Market Focus: Asian Americans
“It’s really a prime opportunity to market to Asian Americans at a time when they’re establishing buying habits,” says Jon Yasuda, president of the Asian American Advertising Federation and president/COO of KSCI, a TV station serving the Asian-American community of Los Angeles.
The lucrative opportunity in the Asian-American market is one of the biggest surprises to come out of the 2000 census, which has alerted marketers to the explosion in the numbers of Asian consumers in the United States. The 2000 census found 11.9 million people in the United States — 4.2% of the population — who identified themselves as Asians. Yet the most striking figure wasn’t the percentage of the total population, but rather how fast the demographic has been growing. The 1990 census counted 6.9 million Asians in the United States.
And if the 1990 census led to the creation of Asian-oriented advertising agencies, the 2000 figures enlightened advertisers as to the strength of the Asian-American market.
“The realization didn’t hit until the 2000 census came out. The 2000 census has been a springboard,” says Yasuda.
But advertising in the Asian market isn’t as easy as buying media to reach other ethnic groups. You can’t just buy media with the appropriate reach and think that you’re done. In addition to the cultures involved, there are more than a dozen major languages, including Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog (a Filipino dialect), Korean, and Japanese. The TV and radio stations serving the Asian communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and elsewhere broadcast blocks of multiple languages every day.
Chinese is by far the largest segment, with 20% of the population. Chinese, plus the next two largest groups, Filipinos and Asian Indians, make up 58% of the United States’ Asian population. California has the largest Asian community, and 49% of all Asian-Americans live on the West Coast. Twenty percent live in the Northeast, 19% in the South, and 12% in the Midwest. Top cities include Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Newark, N.J.; Washington, D.C.; Chicago, Houston, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. New York City has the largest number of people reporting themselves as Asian, with 873,000 people.
An advertiser’s biggest challenge? Understanding how to target a group that speaks a large number of languages. Vicky Wong, president of Dae Advertising in San Francisco, says each individual ethnic group has its own language and culture. She advises new advertisers not to market to more than five or six segments at once.
There is a robust Asian media in the United States, through broadcast outlets like KSCI and 24-hour radio stations in major cities; cable and digital networks that offer in-language programming throughout the United States; newspapers in many different languages; and websites that serve Asian communities from the United States and overseas. Yasuda suggests employing either a consultant experienced in Asian marketing or an Asian advertising agency.
Wong’s agency, Dae Advertising, started in 1990. Its client list includes a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, and Allstate Insurance. She says that Asian advertising agencies know the importance of community and strongly integrate event marketing and community outreach in ways mainstream agencies may not. She says it’s a crucial tactic.
“For Asian advertisers, we can’t afford to use only mass media as a communication vehicle. You have to use guerrilla marketing techniques too,” Wong says.
Southwest Airlines’ outreach to Asians includes being the title sponsor for the San Francisco Chinese New Year parade, the biggest nighttime parade in the United States and the second biggest in North America after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. The marketing is done not only during the parade but also in billboards and other traditional advertisements.
Strong product categories include telecommunications, financial services and banking, and automotive. Several companies, particularly on the West Coast, have been able to craft campaigns that have had an impact on the Asian communities. Grocery and department stores like JC Penney’s and Sears have begun major marketing campaigns, and the U.S. Postal Service has been running integrated advertising campaigns aimed at the Asian community in at least six languages.
But Yasuda and Wong say there’s more work to be done to educate corporate America about the necessity of marketing to Asians.
“It’s a slower-moving segment compared to the Hispanic market … I don’t think we can say we are on the same page. I think we have to do a lot of selling to educate corporate America that this is a viable market and you have to make use of the in-language media,” Wong says.