From Holi to Halloween

It’s 11:30 am. You are walking past Sydney’s iconic Darling Harbour as your Ipod croons M.J’s ‘Black or white’. You suddenly see a whole lot of people coated in colour from head to toe playfully spurting water on each other. As you revel in this moment of contradiction, you realise the synchronicity of Australia and India during the month of March.

On one side there is a vivid and beautiful autumn bloom of Orange — the Color City of Australia. On the other side in India, it is the spring time festival of colours — Holi.

Holi celebrations include lighting of bon fires to signify the death of the demon and throwing colours at each other in a playful spirit. In countries like South Africa, Trinidad, United Kingdom, United States, Mauritius, and Fiji.  March is also the time for advertisers and marketers to put their thinking caps on to maximise on the buying power of their large Indian diaspora. The Citibank NRI ad last year targeted the Indian audience in America with the line ‘Holi to Halloween and Lassi to Latte’.

Metlife, a leading global insurance provider also punched in some colour with a campaign featuring six T.V commercials showing profound cultural occasions in a South-Asian American’s life.

The angle was quite simple, it is important to pass on cultural values and  traditions to future generations, as it is important to pass on a secure financial future to your next generation. Metlife realised this in their marketing messages “With you in your life”.  

When it comes to reaching the multicultural audiences, culturally relevant ads are an excellent avenue, however experiential marketing and community event sponsorships are other forms of direct marketing reaching the audience, when they are most receptive to such messages.

By Priya Rao

The Art of Stereotypes

I want everybody to picture a Chinese marketing manager. He’s overseeing the entry of authentic pre-made dumplings to Australia. His target market are suburban “true blue” Australians who like a bit of oriental cuisine, but find going to the crowded stores in Chinatown to hunt through suspicious products in foreign languages rather intimidating.

“Well first of all I know Australians like Green and Gold” he says to his copywriter, “make all the ads green and gold”. “We’ll plaster the adverts all over the Cricket and NRL matches!” he loudly declared to no one in particular. “Better yet, can we get one of the sporting stars to endorse our dumplings?”

“Australians may not be used to chives and dried shrimp, we should also create a range of flavours for them” he said on the phone to R&D. “And I want to really speak our consumers’ language, we should never fail to refer to our consumers as ‘mate’”.

“…on second thoughts, Australians like blue even more I think, make some adverts blue”. Six weeks later, ‘Shane Warne’s Bangers and Mash Dumplings’ (“full of fair dinkum flavour”) is ready for launch. Seems farcical right? Yet we often do this in ethnic advertising. We assume that cultural traits apply to everyone within the culture, and this quickly becomes patronising, if not extremely superficial.

Lahle Wolfe writes in Women in Business: “You cannot peg individuals into mass impersonal groups based on stereotypes” and “the more you see and treat customers like individuals, the more loyal they’ll be to your business”.

What applies to gender stereotypes applies to cultural stereotypes as well. Gary Nelson, creative director at Organic, a US multicultural ad agency, described his frustration with seeing a tyre store advert where a black woman danced incessantly to hip hop. Media is rife with such adverts, from huge Hispanic family gatherings to a black woman shaking her booty in the office.

Sure, the (very clichéd) relevance to the ethnicity is achieved, but where is the relevance to the product?

“As a Black man in the advertising industry, I find myself struggling with the ethnic marketing question.” Nelson said “most consumer needs (both retail and beyond) are cross-cultural… such campaigns don’t have to revolve around tired clichés and lowest-common denominator stereotypes.”

Indeed, such stereotypes are not only ineffective, but can be patronising or insulting. They also assume incorrectly that consumers are incapable of empathising with people of a different ethnicity. The sooner we gain a holistic understanding of ethnic minorities as individuals, with both differences and similarities to so called mainstream audiences, the sooner we better communicate to ethnic communities, and the sooner black women can stop needlessly dancing to sell tyres.