Asian Americans have been historically left out of and misrepresented in marketing creative. The following insights are based on resources we use at Google to create more inclusive portrayals of Asian American* people. Built with input from community partners, these pages are just a starting point and will change and evolve as we learn together.
Developed in partnership with AdCOLOR
- *We recognize that Asian American is not a term that all individuals identify with. Asian Americans draw lineage from 60 countries that collectively make up almost 60% of the world’s population, and have an even greater array of experiences, cultures, languages, dialects, and appearances. In these pages, the term “Asian American” is meant to be inclusive of all Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders living in the U.S., regardless of citizenship, immigration history, or other personal identity.
Represent the diversity of ethnicities among Asian American people
Consider age and immigration experiences in your portrayals
There is significant generational change occurring between those under 35 and those over 35: 80% of Asian Americans age 35+ were born in another country, while that’s true of only 34% of Asian Americans under 35.
Personal experiences will also vary depending on the time passed since immigration and the reason for immigrating. For example, a first generation immigrant may relate differently to U.S. culture than a 5th generation Asian American born in the U.S. Or, a person who came to the U.S. as a refugee may have different socioeconomic circumstances than an immigrant who came to the U.S. for higher education.
Represent the full spectrum of socioeconomic experiences
Asian Americans are the fastest growing group in terms of wealth in the U.S. and are frequently associated with STEM or professional jobs. Because of this, we often overlook the stories of those who don’t experience the same privilege.
Income inequality among Asian American people exists. In fact, the wealth gap among Asian Americans is even greater than that of white Americans and disproportionately affects certain sub-groups. Marketing should reflect this breadth of socioeconomic and professional experiences.
Show an array of skin tones
Skin tone is an important dimension to consider in your portrayal of Asian Americans, particularly around roles, socioeconomic status, and hierarchy in your stories. There are long-standing prejudices that favor lighter skin color among Asian Americans.
For women, fair skin has historically been presented as a symbol of beauty and skin lightening products (also referred to as skin whitening or bleaching products) in Asian beauty markets have opened conversations around the harmful effects of colorism. Pay special attention to how you portray a woman’s skin tone, and make sure it isn’t consistently lighter than that of her male counterparts.
Don’t default to quick visual cues
Visual cues are not a checkbox for representation and inclusion. Understand the cultural significance of the details you choose to use in your marketing. Be aware of the religious, spiritual, or ceremonial importance each may represent. Some common visual cues are:
Showcase traditional clothing when appropriate. But remember, context is key. Consider the formality and location of your setting, along with which generation of immigrant you’re aiming to portray. For example, a 4th generation Indian American might only wear a sari for traditional, cultural events, but a 1st generation Indian immigrant might wear a sari everyday. Other examples include kasayas, turbans, qipao/cheongsams, kimonos, hanboks, áo dàis, and hijabs.
Traditional Asian makeup and some facial features have been culturally appropriated – only being deemed as “beautiful” when accepted by Western culture. Some examples are geisha makeup, “fox eyes,” double eyelids, and bindis. Make sure to challenge Asian beauty standards (across gender) that are only accepted by Western culture. Consult Asian Americans on how to challenge norms that exclude women, men, and other gender identities from normalized beauty standards.
Avoid overuse of Asian-originated spiritual practices and associated terms. For example, the term "guru" is often used to describe an expert. However, the term which stems from Buddhism and Hinduism, actually refers to a spiritual guide or leader and should be used as a sign of respect. Some other examples are yoga, meditation, and monks.
Be mindful of defaulting to sports that originated in Asia as they can reinforce the “perpetual foreigner” stereotype or be used to convey a lack of “American athleticism.” Some examples are martial arts, table tennis, badminton, and cricket.
This is not an exhaustive list. Make sure to review your work with a broad set of partners and collaborators.
