Asians have higher household incomes and are more likely to buy new vehicles than any other group in the United States. But automakers have been slow to target them with ethnic marketing campaigns.
Here is the conventional wisdom impeding the campaigns:
1. Asians account for only 4 percent of the U.S. population. Thus, it is not economical for automakers to create marketing campaigns aimed specifically at them.
2. Fifteen distinct ethnic groups comprise the Asian-American community. Automakers would have to create marketing campaigns tailored for each group.
3. Few Asian-oriented media outlets exist to reach the target groups.
Saul Gitlin, director of strategic marketing for New York-based Kang & Lee Advertising Inc., knows the arguments well. Kang & Lee creates advertising and marketing campaigns aimed at the Asian-American market. Gitlin says he spends 90 percent of his time trying to refute misconceptions about the Asian market for automakers and other companies.
Gitlin says the Asian population is growing at the fastest rate - 5.2 percent annually - of any ethnic group in the country. He also contends the Asian market is far less complicated than is believed.
According to U.S. Census data, six ethnic groups comprise 89 percent of the Asian-American community: Chinese, Filipino, Japa-nese, Asian-Indian, Korean and Vietnamese.
The six sizable groups are concentrated in 10 metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Washington, Seattle and Atlanta. At $46,695, the Asian-American community's average household income is the highest in the United States, according to U.S. Census data.
Although automakers have been slow to respond to the growth in the Asian market, some dealerships and dealer groups recognize the sales potential.
Bayside Kia, surrounded by a Chinese-Korean community in Bayside, N.Y., is marketing aggressively to its neighbors in their languages. The dealership's outside signs are in Chinese and Korean. And the Kia franchise, which was obtained eight months ago, is literally split in half.
One side deals with the general market, which in this case includes blacks and Hispanics. The other side of the building is dedicated to Asians. The employees who work that side speak Chinese and Korean. Peter Kim, general manager of Bayside Kia's Asian department, says sales have increased dramatically from month to month.
'Dealing with Asians in their own language makes them more comfortable,' Kim said. Bayside advertises regularly in local Chinese-language newspapers.
In Los Angeles, Toyota's dealer advertising group has been aiming radio, TV and newspaper ads at the city's 400,000 Chinese consumers since 1990. Toyota says its share of Los Angeles' Chinese market increased from 25 percent in 1989 to 44 percent in 1996.
Toyota spokeswoman Melinda Beckett-Maines said Toyota's Los Angeles dealer group also stresses the area's Japanese and Korean communities.
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Gitlin is particular frustrated by the mistaken belief that few Asian-language media serve the Asian-American community.
He says that during the last 10 years, as more Asians have immigrated to the United States, hundreds of publications have sprung up to provide news, entertainment and professional information.
What is more, advertising in Asian media is comparatively cheap. For instance, according to Kang & Lee, a 30-second TV spot on a Chinese or Korean prime-time show in San Francisco cost $150.
But the low rates should not last long, Gitlin said, as more industries discover the money that can be made from targeting the Asian-American community.