a new stereotype for asian americans in advertising?

This is an interesting Washington Post article looking at a recent trend of Asian Americans appearing in television advertising as technological experts -- "knowledgeable, saavy, perhaps mathematically adept or intellectually gifted" -- usually in commercials for stuff like smartphones, computers and other electronic gear: Asian Americans face new stereotype in ads.
The stereotypical portrayal reinforces a marketing concept known as the "match up" theory, which states that consumers respond more favorably to products advertised by an actor or spokesperson who "fits" the product. Just as consumers expect cosmetics to be sold by a supermodel or athletic equipment by a professional athlete, in the minds of the U.S. public, Asian Americans are strongly associated with technical know-how, says researcher Jinnie Jinyoung Yoo of the University of Texas.

Variations on the theme have appeared in numerous TV commercials in recent months:

  • Staples advertises its computer-repair service with images of laptops flying like gulls into one of its stores. When one of the laptops crash-lands, the fix-it technician who comes to its "rescue" is an Asian American.

  • CVS's TV ads feature a lab-coated pharmacist of Asian descent dispensing advice about medication to a baffled Caucasian lady.

  • A mother and her teenage son shopping at Best Buy learn that the store offers "Geek Squad" techies, who are packaged and displayed like life-size action figures on the store's shelves. One of the tech guys is an Asian American.

  • IBM's commercials feature brainy IT consultants, including a young Asian American woman who talks up the company's efforts to create "a smarter planet."
  • Maybe the trend is hopping on a stereotype, but I have to admit, I'd take the Asian American tech person over the weirdo perpetual foreigner or the crazy kung fu guy. At least with this recent run of commercials, the Asians are depicted as intelligent, competent and having a firm grasp of English. Yup, the techie is indeed the smartest guy in the room. And we live in an age where geeks rule.

    But there's still room to grow, and plenty of roles where Asian Americans are definitely not considered at the top of the list. As Jeff Yang points out, there's no Asian American equivalent of the Old Spice guy. Man, can you even imagine the Asian American version of that commercial?

    Oh, and by the way, if anyone's keeping track, Asian faces happen to be popping up in a lot of non-tech-related commercials too.

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