Wireless Service Providers Elevate Profile of Asian Talent

More Advertisers Should Embrace Asian Actors Without Resorting to Stereotypes

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Asian-American consumers are early adopters of electronic devices of all shapes, sizes and price points. Therefore, it isn't unusual to find all of the major wireless service providers featuring Asian talent in their print and broadcast ads. AT&T was one of the first telecom companies to feature Asian and Asian-American talent in their TV spots, and has incorporated Asian-American actors ever since.

T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless recently have also added commercials to their lineup of broadcast ads featuring Asian-American actors. T-Mobile produced one broadcast during the NBA Playoffs that caught my attention. It featured a sports enthusiast, who just happens to be Asian American, watching one of the playoff games on his smartphone. Unfortunately, he doesn't have 4G offered by T-Mobile and has to wait until the game finishes "buffering." Once he is handed a 4G-powered device, he is able to see the game in real time -- just as his favorite team makes the game-winning basket. The actor then calls his mother and exclaims, "In your face, mom!" Regardless of whether the ad was tasteful to the viewing public or not, it did feature an Asian-American actor in an atypical, non-stereotype role.

Verizon Wireless should get credit for being the most prolific and most visible advertiser featuring a variety of Asian-American actors. At least four broadcast commercials by Verizon Wireless feature a minimum of one Asian-American actor. Some of the roles are quirky, but focus on the attributes of the product or service, and not on the ethnicity of the talent featured in the ads. I'd have to say that I took note of all of the Asian actors featured in the Verizon Wireless ads and wish to commend Verizon for not placing Asian and Asian Americans in awkward, stereotypical roles. The ads showcase the actors in parts that could be played by anyone, regarding of race or ethnicity. And, I believe, their ads will appeal to Asian and Asian-American consumers who may notice the placement of actors that resemble them. I certainly have taken note and so have many of my peers in the advertising and marketing arena.

I was asked by Asian-American community leaders to comment on DirecTV's recent ad that is running on mass-market TV. It features a Vietnamese-American comedian named Dat Phan who is referred to as "The Whale." He struts through his Asianesque villa speaking with an exaggerated accent about being the big man at the casino and being offered the biggest package ever from DirecTV, at "the best price ever." He is accompanied by two much-taller female companions who seem to follow his every move. At the end, they are all joined by his overgrown pet panda named Coco. I get it. He likes things BIG: his koi, his villa, his women, his oversized bed and, of course, his oversized pet panda. Since Mr. Phan is a well-known comedian, we expect him to be silly, and clearly this commercial is just that : silly. While I can generally forgive an exaggerated foreign accent from time to time, I would like to point out that the commercial does perpetuate some negative stereotypes that many Asian and Asian-American leaders would like to dispel.

Asian casino junkies and Asians who can't finish an English sentence without using the right verb or adjective only perpetuate hurtful images of Asians and Asian Americans being perpetual foreigners. For me, it is like seeing a Latino actor wearing a sombrero and a handlebar mustache and speaking with a fabricated Mexican accent, or seeing an African-American actor with shiny white teeth consuming a half-moon shaped watermelon while speaking with a Civil War-era accent. These are images and sounds that shouldn't be used in modern-day commercials, even if they are meant to be humorous.

While I enjoy and applaud seeing more Asians, Asian Americans and other people of color in broadcast commercials, I would prefer seeing them perform without resorting to tacky stereotypes, exaggerated foreign accents and broken English. There are so many ways to be humorous. One only needs to review the AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless spots to see that you can be funny and positive without accenting the negatives.

I welcome your thoughts.

Bill Imada is chairman-CEO of the IW Group, New York.
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