Are We Seeing More Asian Americans In Commercials?

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.

3 comments | 0 plugs

Peter Shen: Hey Jimmy. Thanks for adding your input. i took a look at the commercial. To be honest with you, the criticism sounds a lot like nitpicking. I didn't see anything about the commercial that was wrong. It was an Asian family buying a car, just like countless thousands of local commercials in the past showing African American, Latino and white families. It's a good thing that we are now finally being represented (and to me not in a bad way). But it's interesting that some people may see it differently.
Nov 24, 2012
Jimmy Santony: Hey Tracy, I recently read this article about a local Hyundai commercial that deems racist. I'm really curious to see what you and your readers (besides me) think about this--some of the comments say that there is an "Asians are smart" undertone, while the person posting says the company thinks all Asians look alike and are "good with technology." Other comments think the post is overblown, but I think that the writer may have a point. It would be really awesome to hear your take on it--I definitely agree that we are starting to see more and more Asian Americans in commercials. Here is the post: Thanks, Jimmy
Nov 23, 2012
Peter Shen: Great blog Tracy. I think this subject is talked about in the Asian community. I know I always take notice when I see Asians in commercials. I do agree with you that I am seeing more and more Asians on TV and I also agree that in general the trend has been more positive depiction of Asians on television. The only thing I disagree with is your comment on the Target commercial about the daughter dating a non-Asian boyfriend as going against the stereotype of her dating an Asian boyfriend. I think it's the reverse stereotype that many Americans think Asian women date only white men. Though that is not true and if anything the trend is for more and more Asian women dating Asian men. Here is an interesting article I found in the New York Times on this. But great interesting article!
Apr 17, 2012

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