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Tuesday April 23, 2002

Talking the Talk: State Farm's In-Language Ads Strike Gold

TJ DeGroat

How does a company attract a new market? Speak its language. Whether it's adopting current slang to draw in teenagers or creating a Mandarin-language Web site to reach out to Chinese Americans, advertisers in today's increasingly global market have to be more flexible than ever.

That's why State Farm, the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurance giant and financial-services company, is turning to multilingual marketing to tap into the growing Asian-American market - and with great success.

The company is generating positive buzz and accolades for its first Chinese-marketing campaign. The print, billboard, radio and TV ads, which were rolled out last year in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Toronto, earned the company the best Asian campaign honors in November at the inaugural Multicultural Excellence Awards, sponsored by the Association of National Advertisers.

When brainstorming the campaign, State Farm initially planned on using the same agency that has created its general-market ads for about 40 years. But State Farm realized it needed an agency that understood Asian sensibilities, said Dmitri Maglalang, a corporate marketing associate. "For us to really hit this market we have to understand their needs," he said.

State Farm enlisted interTREND Communications, a Torrance, Calif.-based company that has helped mainstream companies reach out to Asian Americans since 1991.

interTrend examined State Farm's general-market ads and decided that the company's focus on community would translate well to the Chinese community, but its tagline, "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there," needed tweaking. The new slogan, "With a good neighbor you'll be reassured every day," was a subtle, but important change.

"We know the Chinese community and what they need to hear. Everyone looks different, but we have the same values and needs," said Rita Cheng, interTrand's account supervisor for State Farm. "We are here to build a better life for our children. Immigrants rely on neighbors to answer questions and help out."

That reliance on friends and family can be important business tool, Maglalang said. "We know the high influence these people have with immigrants," he said. "We understand that the word-of-mouth referrals from friends and family members are tremendous. We are trying to get to that grassroots level."

To determine what Chinese Americans wanted to know about State Farm, Cheng relied on focus groups in the target cities. "They want to know about the stability of an insurance company, how long they've been in business," Cheng said. "When you're an immigrant, you need to develop a trust for financial organizations."

Proving trustworthiness may be a difficult task, but it pays off in brand loyalty, Cheng said.

Any company can translate ads and court emerging markets, but without the infrastructure to fully service new clients, multicultural marketing is useless.

State Farm understands that and is limiting its campaign to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Toronto because there are enough bilingual agents in those areas to meet its clients' needs. The company is planning to roll out similar ads in New York, Chicago and Houston once it has enough resources, Maglalang said.

Besides the Chinese campaign, State Farm has produced print ads in Korean and Vietnamese and is looking at targeting Filipinos.

Why go after the Asian-American community? The numbers speak for themselves.

The buying power of Asian-Americans is $253.8 billion, according to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth. In 1999, the median income of Asian and Pacific Islander households was $51,205, more than the national average.

Asian Americans make up 4 percent of the U.S. population, for a total of 11.9 million people, and that number is expected to double by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"We understand the growing demographics in this market," Maglalang said. "We know this market is financially savvy. It's a perfect opportunity to brand State Farm. The numbers are there."

Still, some companies are not sold on the idea of marketing to Asian Americans.

"A lot of companies are still ignoring Asians, but this is the next profitable market," Maglalang said. "We understand that the profit potential is tremendous in this market. It's virtually untapped. It just makes good business sense."

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