Of course, we have all witnessed years of Continental announcements for new routes. But this particular campaign is remarkable for one key reason: Continental has run a pair of facing, vertical half-page ads in the front section of The New York Times, with one in English and the other in Chinese characters.
Continental should first be lauded for the instantly recognizable Chinese cultural cue embodied in the format of the ads -- a cue that, no doubt, was missed by the majority of New York Times readers. The advertising spread mirrors traditional Chinese calligraphy "couplets," which are most often posted symmetrically on walls, or on the sides of entryways and gates, to make important announcements, greet special holidays with auspicious tidings, or otherwise promote the spirit of famous quotes from Chinese literature, philosophy and history. Chinese readers of The New York Times, or non-Chinese steeped in Chinese culture, would instantly recognize this ad format as a harbinger of "fortuitous" news, or big news, even before they read the actual copy.
That Continental has chosen to run one of its paired ads completely in Chinese characters in The New York Times may be even more significant. In the past, Continental, as an experienced multicultural marketer, has mostly limited its Asian-language advertising to the Asian press in New York, while running English ads in mainstream media. It may be that the decision to now use Chinese-language creative in The New York Times was no more than an effort to reflect, and thereby attract attention to, the English creative on the facing page. However, it is even more likely that Continental understands some simple facts: Chinese-Americans in the New York area number approximately 500,000, they are educated and affluent, they are heavy travelers to China for leisure and business, and -- yes -- they can also be reached through mainstream media, as well as through the targeted Chinese media channels within their communities.
This is no surprise for many of us in the multicultural marketing industry. At Kang & Lee, more than 20 years of consumer research for our clients has consistently illustrated that Asian-immigrant consumers do gravitate to their native-language media for the comfort of the language, as well as for the daily editorial content that contains richer news and information from Asia (and from within their own ethnic communities in the U.S.) than would otherwise be featured regularly in any mainstream media outlet. Yet, as an educated population skewing toward professional careers, these same Asians are also often dual consumers of mainstream media -- particularly to stay abreast of the latest information regarding U.S. national life, local life in key cities, and more specialized content that is relevant to their careers in our country.
But given the modest budgets that most multicultural marketers manage, the prohibitively high mainstream media costs prevent clients from acting on this knowledge to engage immigrant consumers in these channels. As one client said to me, "I know from research that my Asian targets in New York are also reading The New York Times, but can I really afford even a single insertion when the one-time insertion cost can support a few months of strong frequency advertising in several Asian-targeted publications?"
Therein may lie an opportunity for general media across the country. Offline publications are experiencing continual and precipitous drops in ad revenue, and some of the most famous print brands are already dying, with many more that may follow suit. If these media can figure out how to appropriately price non-English and ethnic-targeted advertising to reflect the size of the various multicultural audiences they may already be reaching in their home, regional, or national markets, they may find completely new revenue streams that can, at least in part, recoup some of their current losses.
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Saul Gitlin is the exec VP-strategic services at Kang & Lee Advertising. Continental Airlines is NOT a client of Kang & Lee Advertising.