Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are among the fastest-growing minority groups in America. However, despite this increased visibility, they continue to be underrepresented in marketing and advertising campaigns. In fact, a recent poll discovered that 62% of Asian Americans said they rarely, if ever, see themselves represented in ad content.
Brands are in an ideal position to join the conversation to empower the AAPI community through targeted marketing campaigns—and not just during AAPI Heritage Month. Progressive companies are bridging this gap by integrating representation into their campaigns year-round, not just during times when they can benefit financially.
AAPI Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the community’s contributions and achievements, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to learn more about their diverse culture and history. Brands that want to take an active role in showcasing AAPI voices need to put the values of equity and inclusion behind every aspect of a campaign, not just what’s visible to the consumer.
I recently spoke with Connie Yu (@connie.mp4), a Toronto-based content creator that has built a community through TikTok and Instagram around coffee, food, fashion, and other lifestyle content. In this article, we explore how brands can support AAPI Heritage Month beyond the month of May, and the importance of intentional representation and authenticity in social media marketing.
Danielle: How do you think AAPI representation in marketing and influencer campaigns can positively impact AAPI communities, both in terms of identity and economic empowerment?
Connie: One thing that comes to mind is that AAPI communities are often still viewed as a monolith. Intentional, meaningful representation can help dismantle this and highlight the different cultures that exist under this umbrella term. I’m also speaking as an East Asian woman who is part of the world’s largest ethnic group, and one which is often wrongfully held as the standard of what it means to be Asian.
D: Can you discuss some examples of brands that have successfully incorporated AAPI representation into their marketing and influencer campaigns, and what made those campaigns effective?
C: To be honest, when I started thinking about this question I realized all the campaigns coming to mind were coming from Asian brands. I think true representation goes beyond just including Asian representation for Lunar New Year campaigns or AAPI representation during May. There are also many individuals and job functions required to create a marketing campaign beyond just the influencer. To be truly effective and inclusive, representation isn’t just having an AAPI influencer. For example, the creatives in charge of the direction of the campaign need to be knowledgeable about the communities they’re portraying. Hairstylists and makeup artists need to be skilled and experienced in doing the hair and makeup of all races. Copywriters need to be educated on cultural nuances to write effective copy. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes that’s required for an effective, inclusive campaign.
“I think true representation goes beyond just including Asian representation for Lunar New Year campaigns or AAPI representation during May.”
D: In what ways can brands use AAPI representation in their campaigns to appeal to wider audiences, while also remaining culturally sensitive and respectful?
C: I think the best way that brands can do this is to involve people from these communities they want to highlight in the creative process of a campaign. This means hiring a diverse workforce, doing the research, putting in the time and money. The people who are most qualified to tell the stories of any given community are the people from that community. I don’t think including more AAPI representation would inherently alienate a wider audience. When a brand is not being culturally respectful and is using representation as a pure marketing ploy, consumers can see those disingenuous intentions.
D: How can influencer campaigns featuring AAPI representation help break down cultural barriers and promote cross-cultural understanding?
C: By making AAPI representation the norm, we can highlight how vastly different all these cultures that fall under the term are. Not only are AAPI communities not a monolith, the individuals in each of those communities aren’t either. It would be unfair to put the expectation of representing an entire community on a few individuals. To get a truly holistic view, we need to have more instances of representation. This is the only way to provide a nuanced cross-cultural understanding.
D: What do you think the future of AAPI representation in marketing and influencer campaigns looks like, and what impact do you think it will have on the industry and society as a whole?
C: Hopefully we will see more AAPI representation across the board in the future, including in the marketing world. I would hope the industry becomes more inclusive as a whole and prioritizes representation always, not just during economically convenient times of the year like Lunar New Year and AAPI Heritage Month.
D: Finally, how do you choose brands you want to partner with?
C: I choose brands that resonate with me. Their values are aligned with my own, I have a genuine love for their products, etc. For example, last year I partnered with GO Transit on a few videos. This was an amazing partnership for me as somebody who is a huge proponent of building transit-oriented communities. However, I think it’s also important to not put any brands or companies in general on a pedestal. No brand is infallible or immune to criticism.
There are several ways that forward-thinking brands can create more meaningful and authentic marketing campaigns during AAPI Heritage Month and beyond, and it starts with creating a community from within.
Consumers want and expect more, and the brands that listen and actively commit to empowering underrepresented communities will be rewarded.
We are grateful to have spoken with Connie Yu, who openly shared her thoughts on how brands can be stepping up their marketing efforts to welcome more diverse voices in their campaigns beyond the month of May. As a content creator, she understands the value of authenticity in building and cultivating a community online. Please follow her on social at @connie.mp4 to keep up with her (aesthetically pleasing) life in the city!5