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Brann Worldwide Adds an Asian Marketing Capability

A large direct marketing agency is expanding its offerings by acquiring a smaller one that specializes in marketing to Asian and Asian-American consumers.

The acquisition by Brann Worldwide in Wilton, Conn., of Wong Wong Boyack in San Francisco, for undisclosed terms, points to the growing interest among marketers in seeking to engage consumers in ways deemed culturally relevant rather than with "one size fits all" pitches. The trend is being fed by data from the 2000 census, showing sizable increases in minority populations, as well as by hopes that appealing to market niches or segments may be profitable in a weak economy.

"It's all about understanding unique consumer behavior throughout the buying process," said David Finkel, president and chief executive at Brann. "Different segments need to be communicated to differently."

Brann, part of the Diversified Agency Group unit of Havas Advertising, the big French-owned agency company, is rebranding Wong Wong Boyack as Brann Wong Wong.

There are eight employees at Brann Wong Wong, which handles accounts with billings estimated at $10 million from clients like American Savings Bank in Honolulu, Cisco Systems and Sina.com, a Web site for Chinese communities.

Brann Wong Wong will operate from the San Francisco office of Brann, as the first unit of Brann that will be focused on marketing to consumers of specific ethnicity. The agency will work not only with Brann San Francisco but also with the 17 Brann offices in 14 cities in Europe and North America.

"We wanted to have an Asian capability," Mr. Finkel said, because that market is the fastest growing of the nation's major ethnic markets as well as highly educated and affluent.

The 2000 census showed there were 10.2 million Americans who identified themselves as "Asian," compared with 6.9 million who did so in 1990. If the people who described themselves as of two or more races are included, the "Asian" number in 2000 climbed to almost 11.9 million; the 1990 census did not include a combination-race question.

Mr. Finkel said Brann was also attracted to Wong Wong Boyack by the strengths of the agency's top executives. They are Penelope Wong, president and chief executive, and her brother, Ben Wong, chairman and chief financial officer. (The Boyack in Wong Wong Boyack referred to Lee Boyack, who had led account services before leaving the agency in 1996.)

"We are not an ethnic agency that uses direct marketing by default," said Ms. Wong, who identifies herself as Chinese-American. "We approach it as direct marketing, as target marketing, and we use all the strategic tools that are available to us."

Ms. Wong suggested several reasons for the interest in acquiring her agency, which was founded in 1991. Advertisers want larger agencies as they themselves grow larger, she said, through expansion or acquisition. And being part of Brann, she added, would give her clients access to additional resources like research.

Ms. Wong, 48, takes on the added post of executive vice president and director for strategic business and brand development at Brann San Francisco. Mr. Wong, 50, takes on the added post of executive vice president and director for strategic planning and insight at Brann San Francisco.

About two years ago, Mr. Finkel said, Brann identified ethnic marketing as a priority and also looked into expanding into direct marketing to Spanish-speaking consumers.

Brann Wong Wong works on direct marketing campaigns to mainstream consumers in this country as well as ads aimed at Asians abroad, in languages including those spoken by Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese. Those tasks include direct mail, online advertising and ads encouraging consumers to call a toll- free number or to visit a Web site.

Ms. Wong offered a personal perspective on the Asian-American market.

"There are so many things that Asian-Americans need but they can't find," she said. She told a story about how difficult it was for her, not so many years ago, to find eyeglasses that would fit her face - even in San Francisco, a city with a large Asian- American population.

"My nose is a Chinese nose; I don't have much of a bridge," Ms. Wong said. "Sophia Loren has a really different nose than I do. So does Calvin Klein. These things just fall right off my face."

"Now it's pretty easy for me to go into an eyeglass store and find several styles that work," she added, "but I used to have to go to Hong Kong."

"Those are the kinds of opportunities I'm talking about," Ms. Wong concluded. "There was a need, there were plenty of consumers to serve, and it just took people a while to figure out."


Allison Fass, The New York Times. August 22, 2001

Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.