Is it just me or are we definitely seeing more Asian Americans in advertisements lately? The growing number of advertisements featuring Asian Americans and how exactly Asian Americans are portrayed in these ads comprise a hot subject for debate to which this recent uptick adds much controversy.
Just last August, the Washington Post wrote that Asian Americans were confined to traditional tech-savvy stereotypes. According to the article, Asian Americans were portrayed as such due to a marketing concept known as “match up” theory, which posits that “consumers respond more favorably to products advertised by an actor or spokesperson who ‘fits’ the product.’” The author cited Staples, CVS, Best Buy and IBM as examples of companies who perpetuated the stereotype. While some marketing experts were pleased because Asian Americans were actually being represented in mainstream ads, others were distraught that they were being confined to such a narrow image. Other blogs (Colorlines, The Society Pages, Jezebel) have similarly discussed the so-called “double-edged sword” of Asians appearing in commercials, but only as lab-coat-donning, intellectually gifted individuals.
In many ways, I agree that this limited representation is troubling, but it seems like other companies are at least trying to stem the proliferation of bias.
Verizon, for instance, recently released this TV ad spot for Lucid by LG that features an attractive Asian-American woman contemplating whether or not she should purchase the phone. She’s portrayed as fairly normal, down-to-earth, humorous, and, most of all, average. She’s not necessarily overly techie—she just seems like what many Asian American women actually act like.
Or check out this 2012 Honda Accord commercial starring an Asian American couple. Although the couple converses in Mandarin, the commercial demonstrates a sort of blending of the cultures, as the Caucasian sales representative later responds back to the couple in perfect Mandarin, showing that he, too, can understand and speak the notoriously difficult-to-master language. It’s a pretty interesting illustration of the effects of China’s rise on globalization.
And finally, here’s a light, upbeat Target commercial that highlights an Asian American family buying some typical products from Target. The mom, Wendy, is trying to connect with her daughter who has just begun dating an Asian American boy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this representation, in my opinion, but if they really wanted to defy stereotypes, they could have had the daughter date a non-Asian American boy. Overall, I’d say it was refreshing to see Asian Americans in commercials just able to be themselves. If we apply matching theory to these new conceptions of Asian Americans, Target will probably be able to appeal to and acquire a larger customer base.
In the coming months, I’ll definitely be eager to see how Asian Americans continue to be portrayed in commercials. I’ll bet that companies will be on to something positive if they begin showing Asian Americans in a new light in advertisements.
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