Reimagining Asian Pacific Stories

Trends / Realness
Yuri Endo
Sep 8, 2023
The Asia Pacific region is home to over half the global population and wields significant economic and cultural influence. By 2030, it's projected to have twice as many upper‑income urban households as the US, along with 45% of the global GDP, amounting to a $10 trillion consumption growth.1 With Asia constituting 60% of the world's population, it's a key influencer in media and advertising.2 To align with rapid cultural shifts, brands must select visuals that authentically embody each culture.

Balancing Nuances and Challenging Stereotypes in Asian Representation
Getty Images VisualGPS research highlights a substantial consumer preference for companies prioritizing diversity and inclusion in their advertising and overall initiatives across the Asia‑Pacific. Surprisingly, less than 10% of popular visuals from Getty Images accurately portray Asian experiences, often perpetuating stereotypes. These visuals depict Asians as youthful, slender, and with lighter skin tones, usually in corporate or healthcare contexts. Moreover, popular imagery exhibits consistent messaging, style, and emotion—often overly cheerful—yet often lacks the depth to capture cultural intricacies.3
Complexities of Asian Representation in Media
Getty Images VisualGPS research reveals greater diversity in movies and TV than in advertising, yet international cinematic and TV works often relegate Asian characters to minor roles and stereotypes. In 2019, USC Annenberg noted over a quarter of AAPI characters in top‑grossing movies met unfortunate ends.4 This persists in TV, exemplified by a solitary Asian character in Yellowjackets. Challenges arise in articulating Asian culture when cultures are conflated, or actors and motifs don't align. Notable films like Crazy Rich Asians faced criticism for distorted Singaporean depictions and animations like Raya and the Last Dragon and Moana oversimplified cultures. Despite challenges, certain media portray complex Asian characters, sharing impactful stories that foster empathy and inclusivity. Productions like Beef explore Asian characters' experiences, weaving cultural subtleties. Acclaimed works like Mask Girl and Hunger spotlight local narratives reflecting disparities. Moreover, Return to Seoul thoughtfully examines the Asian diaspora, offering insights from local and global perspectives.

Brands and media venturing into visual storytelling must embrace the entirety of Asian ethnicities while faithfully reflecting their diverse identities and lifestyles. Changing stereotypes and acknowledging the intricate tapestry of Asian communities becomes crucial. Recent VisualGPS research highlights the impact of relatable representation on purchasing decisions. Beyond reshaping broader perceptions of Asians, genuine visual storytelling has the power to strengthen brand‑audience bonds. The following are guidelines for brands to broaden and enrich Asian narratives in visual storytelling.
An exploration of an accurate depiction of cultural moments in every Asian community
Popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images in the Asia‑Pacific often oversimplify Asian culture, focusing on a few cultures like Chinese, Indian, Japanese, and Thai.5 These portrayals stereotype Asians, neglecting unique identities, traditions, cuisine, celebrations, and behaviors. Cultural events such as the Lunar New Year and many other cultural festivities play a vital role in shaping Asian identities, emphasizing the necessity for accurate representation. Authenticity in portraying Asian culture involves showcasing a range of scenarios and roles beyond professional contexts, encompassing all age groups. This requires presenting an individual's ethnicity within the broader context of their identity.
Evolving Asian representation across generations
In popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images, young Asian adults dominate, often in corporate roles, while older generations are primarily represented in healthcare contexts.6 As the consumer landscape shifts with Gen Z and Millennials set to constitute half of the Asia Pacific market by 2025, accurate representation is imperative.7 Older Asian demographics are embracing diverse, independent lifestyles, and challenging conventions.8 Simultaneously, portraying young Asians across a broader spectrum of professions beyond conventional office settings is essential for a holistic depiction. Striking this balance fosters authentic representation, capturing the multifaceted essence of Asian communities.
Exploring gender, sexual orientation, and identity in diverse Asian communities
Popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images depict women in domestic settings and family life, while men are predominantly shown within business settings. Both genders frequently appear in business and teamwork scenarios. Notably, diverse gender expression diversity is lacking, with heteronormative portrayals prevailing and LGBTQ+ representation rare. Over 70% of Asia Pacific consumers advocate for gender identity freedom, highlighting the importance of brands challenging stereotypes, ensuring equal gender role representation, and including LGBTQ+ and gender nonconforming individuals.9 Legal limitations persist in some Asian countries, necessitating thoughtful consideration.
Addressing body positivity and beauty standards in Asian contexts
Popular visuals downloaded from Getty Images rarely promote body positivity, omitting larger body types in the Asian community. Eurocentric beauty ideals prevail, favoring lighter skin, slimmer figures, and taller statures for depictions of Asians, often associating larger bodies with dieting or exercise. In the Asia Pacific, VisualGPS research indicates biases revolving around body shape, size, and skin color, with darker‑skinned Asians frequently depicted in working‑class roles.10 Promoting inclusive beauty entails showcasing diverse body types, facial features, hair, and skin tones across everyday activities, work, and education, emphasizing holistic well‑being.
Our Inclusive Visual Storytelling for Asian Communities guidelines empower brands to turn intentions into actions. This comprehensive guide offers clear direction to authentically place the Asian and Pacific communities at the center of marketing. It provides Asia‑Pacific overviews and specific insights for countries, including cultural context and demographic advice. Encompassing key aspects such as gender and culture, it features tailored insights for Australia & New Zealand, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and South Korea
[1] Meet your future Asian consumer (McKinsey & Company)
[2] Distribution of the global population 2022, by continent (Statista)
[3] Getty Images VisualGPS
[4] Asians & Pacific Islanders Across 1,300 Popular Films (USC Annenberg)
[5] Getty Images VisualGPS
[6] Getty Images VisualGPS
[7] What makes Asia−Pacific’s Generation Z different? (McKinsey & Company)
[8] Ageing and Health – Key Facts (World Health Organization)
[9] Getty Images VisualGPS
[10] Getty Images VisualGPS
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