather be advertised to in their first language, within their cultural mores. Many of them wish to be communicated to in their language of choice—it’s more comfortable and appealing to them, and for many, it’s much easier than reading English. Culture takes time to learn and it’s not easy. So it’s better not to expect that everybody reading your ad will understand any subtle, implicit culturally related message. Irony and culture is similar – either you get it or you don’t.