Chinese Crest ad draws criticism

A bus shelter advertisement for Crest teeth whitening products featuring only the Chinese language is prompting one critic to call for a boycott of the parent company’s products.   -
A bus shelter advertisement for Crest teeth whitening products featuring only the Chinese language is prompting one critic to call for a boycott of the parent company’s products.
— image credit:

The latest sign in a local language debate recently arrived on another bus stop—this time it’s a Chinese-only advertisement for oral hygiene products.

A bus shelter advertisement features a smiling Asian bride behind an array of Crest products. Apart from using the English name of the Procter and Gamble product, the text is exclusively in the Chinese language.

The ad has been spotted around Richmond, including on Steveston Highway across from Richmond Country Farms and the Canada Line stations at Aberdeen and Lansdowne.

Although there’s no law in B.C. requiring the use of English or French in signs or advertising, critics say the exclusive use of foreign languages widens the cultural divide in a city where 57 per cent of residents are born outside of Canada and one in 10 have no knowledge of the English language.

Telecommunications companies, realtors and banks have used Chinese-only advertisements before—on bus shelters and in direct mail—but such targeted ads for consumer products aren’t as common.

Kerry Starchuk, a longtime resident who has advocated for English to be included on signs, plans to boycott Procter and Gamble’s products. because of the ad, which she said is also being used in Toronto. And some Twitter users this week wondered what the result would be if the advertisements were used in Quebec, where French language has provincial protection.

Said one commentator: “There’s parts of this country where there would be war if it wasn’t in French!”

Offered another: “Let’s see that happen in Quebec.”

The Richmond Review contacted Procter and Gamble but hasn't received a response yet.

Richmond Coun. Chak Au said he doesn’t believe the ads are meant to offend.

“I think it reflects a certain level of insensitive on the part of the company or the advertising agency. That’s very unfortunate. I don’t think this is the right thing, but on the other hand I think this is understandable in terms of a marketing strategy.”

Au believes such ads should include English. He added the city could create guidelines, but said he believes in education rather than legislation.

“In a free society like Canada, where we treasure freedom of expression, I think it’s very difficult to use any legislation to forbid this kind of targeted marketing. Actually, if we do that, it may even create more problems.”

Last month the publicly-funded social service agency SUCCESS pulled its Chinese-only advertisements from local bus shelters after drawing criticism for not including one of Canada’s official languages.

The SUCCESS ad promoted a problem gambling program for Chinese-language speakers. The text featured only Chinese characters, apart from a name and phone number, which lead to a Chinese voice message.

“SUCCESS has no intention of alienating anyone with this advertisement,” said Queenie Choo, CEO of SUCCESS, in a statement at the time.

“We are also working on an internal guideline on placing advertisement of this nature that English shall be a base language, as appropriate, and other languages can be an add-on.”

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