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As a worldwide sponsor of the International Cricket Council, Pepsi launched a six-week campaign in February called ‘Get Hyped for Cricket,’ and held an all-night event at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont., for a screening of an India-Pakistan match.

Elise Amendola/AP

Anyone who has put a child in piano lessons – or who has been that child – knows that whining about not wanting to practise is a universal experience. (Sorry, mom and dad.) But the way Kruger Inc. is telling that story in a current ad campaign is very specific.

That's because it's telling the story in Cantonese. The television commercial that launched recently shows a little boy squirming on his piano stool, and failing to convince his mother that he has done his time. Moments later, the parents hear his playing resume, and peek in to find the industrious youngster perched on a package of soft Purex bathroom tissue.

The campaign, running in Western Canada, is a new investment for Kruger, which has not done much in the way of multicultural marketing before. (It also includes an ad for the company's SpongeTowels, starring chef Joseph Ho.) The company began considering the investment in 2012, studying an overview of the Canadian marketplace from Nielsen and demographic numbers from Statistics Canada to assess which groups it could be speaking to more directly. Last year, it hired Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing and Advertising, a Toronto-based agency.

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Multicultural advertising in Canada is nothing new, but has largely been the realm of the banks and the telecom companies in the past – an obvious move, since a bank account and a phone are two of the most important things people need upon arrival in a country. And customers don't switch brands as often in those categories, making new-customer acquisition a key priority.

In the past couple of years, though, a wider range of companies are waking up to the value of speaking to these communities, including consumer packaged goods (CPG) makers such as Kruger.

"There has been a lot of growth from CPG companies," said Kathy Cheng, vice-president of cultural markets for Environics Research Group. "Still, 70 per cent of the work we do is with the banks and the telcos. But the CPGs are testing the waters."

Their efforts are hardly a niche play. One in five people in Canada were born elsewhere, according to the most recent figures from Statscan's 2011 National Household Survey. That's the highest proportion of any Group of Eight country. From a marketing perspective, these people are in the consumer groups that are often prized targets for ads: Nearly 60 per cent of them fell within the "core working age group" of ages 25 to 54, according to Statscan.

"Statistics have proven that they can no longer ignore this group," said Sharifa Khan, chief executive officer of Toronto agency Balmoral Multicultural Marketing.

And yet, companies with only so many marketing dollars to allocate have sometimes been reluctant to jump in.

"We have limited budgets," said Nancy Marcus, corporate vice-president for marketing at Kruger, which also works with agencies John St., Havas and social-media agency Fuse for its other advertising projects. "It's much easier and cheaper to just adapt an ad [into other languages], but because we are committed to understanding divers- ity in Canada, we took that step."

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Kruger is now tracking how the ad – which is running on Omni stations, the Cantonese-language specialty channel Fairchild TV and elsewhere – to see how the campaign performs, and whether further investment is warranted.

Clorox Canada began working with Balmoral on its first multicultural work in 2012, focusing on South Asian and Chinese consumers. It created language-specific product websites, produced articles for ethnic newspapers and websites and launched TV commercials targeted to certain cultural insights – for example, a woman impressing her mother-in-law with the cleanliness of her house. Clorox saw better brand recall and higher purchase consideration among those consumers as a result.

This year, Jergens Canada worked with Environics to advertise its new Shea Butter lotion to South Asian women – who research showed overindex in their use of shea butter but were not familiar with the brand – with the message "the shea butter you know and love."

The strategy can also be beneficial for multinational companies that already have global investments. For example, PepsiCo Inc. is a worldwide sponsor of the International Cricket Council (ICC), which organizes the Cricket World Cup. But despite the incredible growth of the South Asian community here, among whom cricket is very popular, Pepsi had never advertised the sponsorship in Canada.

Working with the agency Ethnicity, Pepsi launched a six-week campaign in February called "Get Hyped for Cricket." It ran a contest to win tickets to the finals in Melbourne, Australia, released ads and held an all-night event at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga for a screening of the India-Pakistan match. (Naturally, Pepsi beverages and Frito-Lay snacks were served.) Ethnicity estimates that the campaign reached 1.5 million people.

"We're at a transformative stage," said Bobby Sahni, partner and co-founder of Ethnicity.

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Advertisers are moving beyond paying perfunctory attention to ethnic groups on holidays such as Diwali or Chinese New Year, and are considering longer-term investments in brand building, Mr. Sahni, partner and co-founder of Ethnicity, said. That helps to fight perceptions of tokenism, which are lethal to multicultural campaigns.

That also means taking great care to be culturally specific without veering into stereotypes, which can be a delicate balance.

And it requires an understanding of how cultural communities evolve. First-generation immigrants are happy to see ads in their own languages while their children want to be recognized for being as Canadian as anyone else. Culturally specific campaigns are less attractive for them than seeing reflections of themselves in mainstream commercials, said Meghna Srinivas, director of client service for MacLaren McCann Cultura. The agency's multicultural division launched in 2012, and works with clients including Chevrolet and Coca-Cola.

Considering that white actors are still the overwhelming majority in most ads, effective multicultural advertising will require a broader industry rethink.

"I just came out of focus groups and the amount of angst I see out of the second generation – they don't want to be isolated," Ms. Srinivas said. "They want to see people like them. … When I speak to clients, I tell them, 'Make sure you reflect Canada's diversity.'

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