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Corporate America Takes On Multilingual PR
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Corporate America Takes On Multilingual PR


Now, an increasingly common challenge for public relations campaigns. People are speaking dozens of languages in this country and PR campaigns want to reach them, but how. For our series on public relations, NPR's Neda Ulaby has the story.

NEDA ULABY: Julia Huang runs a marketing company in southern California that focuses on Asian-Americans.

Ms. JULIA HUANG (InterTrend): You know, while we say Asian-American market, it's really not one market, it's so many.

ULABY: No one knows that better than the U.S. Census. It reached out in Japanese...

Unidentified Man #1: (Japanese spoken)

ULABY: Cantonese Chinese.

Unidentified Man #2: (Cantonese spoken)

ULABY: Khmer.

Unidentified Man #3: (Khmer spoken)

ULABY: And Taglish, a mixture of English and Tagalong, spoken in Filipino communities.

Unidentified Man #4: (Taglish spoken) health care.

ULABY: Census ads also targeted speakers of Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Hmong and more.

Ms. HUANG: You're not really talking about one specific language. Like, for example, for the Hispanic market, accents might change, but it's still Spanish.

ULABY: That's why ad campaigns hone in on groups with the largest U.S. populations, says Huang's colleague, Jane Nakagawa.

Ms. JANE NAKAGAWA (Vice President, Strategy, interTREND Communications): Should we do CK, or should we do CKV?

ULABY: What's CKV?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NAKAGAWA: So, CKV is kind of our shortened version of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese.

ULABY: Groups that enjoy plenty of newspapers, magazines and local radio and TV stations in their native languages.

(Soundbite of Toyota Camry ad)

Unidentified Child: (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: This ad for Toyota Camrys features a small boy in front of his classroom, showing off his elaborate science project about the family car's awesome features.

(Soundbite of Toyota Camry ad)

Unidentified Child: (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: The child never speaks when you see him. There's a voiceover in Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese, depending on the market.

Nita Song runs the Asian American Advertising Federation.

Ms. NITA SONG (President/COO, Asian American Advertising Federation): When a client is targeting multiple Asian segments, they won't necessarily have the budget to do a custom-specific campaign from ground up for Chinese, for Vietnamese, for Korean.

ULABY: Especially since Chinese is Mandarin and Cantonese.

Stretching a campaign budget over four languages means finding common themes. It might not surprise you to hear that education, achievement and family are said to be selling points across Asian-American communities.

(Soundbite of Wal-Mart ad)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: An ad campaign for Wal-Mart shows the whole family, multiple generations, hopping into the minivan to shop.

(Soundbite of a Wal-Mart ad)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: A Chinese-American mom is saying she can find what she needs for her son's science project - yes, another science project.

Marketer Nita Song says at first, Wal-Mart assumed its campaign would be CKV. But her firm's research showed that Korean was not necessary.

Ms. SONG: And it did confirm that fact that Chinese shoppers, Vietnamese shoppers, you know, looking actively for low prices doesn't mind doing a drive to go find a good deal on something.

ULABY: But Korean-Americans liked fancier brand names than the stuff Wal-Mart carries.

(Soundbite of McDonald's ad)

(Soundbite of music)

ULABY: McDonald's also overlooked CKV for a big campaign starring the photogenic Korean-American golfer Michelle Wie.

(Soundbite of McDonald's ad)

Ms. MICHELLE WIE (Pro Golfer): (Foreign language spoken)

ULABY: It was marketed in five languages, including different Chinese dialects, but not Vietnamese. They get radio ads and direct mail, says Vivian Chen. She's McDonald's marketing manager just for Asian-Americans. Used to be, those direct mail coupons were in Vietnamese only, but that caused confusion at the cash register.

Ms. VIVIAN CHEN (Asian Consumer Marketing Manager, McDonald's): In the past, we just used one language. So what happens is they collect coupon, bring that McDonald's, my crewmembers not able to read it.

ULABY: Unless those McDonald's crewmembers read Vietnamese. Now all direct mailers are bilingual, with English.

McDonald's has a reputation for smart marketing to Asian-American communities. Now it's taking a corporate pavilion, a big marketing tent, to dozens of Asian-American street festivals around the U.S. It's described by McDonald's as a celebration of Asian culture - lots of red, gold and fuchsia. All that needs swapping out is the language on the signs.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

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