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Theme Parks Pursue Asian Groups


Holmes Stoner's proposal sounded about as logical as pouring soy sauce on a burrito.

While there were Cinco de Mayo parties all over Southern California two weekends ago, Universal Studios was hosting an Asian-American festival. Figuring that it wouldn't attract many Latinos that weekend anyway, it chased after the Asian-American market instead. The man behind the idea, Stoner, is a partner at Los Angeles-based Artesa Media Services, which specializes in placing advertisements for companies that want to reach Asian-Americans and Latinos.

Executives at Universal bought the idea. After all, while Universal puts on nine different Latino events annually, it had never done much to zero in on many of the Southland's estimated 716,000 Asian-Americans. (That figure is expected to leap to 1.4 million by the year 2000, the Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates.) Universal spent $80,000 to promote the weekend festival, which featured a variety of Asian foods and entertainment. The result: Business during the two-day event was up more than 40% compared to the same weekend a year earlier, when there was no special event.

"That's a heck of a lot higher then we expected the first time out of the gate," said Gordon Armstrong, executive vice president of marketing at Universal. As a result, Universal is planning a greater number of Asian-American promotions next year--and may even double the amount it spends to reach the diverse Asian-American community.

Universal has plenty of company. Knott's Berry Farm executives recently began discussing the addition of a multimillion-dollar Pacific Rim-themed area to the park. And one weekend last November, Disneyland held a Korean Festival that had much larger ambitions than just drawing ethnic Koreans in for the day. The event was filmed by Disney crews with the specific intention of televising a special show on KSCI Channel 18--the Los Angeles station that broadcasts shows in 14 different languages. The Disney special has run during the evening hours that KSCI broadcasts Korean-language shows.

Universal chose to target four specific Asian-American groups--Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Filipino--to attend its festival. It ran newspaper ads in a number of languages and placed them not only in The Times but also in such U.S. publications as the World Journal, a Chinese daily newspaper; the Korea Times, a daily; Kashu Mainichi, a Japanese paper with heavy circulation in both Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and the Philippine News, a weekly paper.

Why are theme parks suddenly reaching out to the Asian-American community? Basically, they're looking ahead. By the year 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau projects, the Asian population of California will jump to 16% of all residents, from the current 8%. And with median family incomes of about $23,000--about $3,000 more than the typical American household--there is money to spend. "More then anything else," said Stuart Zanville, director of public relations at Knott's Berry Farm, "what makes the Asian community so attractive is its earning power."

So last summer, when Knott's brought Korean skating star Jean Yun to its park to star in an ice show, it placed ads--with discount coupons--in three of the area's largest Korean publications, the Korea Times, the Korean Central Daily and the Korean TV Guide & News. "Thousands and thousands of the coupons were redeemed," said Zanville. "We never expected anything like it."

When Disneyland executives draw up their 1987 advertising budget this fall, for the first time they plan to set money aside to advertise in newspapers and on television shows that specifically reach various Asian-American groups. "We can't ignore it any longer," said Mark Feary, division manager of marketing at Disneyland. "But the ads won't just ask them to come out for events like our Korean Festival," he said. "We want to target them on a day-to-day basis."

Burger King Putting Account Up for Grabs

Troubled Burger King made it clear Monday that it doesn't think its also-troubled ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, is serving up the best advertising for fast times. The burger giant said it plans to put its $200-million ad account up for grabs.

Although J. Walter Thompson will compete with eight other agencies to hang on to the business, few industry executives think that Thompson will succeed. At the same time, however, some say that the biggest problem is with Burger King and not its ad firm.

By changing agencies after 11 years, Burger King is "attempting to take the focus off its own troubles," said John Hollingsworth, a former group vice president of marketing at Burger King, now a consultant in Laguna Hills.

"An ad agency is only as good as its ties with its client," said Hollingsworth. "Burger King--which had poor ties with Thompson--expected the firm to pull rabbits out of its hat."

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