Advertisers Refine Aim for Asian-Americans

At first, Toyota USA’s recent video advertisement looks fairly typical, but something is clearly different. The only English words it uses are “Let’s go places” and “Corolla my style.” The rest of the video is in Korean.

Launched in March, the ad features HyunA, a famous Korean female pop singer who danced in the wildly popular “Gangnam Style” music video. In the Toyota video, HyunA sings about being young and free, reinforcing the brand image of Corolla as a car for younger customers. Toyota uploaded the ad to YouTube, where it received more than 200,000 views in its first week. Toyota also designed the ad to be available for download through a smartphone app that lets viewers insert a short clip of themselves into HyunA video.

The advertisement is part of a new wave of digital marketing that targets Asian-Americans by using Asian cultural icons and media technologies that appeal disproportionately to Asian communities throughout the U.S. The effort to reach Asian-Americans is not surprising; census data shows that from 2000 to 2010, the Asian-American population grew 46 percent — faster than any other immigrant group in the nation — and they have the highest median household income too. A 2012 Pew Research Center study shows that there are approximately 18 million Asian-Americans in the U.S., which accounts for 5.8 percent of the total population, up from 3.6 percent in 2000. Other surveys reveal that Asian-Americans are more likely than others to be engaged in digital media and the Internet.

“Asian-American behavior trends are reshaping how we think,” says Jon Yokogawa, vice president for consumer strategies at InterTrend Communications, the agency that created the Toyota ad campaign. “Asian-Americans come from a place of being connected, and what we see is that the community is hungry for content that appeals to them.”

Asian-Americans watch more online videos than Hispanics, African-Americans and non-Hispanic whites, according to a report Nielsen published late last year. Asian-Americans watch, on average, 2 hours and 57 minutes of YouTube per month, while non-Asian-Americans watch 1 hour and 50 minutes. The report also shows that 70 percent of Asian-Americans use smartphones, 15 percentage points more than the national average. These figures suggest that video advertising, especially on mobile devices, is a good strategy for targeting Asian-American consumers.

Bill Imada, the CEO of IW Group, a PR firm in California, estimates that 20 marketing firms in the U.S. target the Asian-American community specifically, almost double the number of firms just four years ago, before the census data was released.

“Advertisers have only recently targeted more Asians with things like online videos,” says Yong Chen, an Asian-American studies professor at University of California, Irvine.

Advertisers, determined to reach Asian-Americans wherever they congregate on the Web, are now recognizing that Asian immigrants tend to go online to watch television shows from their home countries. In February, Admaru Network, an advertising firm in New Jersey, partnered with the Chinese video streaming website PPTV — the Chinese equivalent of Netflix — to display American ads. Whenever the website detects a U.S. IP address, it now displays ads,  translated into Chinese, from companies such as MassMutual Life Insurance and Ford Motor Co. This way, they pinpoint potential consumers in America.

Of course, some companies were targeting Asian-Americans before the census confirmed what demographers were already noticing: The Asian-American market was booming. McDonald’s launched a website in 2009 called for its Asian-American consumers, following up on its site for African-American customers. But it was not until after the 2010 census that companies began a focused effort to reach Asian-Americans using Asian personalities and digital media.

Last year, Verizon Wireless organized promotional events in San Francisco around the Lunar New Year, an important holiday celebrated by East Asian countries, with events featuring Filipino and Korean musicians. This year, the company ramped up its effort to reach potential customers of Asian descent. Its Lunar New Year marketing campaign, held in February, was unveiled not just in California, but also in Washington, New York and Maryland. And the events featured far more popular Asian-American celebrities, such as David So and Kina Grannis, who started their entertainment careers on YouTube, where each now has about a half million subscribers.

Kenneth Wong, a professor in marketing at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, who is also a third-generation immigrant, applauds recent efforts to use technology to reach Asian American consumers.

“What’s important is the media choices advertisers use,” says Wong. “And learning how to reach people.”