Sunday, March 25, 2012

Marketing to the "Melting Wok": How to Speak to Asians and Catch the “Fastest Growing Racial Group” in the U.S.

March 24, 2012 by Laura Kina

Marketing to the Melting Wok: How to Speak to Asians and Catch the Fastest Growing Racial Group in the U.S.

A Book Review (of sorts)

Asian spotting is a hard habit to kick. I counted 3 other Asian Americans at my 20-year high school reunion this past summer in my rural Pacific Northwest hometown of Poulsbo, WA (think Snow Falling on Cedars but with Norwegians). Psychologists and sociologists have labeled this tendency to be drawn to others who look like you as the “Own-Race Effect.” As someone who is also Asian/White, I feel like this effect is exacerbated. I’m an Associate Professor of Art, Media, & Design at DePaul University in Chicago and I count 3 other Asian/White faculty in my College of Liberal Arts & Social Science. I’m also piqued to receive information about “my people” so when the U.S. Census Bureau announced on March 21, 2012that in the 2010 Census, “Asians grew faster than any other group over the last decade” I paid attention. With a 45.6% increase, we make up 5.6% of the population or 17.3 million now and of that group, 2.6 million identified as more than one race.

I wonder how being framed as, “the fastest growing population” will translate into representation in positions of leadership and power? Just because there are more of us, will anything really change or will we continue to be seen as “model minorities” or invisible and statistically insignificant? Will we see more Asian C-level executives? Could there be an American President of Asian descent one day and when will marketers ever stop lumping us with Whites?

l do have to admit that when I’m looking for a good laugh, I troll through Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like blog and the opening Ivy League contour line drawing in his 2010 Whiter Shades of Pale: Coast to Coast,From Seattle’s Sweaters To Maine’s Mircrobrews of a sporty young woman with a Harvard sweatshirt, baseball cap, and Democratic Party gear looks suspiciously like a certain member of my family who still Obeys her Obama 08 t-shirts. But I know we really aren’t the same. Like you know that when you mess up, a White person might just think, “oops, I made a mistake. I’ll do better next time.” But for us Asians, messing up brings shame to entire family! Filial piety lives on for better and for worse. I know that as the number one daughter in my family (and yes, I said daughter not son) my actions, even as an adult, supposedly set an example for my younger brothers and for the next generation, even those not even born. Cultural euphemisms such as “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” vs. “the nail that sticks up gets hammered” provide generalizations about Asian belief systems that may or may not still be true for some of us but we can see differences in areas that we can actually measure such as our consumption. In the category of food, for example, did you know that in a 2007 CES study Asians accounted for 8.3% of expenditures on fish and seafood yet made up only 3.5% of CES households (Kumaki, 170)? Surely you don’t see most other racial groups buying rice in 25 lb bags and prominently displaying an electric rice cooker on their kitchen counter on a regular basis? As an artist and an Asian American studies scholar I’ve thought a lot about representation but not as much about Marketing with a capital M. Criticizing blatantly racist media images or complaining about lack of representation is one thing but what if I really want to reach “my people”? Rice may be rice but Asian Americans come from such a myriad of different cultures that finding a common ground can seem to be daunting. How do you even begin speaking to a pan-Asian American audience? Start by "speaking English," Robert Kumaki suggests, and look for the “sweet spot [in the Asian American market] of family, finance, technology or education.

His 2010 co-authored book with Jack Moran, Many Culture One Market: A Guide To Understanding Opportunities In The Asian Pacific American Market, has some golden tips to cracking this Melting Wok market, which the authors consider low hanging-fruit for marketers. For the sake of being as inclusive as possible they chose to lump Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders into the mix despite what they concede as the dramatically different socio-economic experiences from the rest of Asian Americans. Hence the term APA (Asian Pacific American) is used in the book and this review even though it is no longer used in the U.S. Census nor in activist and academic contexts in Asian American studies except in a historical sense. Remember that this is a marketing book so there is a constant push and pull between defining a targeted niche market and redefining what really is mainstream. Kumaki and Moran make a case that while some think of the APA market as only 4% (this was prior to the new 2010 stats) that it leans more towards 8% and even as high as 20% of the U.S. market. The book is written in a user-friendly form with a personal voice that draws upon the authors years of experience in senior research and management positions and their personal and professional expertise in ethnographic marketing. Their broad generalizations about the APA market are backed up with lists, bullet points and statistics. Each chapter has a series of overt framing questions and end of the chapter summaries, all of which made this topic accessible to me as a non-marketing expert. I could easily see Many Cultures One Market being used in a classroom, corporate or non-profit settings to facilitate group discussions about how to reach APA and cross-over audiences in the U.S..  Being a long time Chicagoan, I really appreciate the regional examples of Asian American marketing such as Chicagos Chinese restaurants reflecting the latest trends in Asian cuisine and hip interior design rather than staying stuck in a time warp (all I have to say is everyone want to be the next Tony Hu). You dont have to go to LA or NY to get hand-pulled noodles (go to Hing Kee) and Shanghai soup dumplings anymore and Peking duck chopped up table-side is available nightly at Chicagos Sun Wah BBQ restaurant.

