ASIAN-AMERICAN AGENCIES LINK TO 'VALIDATE MARKET': 5A'S AIMS TO EDUCATE CLIENTS ON STRENGTHS OF MINORITY GROUP

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Fifteen ad agencies have banded together to promote opportunities in the Asian-American market, calling themselves the Five A's.

At the first session of the Association of Asian-American Advertising Agencies on Feb. 22 -- scheduled to coincide with the Chinese New Year celebration -- in San Francisco, the group named as its first president Eliot Kang, 38, president-CEO of Kang & Lee, New York, a unit of Young & Rubicam. Other officers are Secretary Wei-Tai Kwok, 35, who is president, Dae Advertising, San Francisco; and Treasurer Joe Lam, 45, president, L3 Advertising, New York.

'VALIDATE THE MARKET'

"Our goal is to validate the market," Mr. Kang said, adding the group will pool funds for studies as well as hold seminars and conduct other educational activities.

"There is a lot of resistance [among marketers] because it's unknown territory," he said, noting the Asian-American market "has been underserved."

The Five A's pegs the Asian-American market as one of the fastest growing in the U.S., with a population of 10 million, estimated to double by 2020. Currently, Asian-Americans command $101 billion in annual spending. Household income is the highest for any ethnic group in the U.S., at an average of $46,695, compared with $40,646 for the next highest group, non-Hispanic Caucasians, according to figures Mr. Kang's agency has compiled using U.S. Census data.

Realizing that potential, some companies are already successfully targeting Asian-Americans, among them telecom, financial services and some airlines, said Fred S. Teng, district manager-marketing communications at AT&T Corp. One of the most effective examples, he said, is the cognac category, where Remy Martin and Schieffelin & Somerset Co.'s Hennessy have changed the buying habits of Asian-Americans. He said Johnny Walker Red Scotch whisky was the preferred drink at traditional Chinese banquets, but thanks to a run of advertising by the cognac companies, no family banquet is now complete without one of those cognacs on the table.

Other categories actively going after the Asian market are automotive, healthcare, theme parks and other entertainment such as gaming operators. Those lagging include package goods, the Five A's said.

SIZE OF MARKET UNCLEAR

There may be valid reasons why package goods companies are reluctant. First, the size of the market is unclear. Mr. Kang's agency counts all U.S. Census respondents listing themselves as Asian-Americans. That number therefore would include new Asian immigrants, many of whom prefer to speak in Asian languages, along with well-integrated and U.S.-born Asian-Americans.

Unlike Hispanic-Americans, who speak one common language, Asian languages vary widely. Approximately 89% of Asian-Americans are from six cultures: Asian-Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

"There isn't such a thing as an Asian-American," said Mr. Kang. "But if we all stand together, it's pretty close."

In addition, marketers often believe their efforts at reaching Asian-Americans are sufficient if an Asian-American is included in general market advertising. For example, Charles Schwab & Co. is establishing offices with Asian-speaking personnel on the coasts, but is featuring English-speaking Asians in its ads.

WHETTING APPETITES

Mr. Kang and other Five A's members hope further study and data will do everything from boosting Asian-language media to whetting the appetite of marketers interested but cautious about targeting the Asian audience.

Mr. Lam, who in 1984 opened one of the first agencies dedicated solely to the Asian market, said Asian media need to take steps such as certifying circulations and developing readership profiles.

"The numbers are still lacking," he said. Still, gathering them must be a

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