Recent studies have shown that Asian Americans represent a collective $544 billion in spending power, with Washington state having the seventh largest Asian consumer market in the U.S. As local businesses and agencies realize they can’t afford to overlook this data, the tables are starting to turn for ethnic media advertising.

When Julie Pham first inherited Northwest Vietnamese News, her family’s Vietnamese language newspaper several years ago, she found the paper to be in the same position as other local ethnic media—in a struggle to attract advertisers to subsist, much like the newspaper industry at large. Today that job is becoming easier as businesses and agencies turn to ethnic media to advertise.

Regionally, the Asian American community hasn’t made its presence known based on population—the numbers and growth are still relatively small compared to groups like Hispanics, but have clamored for attention because of dollars.

The Selig Center for Economic Growth estimates the national Asian buying power to have grown 98 percent in the past decade. In comparison, the majority market has increased by only 49 percent during the same time span. The estimated $544 billion represented by this community is expected to grow another 42 percent in the next five years.

The study conducted in 2010 attributes this growth during a sluggish economy to the age and education of this group. Asians are growing faster because of immigration, are relatively younger and have higher-paying jobs due to better educations in comparison to the average American. They also predominately live in urban centers.

The ears of advertisers have perked up to these statistics. In 2010, Pham established a capacity-building program for local ethnic media called Sea Beez representing over 20 news organizations. A recent initiative they made sure to advertise was the tolling on the 520-bridge.

“In December 2010, the State of Washington Department of Transportation wasn’t advertising in Asian media,” said Pham. “Bellevue is nine percent Chinese and they would be largely impacted so we had to bring it to WSDOT.”

Michell Mouton of WSDOT communications said that they held special briefings with local media outlets and set aside a budget for ethnic media advertising in seven different languages, including Korean, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. They targeted a total of 130,000 Asians in the region.

However, there is still a lot of work to do in educating advertisers to work the Asian market, said Pham.

“Even though we’re in the field of communication, there is a lot of miscommunication,” she said. “Advertisers don’t know the audience; they just vaguely know they want to reach out to this group of people.”

With a fragmented population that speaks many different languages and represents many cultures, advertisers often feel the population is too complicated to cater toward. Others believe it is too small a population to be worth the effort and see the African American or Hispanic media an easier target because it is larger and more uniform.

As a result, agencies like International District-based T.D. Wang Advertising Group have grown to prominence. They’ve worked with industries ranging from Amtrak and Seattle Public Utilities to Nordstrom and the Seattle Seahawks to build marketing campaigns and effectively advertise to the Asian American demographic.

As advertisers tap into the Asian market, it is important that they work with local media experts like Pham to make sure their message is relatable to their target audience and isn’t offensive. For instance, the Vietnamese community has certain sensitivities toward military culture and advertisers should be aware of that, said Pham.

In a survey conducted by InterTrend Communication’s Knowledge Center, 80 percent of Asian American respondents said they consume ethnic media, particularly print, and about 35 percent said they preferred advertisements in their native language.

Both Pham and Mouton agreed that as Asian Americans gain in economic clout, demand for advertisements tailored toward this market segment will burgeon.

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