One doesnt need to be a big corporation or even officially in marketing either to ask questions about reaching the Asian American market. For example, I found myself asking marketing questions for my own practice as an artist, academic, and non-profit volunteer: How can I find a market outside of my ethnic group or racial experience to be interested in my paintings that are about specific Asian ethnic groups and locations? How can I get corporate sponsors to donate to the Japanese American Service Committee "Living our Culture: A Celebration of Japanese American Art and Culture" benefit we are organizing on June 7th (seriously, please feel free to contact Carol Yoshina at the JASC if you want to be a sponsor or donate goods or services)?  How do reach a broader audience to be part of the ethnic/racially specific non-profit orgs I am involved with? How can I get a wider range of students to enroll in our Global Asian Studies program? How can my University do a better job recruiting and retaining Asian faculty, staff, and students? You get the idea.

Many Cultures One Market starts by dispelling some common myths about multicultural marketing such as the perception that the only way to reach Asians is to run targeted Asian language ads in Asian-specific media. They caution that this can too often lead to mis-translation and cite a well-known example from years ago when Pepsi tried to translate Come alive with Pepsi. The result? Pepsi-Cola brings your ancestors back from the dead. Thats one heck of a product benefit. It turns out we are consuming mainstream media just like everyone else albeit apparently we watch less TV and are more inclined to get our news online and open direct mail.

Besides our penchant for seafood and speaking English, the book characterizes APAs drive towards assimilation as going up the APA Escalator. Instead of inscrutable perpetual foreigners, Many Cultures One Market provides cultural snapshots of APAs as interconnected global tribes that can be characterized as tech-savvy early adapters, family and community oriented, focused on education, foodies, increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic, entrepreneurial, and over-represented in the sciences, engineering, finance and medicine. Before you dismiss this as a little too close to the old model minority stereotype, they do aggregate this population and point to more complex Yellow Peril history in which the American political and legal systems have constructed barrier after barrier to the creation of an APA community. Ill be a spoiler here and go straight to what I think the point of this book is as outlined in chapter XI. One Market: A New Paradigm to Make It Simple:

We feel there are three basic ideas that can help you define, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and then reach the APA marketplace:

·      There is an identity to which all APA groups can relate. It transcends language, country of origin, and even the number of generations in the U.S.
·      Derived from this identity, there are commonalities that exist amongst almost all APAs commonalities that dont necessarily exist among non-APAs.
·      There is a market that can be aggregated under this identity.

To help you identify and then connect with the marketing opportunity, we identify three major drives – one is culturally based, one is physically based, and one is language-based.

Simply put, you have to understand:

The Americanization Dynamic – the cultural driver
The Own-Race Effect – the physical driver
English as a Common Denominator – the language driver

I was pleasantly surprised to see a chapter devoted to “Hapas” and that the authors gave serious attention to the non-APA crossover market, which includes parents of oversees adoptees. Vincent Cheng’s Inauthentic: The Anxiety Over Culture and Identity (Rutgers University Press, 2004) fleshes out and critiques this market of parents that are enrolling their kids in martial arts and Asian language classes in droves and having their kids look for their roots in fan dance and Disney’s Mulan. The main practical take away for me was in their closing chapter XVI. “APA Specialists” about ROI on sponsors participating in APA event marketing and the checklist for “Criteria for Inclusion” that they offer if you should decide to use this avenue for marketing. From my 20 years of participating in Chicago’s pan-Asian arts and culture communities, I have seen this very simple marketing strategy successfully at work. If you place an ad for your restaurant in our film festival brochure, we will go there. If you table at our advocacy event, we will consider your company or product friendly to APAs. If you e-mail us personally, chances are we’ll write you back. If you send us direct mailers, we may even open up your letter and may not throw it away. So if you think you have a product or company that fits the “sweet spots” of food, family, finance, technology or education, consider reaching out to APA audiences and grab Many Cultures One Market as a handy guide to get you started.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Godzilla 101: The Birth of An Atomic Monster

Hey Chi-town friends, join us this next Tuesday 3/13/12 for a fun night of J-rock and Godzilla.  I serve on the board of the Japanese American Service Committee (one of the orgs putting this on) and Dr. Larry Mayo is a colleague of mine at DePaul University.

