Markets Focus: The Asian Connection

Young Asian-American men are consummate consumers - and a bridge

Asians are swelling the ranks of American consumers: U.S. Census data released in September found 10 million immigrants from this geographic region.

Five percent of these households speak no English; in many of them, the young adults of the household act as interpreters and advisers.

Marketers' lust for the young men in this market segment isn't based on fantasy. They are indeed more educated, more affluent, more tech-savvy and more gadget-happy than their non-Asian counterparts. According to a 2004 market survey by the Magazine Publishers of America, the Asian-American population is nearly twice as likely to have a bachelor's degree or higher, and the median household income is $52,018, versus $43,318 for all Americans.

These men can open the door to the rest of the Asian-American market, one of the fastest-growing minorities in the United States. The Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business projects that Asian buying power will total $459 billion in 2007, rising to $670 billion by 2012. Asian spending is more concentrated geographically than other racial markets. The five states with the largest Asian consumer markets account for 60 percent of all Asian buying power, with California representing nearly a third of it at $150 billion.

And yet, the conventional wisdom among marketers is that, despite their desirable profile, Asian-American males ages 18 to 34 are not an addressable market.

Multi Multicultural
Admerasia, one of the top advertising and multicultural marketing agencies, clusters the numerous Asian-American subgroups into three regional groups:

>Northeast Asians: People from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. They have similarities in language and religion.

>Southeast Asians: Those who hail from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia share strong colonial influences from the Portuguese, Spanish and French.

>South Asians: These people, from countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, are mostly Hindu or Muslim, and their culture has a strong British flavor.

But even these ad hoc groups are widely diverse, says Saul Gitlin, executive vice president of strategic services for Kang & Lee. "The majority of Asian-Americans have immigrated, and they speak different languages," he points out. "Although being a man implies a certain amount of shared affinity with other men, the influence of culture tempers that."

In fact, the focus of agencies like K&L, one of the largest specializing in the Asian-American market, is shifting to language-specific campaigns and Web sites, according to Gitlin. Traditional agencies, meanwhile, hope to hit their immigrant and second-generation Asian-American targets with their mainstream campaigns.

"There's no longer a separate budget or department handling multicultural marketing," Gitlin says. "We should be going back to a paradigm where there is one [campaign] that addresses multiple consumer constituencies under one umbrella."

Gen 1.5
Now, when you're talking about this particular age group, "immigrant" isn't quite right. Certainly, the majority of these young men were born in other countries, but they arrived in the United States early enough that they've picked up its language and culture, according to Bill Imada, CEO of IW Group, another top agency.

They've been dubbed the 1.5 generation, and, "they don't necessarily self-describe as Asian-American when they're growing up," Imada says. "They're just like any typical American kid."

Their Internet usage also reflects mainstream tastes. The most-visited sites, according to comScore Media Metrix, are, in descending order: Yahoo, Google, the Time Warner network and Microsoft sites - no surprises there.

But an analysis by comScore shows a couple of very likely spots to reach them in critical mass: and These guys are nearly 17 times more likely than the average consumer to visit, an Internet business directory. They're almost as avid about finding out how stuff works, indexing at 1288 percent above average for visits in August 2007. covers some broad territory, from quicksand to rehab to how magnetic trains levitate. It's also heavy on buying guides and price comparisons, and it's the exclusive online publisher for the Consumer Guides and Mobil Travel Guides. Display advertisers on the site include Best Buy, Harrah's Casino and Netflix.

Ford Motor Co. went after young car fanatics with its 2007 Ford Edge. The integrated marketing campaign was expected to target Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and pan-Asian audiences with over 32.4 million impressions. The campaign included a partnership with South Korean actor and singer Ahn Jae Wook.

Another intriguing group for marketers is South Asians, one of the fastest-growing demographics. Many immigrated as young adults, recruited by high-tech companies; they're highly educated and extremely affluent. They shop online, but they gravitate toward familiar brands from home, as well as to Indian-language entertainment.

"It's Bollywood, not Hollywood," says Daniel Ocner, director of strategic marketing and development for South Asian Diaspora Marketing. Search and viral marketing are the best ways to reach them. "They're isolated and may not have many friends. They'll look to the Web to guide them to the right places."

Therefore, Ocner says, it's important that companies optimize Web offerings for this group. "They shouldn't rely on their mainstream marketing or Web sites," Ocner says. "This is an English-speaking demographic, but it's a misconception that they can capture it just because ads are in English."

Family Ties
This elusive group offers two hot opportunities for marketers. First, there's a short period when they seem to redefine their identities. The Gen 1.5 kid who just wanted to fit in may become more interested in his native culture as he enters college or the workplace, Imada says. IW Group calls this process "retro-acculturation." It's a prime opportunity for marketers to connect emotionally. For example, McDonald's' aims for this demographic online, while offering things like the fusion-style "Asian salad" in stores.

Second, they're a liaison between brands and the older generation. "Young adults probably have a better grasp of English and what is happening in the world," says Navin Narayanan, director of strategic planning for IW Group. "They exert a strong influence on family purchases." They open the door to the rest of this fast-growing population.

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