Ethnic events sponsorship: getting more bang for the buck

Festivals and events have long been a favourite of marketers who want to reach out to major ethnic communities in Canada. Over the years, dozens of seasonal and cultural events have sprung up – each vying for a piece of the pie that CPGs, banks, insurance companies, big retailers and automakers among others, allocate to multicultural marketing. While some of these sponsorships may be well thought out and diligent, others seem more of a check-in-the-box for the brand, with little to show for measurable results.

Indeed most marketers are challenged when it comes to ethnic outreach, and need to rely on their agency partners for insights and recommendations. Still, some fundamental understanding can help them determine whether a particular festival or event is the right fit for their brand and how it will deliver on key expectations.

  • Cut through the marketing pitch

    Generous load of Hinglish splashed over a colourful brochure featuring a Bollywood dance troupe does not always guarantee a foolproof South Asian event. One must match the core objective to the event. If the idea is to sell or sample a product directly to a specific ethnic segment, the nature and scale of the event and its appeal to that particular segment plays an important role. In the end, it’s all about who and how many. At times, organizers may try to pitch their events as a differentiated opportunity when in reality it’s just more of the same. For instance, a certain festival may be pitched as catering to “Cantonese Chinese” vs “Mandarin Chinese” when in reality that festival has no language identity and both these communities may end up there depending on what it offers.

    With some knowledge of past performance, you can make a safe assessment of what to expect and gauge whether the event would deliver minimum acceptable return on investment.

  • Location, Location, Location.

    This age old retail mantra holds equally true for festivals and events. The event venue can give you a fair idea whether it would attract the audience you’re targeting. If its suburban South Asian families you’re hoping to engage, would many of them would show up at an event in the teeming downtown core on a Friday evening? Find out if the event is tailored to the participants when it comes to the program, ambience, timing, space and logistics.

  • Social is the new word of mouth

    Regardless of how well-planned an event is, if the organizer does not have a reasonable social media reach, word might not get too far. Both South Asians and Chinese Canadians spend more time online than general population. And they love to share news with friends and family. A robust event social media and website is almost imperative to its success within these hyper-connected communities. Then there is advertising in ethnic media and as well as ethnic stores through posters and leaflets that can add considerably to an event’s visibility and hype. Depending on the target audience, a good mix of social and traditional ethnic media can deliver optimal results.

  • There is often room for customization

    Most organizers offer cookie-cutter sponsorship packages. Some of the elements may not be fully aligned to your brand objectives. For instance, it may serve your objectives better to be able sign-up event visitors to your company newsletter than just having your brand splashed across banners and backdrops. Cultural awareness of the people you’re dealing with will help communicate effectively when negotiating or trying to come to an agreement with organizers on customization for achieving specific objectives.

  • Be aware of cultural nuances

    Awareness of cultural nuances is just as relevant, if not more, to events as it is to other ethnic communications. Ensure that messaging on all event materials including posters, banners, signage, event souvenirs, etc. are created with cognizance to cultural sensitivities of the audiences. For example, in both Chinese and South Asian cultures, certain colours and symbols are deemed ominous and their use should best be avoided. It also makes more sense to staff event and festival booths with in-language representatives who can connect to your audiences more effectively. Proper staff training, not just on the brand, product and activation, but also on how to be mindful of culture when communicating with visitors at the event, is another area that deserves particular attention.

  • Create measurable objectives

    Like any other marketing initiative, events and festival sponsorships should have clear objectives and reasonable means to measure them. Even if your objective is not direct sales, are there other opportunities for measurable engagement? Is there a way to achieve something tangible out of a particular event, such as social media following, getting insights through a survey or building consumer database? There is often sufficient room to be creative with an activation and leveraging it for future marketing programs.

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