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Asian Americans Good for Advertisers
by Jennifer Armor

According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Asian Americans represented $253 billion in spending power in 2001, and this number is projected to reach $528 billion by 2009. While Hispanics make up the largest minority in the U.S., there are 13.5 million Asian Americans (residents who say they are Asian or Asian in combination with one or more other races) according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau findings. This group comprises 5% of the total U.S. population. There is also a sizeable proportion of Asian Americans who are business owners and entrepreneurs.

Rather than an afterthought, Asian Americans should be of special interest to marketers. While Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have the highest Asian populations, other cities are increasingly becoming urban hubs. According to a 2005 report titled "Asian Americans in the U.S." written by Dr. Robert Brown and Ms. Ruth Washton for Package Facts, specific goods and services, including computers and Internet services, home electronics, and automobiles are more likely to be owned by Asian Americans than other ethnic groups.

A study by Ethnic Media in America conducted by Bendixen & Associates in partnership with the Center for American Progress Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Education Fund revealed that Asian-American newspapers reach a substantial percentage of adults in the U.S. Approximately 80 percent of all Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese adults read an ethnic newspaper on a regular basis. This reach extends to other media outlets, including television and the Internet.

Ethnic media can play a powerful role as part of a marketer's overall media mix. One of their chief advantages is cost efficiency. In addition to their unique connection with the community, ethnic media typically can't charge the same ad rates as mainstream media of a similar size. One estimate is that less than 4% of ad dollars go to ethnic media.

Saul Gitlin, EVP of strategic services at Kang and Lee Advertising, is one of the leading experts on marketing to Asian Americans. "I think planners and buyers need to know that this is a very rich media environment. They may not be aware of them personally, but the media is there." He tells potential advertisers that Asian-American marketing is cost effective and essential to a complete ad campaign.

There are currently significant changes taking place in the advertising marketplace. Audiences are moving away from big media and adopting more niche media instead. The entrenched model of advertising has been leveraging the economies of scale—the more people an advertiser reaches with his message, the greater the opportunity to make a sale. In an interview with Ad Age, media guru Rishad Tobaccowala said the new model must be outcome, engagement and effectiveness instead. Surveys show that ethnic media connects with ethnic consumers along three important variables: reach, use and trust.

For a variety of reasons, the Asian media is difficult to measure as a group. Not only does "Asian" not speak of a single culture or nationality, it also doesn't define a particular language. Even within Asian nationalities, there are language differences that make it difficult to group. China alone has seven distinct dialects.

Media buyers with no experience in ethnic communities often find that their efforts fail to perform well, leaving them with the conclusion that these communities may not be worth pursuing. In addition, many marketers fear their pitches might unwittingly offend people from other cultures. Brian M. Heiss, Senior Vice President & Managing Editor of Diversity Spectrum Corporation, said, "There is no handbook out there that says, 'This is how you market to Asian Americans.'" According to Heiss, "If you do it with thoughtfulness and understanding, you may be successful."

For marketers trying to reach the Asian-American community the obstacles may be cultural, not language. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 86% of Asians are literate in English.

Ted Fang, publisher of San Francisco-based AsianWeek, an English-language newspaper serving the Asian/Pacific Islander community, says that the one unifying factor for the community is English. Fang says that due to, "the inter-ethnicity of marriage—when a Korean woman marries a Chinese man—the language they speak at home is probably English." A recent study by OMD Worldwide concluded that ad relevancy is more about communicating in kind culturally than speaking in a language.

Ethnic media has traditionally encountered indifference from media buyers who, despite studies to the contrary, believe that they can reach the ethnic community through mainstream newspapers and magazines. There is still a lack of awareness from media buyers about the buying power of nonwhites. "The media cartel has run a business based on the Ozzie and Harriet general market," said Jo Muse, chairman of ad agency Muse Cordero Chen & Partners.

Some marketers demand proof in advance that their campaigns to reach ethnic audiences will pay off in sales, a standard not applied to other media says Deborah Gray-Young of ad agency E. Morris Communications.
The burden of making themselves more appealing to advertisers lay upon ethnic media itself. The ethnic media has traditionally survived on local ads—auto repair shops, grocery stores and restaurants—and classified advertising. Measurement has been perceived as a problem for many ethnic media outlets, preventing them from attracting mainstream ads.

In a special marketing forum that addressed the political landscape as related to advertising, Len Fong, principal of The Kobayashi Maru Group, said one of the ways to get past the advertising "gatekeepers" is to create critical mass for ethnic media.

"We need to know marketing numbers," Fong said. "We lack the proof of performance—a lot of our media outlets are not even audited. That prevents us from being in consideration. "Asian media leaders need to develop their own research and provide local data about the community and local market to their clients, seeking out third-party validation where possible. In addition, ethnic media must provide detailed demographic information about their readers that large advertisers require."

Amee Enriquez, the Executive Editor of Balita, a newspaper for the Filipino community in Southern California, says that they chose to become audited for several reasons. "We wanted to add more credibility to our newspaper. What better way to do so than joining the ranks of other reputable news organizations that underwent the same process? Doing so separates us from others who claim numbers but can't back them up."
At this moment, there is a great opportunity for Asian media to increase their participation in the marketplace. Gitlin says, "Some clients will still look at a population below 6% of total and [think] they don't need to address it. But let's look at California. Asians make up 20% of the population in California and more than that in San Francisco. If I start a meeting by asking a potential client if California is important to them, it shows them how profound this audience segment really is."

Heidi Gardner, the VP of Diversity and Strategic Programs at American Advertising Federation, stated that ethnic media adoption is a three-stage process. "First you have awareness, then acceptance, then change. On the whole, the [advertising] industry is somewhere between awareness and acceptance. Yes, it's moving slowly but we're getting there."

Jennifer Armor is the Audit Manager for Verified Audit Circulation. Prior to joining Verified Audit, she was Circulation Director for Diabetes Health magazine. For additional information about circulation auditing and Verified Audit Circulation please contact: or visit for additional information about how to read audit reports, glossary of terms and other marketing information. You may also sign up to receive our monthly newsletter VIEWPOINT that addresses current issues and trends in marketing, advertising and publishing.

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