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Targeting Asian-Americans, AT&T Produces A Viral Hit

The online series "Away We Happened" is a milestone in the rise of niche advertising.

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A new ad campaign from AT&T offers a snapshot of how niche, ethnically-targeted advertising is transforming the landscape of the ad industry.

AT&T's “Away We Happened,” a low-budget, niche-targeted webisode, garnered over three million views in its first three weeks.

The online-only series, which is aimed specifically at Asian-Americans, features two young protagonists, Jean and Daniel, who encounter each other in a coffee shop and leave having mistakenly swapped suitcases. “Away We Happened”’s plot is open-ended, and users vote and leave suggestions to determine how Jean and Daniel’s story will progress.

Laura Hernandez, AT&T’s executive director of Multi-cultural Marketing, said Asian-Americans are unusually engaged in social media, which made them an especially attractive segment of the market to involve.

“We’re carving out a little niche of the population and speaking to them,” Hernandez said.

To appeal specifically to Asian American viewers, AT&T partnered with InterTrend, a California-based boutique agency that specializes in Asian American advertising. AT&T also tried to draw attention to the series by tapping into the social media popularity of two Asian actors.

“We identified a couple of Asian YouTube actors that had their own following on YouTube and on twitter that would also help us engage socially with the Asian segment,” Hernandez said.

Victor Kim, who plays Daniel, is a musician with over 86,000 twitter followers, and Jen, who plays Jean, is a beauty blogger whose YouTube channel has nearly 300,000 subscribers.

This segmented targeting seems to be working well for AT&T, who, according to Hernandez, hopes to see “Away We Happened” get more than five million views by the time the webisode concludes on June 28.

The campaign is a contrast with “Daybreak,” AT&T’s other webisode advertising campaign that launched in May, which is the kind of traditional, expensive project at risk of being outshined by hits like “Away We Happened.” “Daybreak,” unlike “Away We Happened,” is not targeted to a specific group, but rather is intended to engage a wider population. To do so, AT&T elected to feature more established actors and involve Hollywood director Tim Kring and writer Raven Metzner. However, despite partnerships with FOX TV and creative by the ad giant BBDO, “Daybreak” is struggling to garner anywhere near the following of “Away We Happened.”

AT&T declined to release “Daybreak”’s viewership numbers, but the show’s YouTube hits reveal comparatively low popularity. “Away We Happened”’s first episode received over one and a half million views to Daybreak’s 30,000.

Though some observers thought this comparison instructive, those involved in the "Daybreak" campaign said that looking to the webisodes' YouTube hits was misleading. "Daybreak" is not hosted exclusively on YouTube, and therefore the platform does not capture the entirety of the show's hits.

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