Build leading roles for Asian Americans
Inclusion and visibility in leading roles remains a significant barrier to representation of Asian American people. While roughly 6% of the U.S. population, Asian Americans represent only 2% of leading roles in film. We should look to feature Asian Americans in leading roles, and when possible, feature more than one Asian American at once to avoid tokenism and to reflect the geographic experiences of those living in the U.S.
Challenge exclusionary norms
Asian Americans often contend with cultural and religious traditions that may not embrace how they personally identify. Shed light on these intersectional identities: gender identity, sexual orientation, and disability are all characteristics to play up, not down. Consider the following topics:
Traditional gender roles & homophobia
There are some familial expectations such as protecting the family honor and respecting elders. This often leads to expectations for sons to carry on the family name and for daughters to take care of their parents in old age. In addition, the lack of representation of LGBTQ+ Asian Americans can often manifest into homophobia and transphobia. Show Asian Americans in a variety of roles regardless of gender expression or sexual orientation.
In romantic portrayals, interracial partners are more often shown, yet statistically less common, than same-ethnicity ones. Consider featuring same-ethnicity couples. Be extra mindful when featuring an Asian American woman with a white man as Asian American women were historically portrayed as sexualized partners to white men (see “exoticized woman” stereotype in the next section). Equally, the historical desexualized representation of Asian men has meant interracial depictions with white female partners is still rarely seen. Carefully consider the context of representing Asian Americans in relationships and how desire and sexual characteristics are portrayed.
Interminority racism exists and is especially profound between Asian Americans and Black people. The “model minority” stereotype has long been utilized to downplay racism, especially toward Black Americans, and historical events like the 1992 Rodney King Riots exacerbated racial tensions between the two groups. The Black Lives Matter movement has sparked increased conversations addressing learned anti-Blackness among Asian American people and resurfaced the teachings of solidarity from the 1960s Asian American movement, born from the momentum of the Black Power movement in California. Marketing should strive to show that people of various identities can not only coexist, but also can – and do – thrive together.
Understand the context behind harmful stereotypes
Many Asian American stereotypes are rooted in geopolitical events dating back over 200 years. They’ve become a common default in media, impacting everything from the way Asian Americans reach a “bamboo glass ceiling” in corporate America to fatal violence against Asian Americans, heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. We should be aware of these stereotypes and their negative repercussions so we can actively push against them.
Thief or villain
Following the migration of Chinese laborers to the U.S. in the late 1800s, Asian Americans became depicted as a threat to American livelihood, job security, and family values. Characters such as Fu Manchu and the Dragon Lady were introduced, perpetuating this stereotype in media.
As concerns about increased Chinese migration rose in the late 1800s, the U.S. associated Chinese laborers with sickness, depravity, and filth. This same stereotype has been reignited due to COVID-19.
The exoticized woman, also known as the “fetishized woman,” or “submissive China doll” is a stereotype that goes back to colonial times. With this stereotype, East Asian women are often portrayed to be sexually submissive, exotic, and traditionally domestic, and therefore a novelty to the white, cisgender men who choose to engage with them in sexual and romantic contexts. This China doll stereotype can be traced back to the late 1800s/early 1900s, and was exacerbated by depictions of U.S. soldiers finding wives or lovers during wars in South Korea and Vietnam, and continues in modern media today.
Following the Pearl Harbor attacks, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps to prevent espionage, perpetuating the idea that all Japanese living in the U.S. were foreigners. This continues to find its way to the forefront of American media, with China being the topic of discussion at political debates. This can influence perspectives on Chinese Americans, despite Chinese Americans not necessarily having any connections or affiliations to mainland China and its government.
After World War II, highly skilled Asian American workers were allowed to immigrate for careers in STEM fields. This propelled the myth of meritocracy that Asian Americans were able to overcome discrimination and achieve high-end professions with hard work and quiet perseverance. In 1987, Time Magazine featured “The Asian-American Whiz Kids” which brought the model minority stereotype to the forefront.
South and West Asian Americans became the predominant targets of anti-Islamic hate crimes and profiled as “terrorists” following the 9/11 attacks. Today, they continue to be featured as such in TV and film.