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Acculturation and change- why we need to move away from assimilation and towards pluralism in marketing

Chasson Gracie

Director, Insights and Analytics

john st.


Acculturation and change:  why we need to move away from assimilation and towards pluralism in marketing

We all know Canada is changing in many ways. Above all, however, it is changing demographically, and that has major implications for marketers. According to Stats Can, 21 percent of people in Canada are foreign born. Looking at the total Canadian population, 23 percent are visible minorities. And that’s not just Vancouver and Toronto. By 2036, 11 major Canadian cities will be anywhere from one-third visible minorities to majority-minority (Toronto and Vancouver already are, along with many medium-sized cities, such as Burnaby). As we think about our new Canada, as marketers we face three important questions:

  • What does it mean to be a Canadian today?
  • How do we measure values, attitudes, and beliefs?
  • How should we approach marketing in the new Canada?

What does it mean to be a Canadian today?

When people think of civil rights and the year 1954, they immediately go to the United States and the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case. But 1954 was also a profound year for Canadian history and the country we are today. That year, Black Porters sent a delegation to Ottawa and called for Canada to be “a new nation state created out of all peoples of the world, a country of equality, where specific ethnic groups would not have all the privileges and others none.” That sentiment, which then inspired politicians, led to our society becoming pluralistic, and in 2019, the practical side of this is coming to fruition. As a result, traditional notions and tropes of what it means to be Canadian are changing, including what it means to be Canadian racially, what sports we like (Raptors, anyone?), what music we listen to, what food we eat, and so on.

How do we measure values, attitudes, and beliefs?

When we think about attitudes and beliefs that consumers have, many times we rely on data that is not representative of the broader Canadian society (which is more than just age, gender and region). As Canada changes, the way we go about writing creative, media, and product briefs should change too. There are different approaches to this. We have traditionally focused on a total market approach in which we look for commonalities. But much of what are believed to be commonalities are not, due to bad data collection practices. As we dig deeper, we notice that there are things that bind us and things that set us apart. And those differences can get lost in a total market approach. In this changing Canada, marketers should consider approaches to data collection that represent the Canadian population in new ways.

What are new approaches to marketing in the new Canada?

So what are we talking about? In particular, we have three additional modes of thought when it comes to the new Canada:

  • Multicultural marketing: This is a focus on content that is created for specific audiences on specific channels (e.g. TD Bank’s “How South Asians Get #RetireReady”).

  • Cross-cultural marketing: This is a focus in which insights from a minority group lead the insight process, but as the idea becomes more macro, it can cut across all audiences (e.g. Nike’s “Like a Londoner”).

  • Total marketing: While acknowledging there are many minority groups in a population, in this approach we try to find the one thing that unifies all audiences (e.g. Honeymaid’s “This is Wholesome”).

In conclusion

As Canada becomes more diverse, its mindset is more focused on acculturation rather than assimilation, i.e. adopting an existing culture to the dominant one rather than seeing it disappear altogether. For marketers, especially those with mass market brands, this means we need to challenge what it means to be Canadian in order to find better insights, including how we measure values, attitudes, and beliefs. In addition, as we move further into this new and exciting period in Canadian history, marketers also need to challenge themselves in their marketing approaches as sometimes a bottom-up approach (i.e. cross-cultural marketing) may work better in such a pluralistic country.