Marketing to Vietnamese Americans

PHOTO:  The New Jersey Vietnamese American Community Association

Reaching Vietnamese Americans requires a unique marketing strategy that involves understanding this audience’s history and interest in continuing to speak Vietnamese. Transcreation, which includes translating the message of an ad campaign, can help you identify images, phrases, and experiences that resonate with Vietnamese American audiences.

Where do most Vietnamese Americans live?

Over 1.8 million Vietnamese Americans live in the United States, which make Vietnamese Americans the sixth largest immigrant group in the country. The metropolitan areas with concentrated populations of Vietnamese Americans include Southern California, Northern California, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland. Vietnamese Americans have also established businesses and communities in particular pockets in urban areas, including New York City, Orlando, and the Twin Cities.

Experiences common among Vietnamese Americans 

Most Vietnamese Americans came to the U.S. in four distinct waves between 1975 and the 1990s, arriving on family visas with few possessions. Many Vietnamese Americans lived in refugee camps in the Philippines or Thailand before arriving in the U.S., and more than 84 percent of Vietnamese Americans over 18 were born outside the U.S. A high number of Vietnamese Americans have made one or more visits back to Vietnam to see family members.

Many adult Vietnamese Americans continue to speak, read and write Vietnamese, and there are advertising materials and news publications in Vietnamese in many U.S. cities. Many older Vietnamese Americans do not use English as their primary method of communication. Vietnamese Americans tend to have an optimistic view of education and success in the U.S., yet fewer Vietnamese Americans tend to have bachelor’s degrees than other Asian American groups.

Designing culture-specific content, with politics in mind

Vietnamese cuisine, holidays, music, language and dress styles, particularly the women’s ao dai dress, tend to be touchstones for Vietnamese Americans. Family gatherings, the immigrant experience, education, and the value of owning and operating a small business are of particular importance. Numerology, or assigning “lucky” and “unlucky” significance to numbers, is valued to this day. For example, the numbers “6” and “8” represent good fortune, since the Vietnamese words for them sound like the Vietnamese words for prosperity and development. The number “4” is considered unlucky; the Vietnamese word for it sounds like death.

Western companies that are marketing to Vietnamese Americans benefit from the ability to use the Latin alphabet rather than Chinese characters. Advertisers must be mindful of political issues that would lead to divisions in their audience and concerns with foreign countries. The Vietnam War and its aftermath are the reason many Vietnamese Americans immigrated to the U.S.

Companies have utilized avoidance strategies to speak to the Vietnamese American community as a whole. As an example, United Airlines chose the neutral slogan “Flight to Vietnam” over “Flight to Saigon” or “Flight to Ho Chi Minh City.” “Flight to Saigon” would have appealed to Vietnamese Americans, yet it might have led to difficulties with the Vietnamese government. “Flight to Ho Chi Minh City” would not have been well received by Vietnamese Americans.

Vietnamese Americans are part of the U.S. population of Southeast Asians, which also includes Laotian Americans, Thai Americans, Hmong Americans and Cambodian Americans. They share many cultural values with other Southeast Asians and Asian Americans.

Are you interested in marketing to Vietnamese Americans? Start by familiarizing yourself with common trends among Vietnamese American communities in your local area. This research will give you an idea of the norms, customs, and channels that can help you design an effective ad campaign.


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