The Power of Cultural Backgrounds in Creating Inspiring Experiences

Ten years ago, when I left China and came to Melbourne to study, I could only find Singapore noodles when I was craving for budget Asian food. Today however I can easily find ten types of Chinese food and three different brands of bubble tea. Multiculturalism in Australia has also spread beyond cuisine with the bilingual broadcast at Melbourne airport, multilingual ATMs, and platforms like Alibaba allowing Chinese consumers to buy and ship soymilk makers to their homes in Australia to make their breakfast drinks and herbal soups.

Australia has transformed into one of the most diverse and multicultural countries in the world. According to the ABS, nearly half of Australian residents were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was.[1] The profile of the average Australian consumer is rapidly changing. The ethnic-Australian consumers are younger, have larger households and in many cases are embarking on a series of “firsts” – first job, first home, first child, etc. – and this means they are in acquisition mode for a broad range of products and services. Migrants make an enormous contribution to Australia’s economy and provide over an estimated 10 billion dollars in their first ten years of settlement.[2]

Multiculturalism is no longer optional, but a foundational factor in business and marketing. If brands aren’t focused on reaching multicultural consumers, they are overlooking more than half of potential customers. Cross culture marketing is essential for the growth of Australian businesses and brands. Given my cultural background and work experience in this area in the last decade, I will share some tips for brands and businesses that want to target the local Chinese community and create effective campaigns.

Intention is the first step. Over 72% of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service if advertising is in their native language[3]. However translation alone is not enough. A lot of words in English don’t have Chinese word equivalents, making the literal translations sound ridiculous and often confusing. I often see funny Chinese translations on ads, and personally I am not fed up with these, as I appreciate the efforts and good intention behind them but for others it can be frustrating.

Language is only one layer of the culture association. I believe the more effective way is to create an experience to embrace the culture and traditions that your targeted consumers can associate with.

Culture is very sensitive and subtle. Last September GPJ successfully delivered an activation for Moon Festival in Sydney (or mid-Autumn festival), which is the second most important traditional festival of the year in the Asia community, behind Chinese New Year. When I brainstormed with the creative director who has no Chinese background, he firstly came up with a concept to decorate the space by installing dozens of umbrellas overhead with key messages and branding on them. It was a brilliant idea, but the pronunciation of umbrella is “san” in mandarin, which is the same as to “dismiss”. Moon festival is all about reunion and family get together, and the usage of umbrellas may have been considered as not authentic or even unlucky for some sensitive people. Brainstorming with the team, we ended up hanging dozens of paper lanterns to create the festival ambient. It was a great success and a lot of visitors took photos under the lanterns interacting with them.

Experience is cultural but also personal. In a lot of cases the Chinese community is labelled as one ethnic group, but they are hugely diverse. If your target segment is baby boomers or gen X, who migrated to Australia in the 1980s, a lion dancing celebration may work perfectly as they deeply associate with traditions and cultural formality. But if your targets are millennials, they are more likely to be amazed by a pop-up activation or an AR application to record their experiences and post them on WeChat or Weibo (Facebook and Twitter equivalent).

My last suggestion is that when you plan to engage your customers, make sure you engage experts who fully understand the ethnic community you want to target, as people often have stereotypes of other cultures, which could negatively impact the success of your marketing campaigns.

All cultural backgrounds are diverse and rich and when tied into marketing campaigns in meaningful and respectful ways, lasting and memorable experiences can be created.

Sophia Wang – Account Director 


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