4 ways marketers can empower the Asian community
For companies in advertising and marketing, simply ignoring racism against Asians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community is no longer a viable business strategy.
That was a key takeaway from an Ad Age virtual town hall held Jan. 21, at which Asian and AAPI industry leaders conducted a frank discussion about how the industry needs to change to make their voices heard. Panelists tackled problems with representation and recognition both in advertising and in the industry, and how other minority movements, including Black Lives Matter, have helped shape the conversation about race. They also discussed the stereotypes and racism they, and other minorities, face every day.
Here are four of the most significant takeaways from the event:
Taking a stand is now a requirement, not an option
“Americans want to see corporations take a stand on social justice,” said Mariko Carpenter, VP of strategic community alliances, Nielsen. “Their customers, their consumers are expecting corporations to act in this day and age.” The AAPI community has been grappling with racism exacerbated by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, during which people of Asian descent have been unfairly blamed for the disease by bad actors and politicians alike.
For some panelists, activism is just good business, especially given the global reach of the pandemic. “Big brands could have really embraced [fighting injustice] and been a champion,” said Jay Kim, president, 3AF and AAAZA. “That could have been great engagement among three billion Asians.” He says the new environment made companies too cautious to step forward, but cites examples, including Nike’s support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as an example to follow.
Telling stories about the community matters—but so does the storyteller
While stories can help shape the narrative and dialogue surrounding the AAPI community, Titania Tran, copywriter at Wieden & Kennedy, said it’s just as important to focus on who is telling the story. Tran cites the example of Lady Triệu, a Vietnamese folk legend who led a resistance against an occupying Chinese force. Tran said she discovered the story had been modified over time by the occupying Chinese forces to keep her legend intact as an empowering female and fierce warrior but embellished her depiction to make her more fantastic—and ultimately less relatable. “She was too powerful because her story was too powerful,” said Tran.
Fighting racism and creating change requires visible representation and leadership in the workforces of advertising and marketing companies. Katie Soo, senior VP and head of growth marketing for HBO Max, Warner Media, credited mentorships and sponsorship programs for helping create dialogue. She said other members of the Asian community encouraged her, saying, “You need to show up and you need to take space,” said Soo. “You need to be vocal and you need to lift up the communities, because if you don’t then who?”
Look past stereotypes—and at individuals
Asians already face an uphill battle because they are typecast as engineers, doctors or programmers, not as people who can thrive in advertising and marketing. “It’s tough to summarize what is one-billion-plus individual experiences," said Aisea Laungaue, partner and chief strategy officer, Anomaly LA.
Indrajit Majumdar, executive VP of Zee Network, said he confronts these stereotypes when he tells taxi or Uber drivers about his profession in marketing. “They have a strange look on their face,” says Majumdar. That typecasting also shows up in the workforce, Majumdar said. “[Asians] have to work extra hard, proving their worth or highlighting to companies and corporations that they have substance, and they have that intellect,” he said.
What helps, Majumdar said, is to see Asians not as a monolithic or stereotyped group, but as individuals. Helping change that perception can start with dialogue. “Once we make an effort to know people of Asian origin, their cultural nuances ... slowly things will improve.”