What Marketers Must Consider When Raising AAPI Community Awareness

Brands like Sesame Street and Marvel are bringing stories in the community front and center


For the past two years, the rising tide of anti-Asian violence spurred by COVID-19 accelerated at light speed. Not only did we see the Asian American Pacific Island Community barraged with verbal, physical and life-threatening racial attacks, Asian-owned businesses also witnessed a steep decline in consumer spending.

Earlier this year, myself and a group of passionate marketers and creators came together and launched a first of its kind on GoFundMe. The AAPI Community Fund was created to provide necessary resources to different grassroots organizations, businesses and victims impacted by these hate crimes. While we have raised close to $7 million in funding and witnessed an increase in AAPI advocacy movements, the rate of anti-Asian hate incidents, unfortunately, has not slowed down.

Last month, LA County’s special report revealed that anti-Asian hate crimes rose 76% in 2020, the highest spike since 9/11, with a three-fold increase in anti-Asian hate crimes perpetrated against women. Along with these disturbing and dangerous developments that not only affect the AAPI population but also BIPOC communities as a whole, diversity pledges that were promised last year have yet to come to fruition.

These issues at hand may appear to be niche, but narratives and storylines are now demanded by our future generations to bring hard topics front and center. As marketers, we need to take notice of our consumers’ requests and take concrete action on how to represent the AAPI community properly.

Shining a spotlight on the AAPI community’s origin stories will win hearts, minds and wallets. Here are some examples and actionable observations for marketers to consider for raising AAPI community awareness.

Provide content that can help the next generation

It is important to highlight bright spots that have recently uplifted AAPI voices. During Thanksgiving break, Sesame Street debuted a Korean American character, Ji Young, in the neighborhood. Within the first 10 mins, the show directly addressed the problem of Anti-Asian racist remarks and artfully shared ways to combat such hate.

The special was born out of the need from parents and caregivers to provide relevant content that can help the younger generation to understand societal issues.

Lavish your audience with AAPI representation

The Marvel Cinematic Universe recently introduced two new blockbuster movies that break out of the typical mold. Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings is the first Asian American superhero blockbuster, directed and performed by an all-Asian cast. The film surpassed industry expectations and became the first film in 2021 to break the $200 million box office barrier.

The Eternals—another cinematic blockbuster launched in November—features the franchise’s first South Asian female director and a deaf character, elevating inclusive representation for talent in Hollywood. It became a global box office leader a few weeks ago.

Telling stories from the AAPI community is no longer a luxury but a brand’s obligation. Consumers are craving for these voices to be expressed authentically. It provides consumers an opportunity to learn, empathize and be intellectually informed at the same time.

Rally like-minded efforts to unify an inclusive vision

In order to champion The Eternals as an inclusive cultural juggernaut, Asian and Pacific Islander non-profit collective Gold House focused on amplifying Asian American voices in media and business. They launched One Open with CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) and other multicultural organizations like NALIP, RespectAbility and Color of Change to drive box office success for films for diverse talent.

For the last Gold Open fundraising effort for Shang-Chi, not only did the campaign use GoFundMe as a vehicle for community activation, but it also leveraged the hub to fundraise for underserved Asian and Pacific Island youth to see the film. The result? Hundreds of donors contributed to a Shang-Chi Challenge fundraiser, raising over $30,000 for youth to see the film.

Rally like-minded advocates together to build a compelling communal voice and an impactful call to action. Create opportunities for other communities to pitch in and support the AAPI community.

Consumers expect brands to flex their AAPI representation muscles

From a product perspective, Sanzo would be a shining example of proudly owning its Asian roots as the first Asian-inspired sparkling water brand to altruistically bridge cultures with authentic Southeast Asian flavors. This year, the beverage challenger brand was presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with Marvel for Shang-Chi’s movie launch. The limited-edition set with main characters featured on their lychee-flavored cans was very well received.

As a result, the product saw an increase in their DTC business with 5% of sales going back to CAPE, a non-profit organization supporting AAPI media representation, and heartfelt brand loyalty gained from moviegoers.

It is not often we have two back-to-back big-budget blockbusters and a children’s special standing up for inclusive representation. The latest Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study reported only 34.3% of all speaking characters in top films were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, of which only 1.4% were LGBTQ+ and 2.3% were depicted with a disability.

I hope in the coming months, years and decades to come, we as marketers have a strong sense of pride and duty to give a stage to those who were historically voiceless. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in one day, but paving a path for a cultural Silk Road has certainly begun.