How to send happiness or How Western Union won over Filipinos

January 22, 2015

(Webmasters Note: CEMA Board Director Ace Alvarez wrote the following article for Marketing Magazine–Canada’s national weekly publication dedicated to the businesses of marketing, advertising and media [August 28-September 4, 2006 Issue], and is reprinted here for the benefit of members involved in multicultural marketing.)


First Vice-President & Secretary, Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA)

Western Union‘s Filipino marketing strategy uses celebrities to win over consumers

As a global money transfer service, it makes sense that Western Union targets many ethnic consumers in Canadaincluding the Latin, Caribbean, Chinese, South Asian and European communities.

Noticing that the size of the Filipino community is significant (the 2001 Census shows Filipinos as the fourth-largest visible minority group), the company decided to target consumers sending money to friends and family members in the Philippines.

One of the challenges in convincing this community to use Western Union services is that Filipinos primarily trust fellow Filipinos to send money back home, says Marvi Yap, a partner with AV Communications in Toronto, an agency specializing in ethnic marketing. Usually, they use small remittance companies run by Filipinos at their neighbourhood convenience stores.

Western Union also faced the negative perception in the Filipino community that, as a huge global brand, it is expensive to use and indifferent to its customers.

Marco Amoranto, Western Union‘s marketing director for North America, working with AV Communications, rejected the idea of adapting any of its mainstream marketing or marketing created for other ethnic groups. Instead, the team strove to “think the way Filipinos think.”

Research found that a Filipino is not only a breadwinner for the family, but the entire clan. Filipinos have close ties to their extended families including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Simply, put, once Filipinos are abroad, they become the breadwinners of the clan. A Filipino money earner is seen as an achiever and, oftentimes, failure to live up to the image of a breadwinner to the clan is seen negatively.

Research also showed that Filipinos love entertainment and Filipino entertainers and celebrities are effective endorsers. The marketing strategy would also have to include humour and fun to reach the target consumer.

Besides using Filipino print, radio and television media, a Filipino Celebrity Roadshow was created that included performances as well as press conferences and autograph sessions. The show travelled to Toronto and Vancouver-key cities for new Filipino immigrants-as well as Winnipeg where there is also a significant community from the Philippines.

The goal of the roadshow was to connect Western Union services with the happiness one feels when receiving something from another. In other words, the message was that Western Union not only helps send money, but happiness as well. Thus, the event was billed in the Philippine national language of Tagalog,Kasiyahang Padala ng Western Union,”which means happiness sent by Western Union.Ticket sales included a buy one, get one promotion whereby purchasers could get a free ticket if they sent $200 or more to the Philippines through a Western Union agent in Canada. Tickets to the event were largely sold by Filipino convenience stores and restaurants.A great deal of buzz was generated as community members tried to guess which big-name artists from the Philippines would appear at the concerts. Also, most of the targeted consumers here had never had the chance to see the artists perform in the Philippines because of prohibitive ticket prices. Prices for the Canadian shows were kept affordable, and Amoranto increased the accessibility factor when he opened the press conferences to the public. Attendance at each concert was around 1,000 people.

According to Amoranto, the roadshows are among Western Union‘s most successful ethnic marketing strategies. The first roadshow took place in 2004, gaining market awareness and generating an increase in transaction volume for Western Union of over 29%. Because of the positive impact, the company restaged the roadshows again this summer in Toronto,Edmonton and Winnipeg.

ACE ALVAREZ is a writer with AV Communications in Toronto. He is also First Vice-President & Secretary of CEMA’sBoard of Directors.