Godzilla 101: The Birth Of An Atomic Monster
Tuesday, March 13th, 9:00PM
$5 suggested - The Hungry Brain at 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL (21+)

Together, Homeroom and the JASC host Dr. Larry Mayo, professor of anthropology at DePaul University, for a look at the radioactive origins of the world’s most caustic monster risen from the ashes of the U.S. devastation of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Bikini Atoll. Godzilla was at once comfort to a nation in mourning as well as confrontation with the dawning of the Atomic Age. Mayo will trace out the direct influence of the U.S. occupation of Japan, the H-bomb, and modernity as “foreign pathology” on the genesis of Godzilla, as well as the continuing mutation of our hero/horror in popular global culture. Is Godzilla friend or foe? Is he to be understood—OR DESTROYED!?

The night features special guests, slide-shows and screenings (including excerpts from Kim Jong-il’s “Godzilla” movie) plus, monstrous J-Rock curated by Laurel Fujisawa.

Brought to you by Fred Sasaki and presented in partnership with the Japanese American Service Committee 101 is an informal lecture and discussion series in which enthusiasts explore sub-culture and pop in front of a drinking crowd. It takes place on occasional Tuesdays at the Hungry Brain in Roscoe Village.

Larry Mayo has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from the University of California , Berkeley (although he refers to himself as a social anthropologist) and has taught at DePaul since 1988. He conducted research in Guam , focusing on the process of urbanization, the politics of ethnicity and sociocultural change. His teaching interests are mainly toward undergraduate courses that introduce students to fundamental concepts in anthropology, such as processes of social and cultural change, the process of ethnicity, the concept of “race,” social inequality, the concept of culture, and contemporary cultures in the Pacific Islands. He teaches courses that introduce the concept of culture to students through multiple idioms, such as cultural anthropology, food and culture, and cultures of the Pacific; and specific topical courses such as urban anthropology, urban ethnography, and urban ethnicity. His non-academic interests are jazz, sci-fi (movies and books) and monster movies (especially Godzilla).

To learn more about Homeroom and Fred Sasaki visit:

To learn more about the JASC visit:
Here's a link to become a fan of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society!  Please join us.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Conversation with Bibiana Suárez March 11, 2012 HPAC

Snapshot from the Dec 11, 2012 opening of
Bibiana's Memoria (Memory) show at HPAC
A shout out to my colleague at DePaul University Bibiana Suárez. Bibiana took me under her wing when I was fresh newbie instructor straight out of grad school and she taught me how to be a teacher. Besides the nuts and bolts of teaching, one of the most important things I've learned (or tried to learn) from her is the art of balancing the demands of your own studio practice, teaching, University and community service, and family - think of seasons where you cycle in and out of and cultivate different aspects of your career and personal life. I always try to do everything at once and subsequently function on very little sleep and too much coffee. I'm so happy to see Bibiana's epic installation of 108 paintings at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. For all her outer calm, I think she hasn't been sleeping much either. The show is up now through March 25th. Come down to HPAC on March 11th for a special conversation with the artist from 3-5pm.

Conversation with the Artist: Bibiana Suárez
Sunday, March 11, 3:00pm - 5:00pm

Join Bibiana Suárez, the artist who made the artwork in Memoria (Memory), as she explains her latest body of work in the context of her own history and her intention to address the current issues with the concept of latinidad (or the concept of a all-embracing latino identity in the United States) through her work.

This event is free and open to the public.

For more information go to

Bibiana Suárez: Memoria (Memory)

Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S. Cornell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615
Phone: 773-324-5520 

Indigo Calling: Shelly Jyoti's work featured in UK The Quilter magazine

My good friend and artistic collaborator Shelly Jyoti's Indigo series is featured in the Spring 2012 issue of The Quilter magazine in the UK. To watch a video about our 2009-2010 Indigo: Laura Kina and Shelly Jyoti exhibition visit YouTube "Indigo New Works"