How to Market to South Asian Families: A session with Davina Rajoopillai

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Cultural Strategy Consultant and Executive Producer at BADLANDS, Davina Rajoopillai, recently spoke to our London team on behalf of Belovd about ‘How to Market to South Asian Families’. This talk formed part of our internal antiracism and cultural awareness programme. 

With a background in content marketing, and 15 years+ of experience in the advertising, arts and cultural industries, Davina uses her culture, lived experiences, and diversity of thought to push creative boundaries and tell untold stories from underrepresented voices.

Here are our key takeaways from the session. 

Know your audience
Davina began by explaining who makes up the South Asian diaspora, which accounts for 6.9% of British society – a significant percentage. Despite this, 29% of businesses do not target the community at all. And of the 47% who do, many fail to be effective in their approaches as they group the whole community under one set of characteristics. Instead, marketers should look to better understand South Asian consumers on a more nuanced level – from their purchasing behaviours, to their wants and needs. 

Davina explains how there are two key elements to understanding the British South Asian diaspora; “understand their nuances and socioeconomic differences and understand their bicultural and multicultural identities.”

Recognise socio economic shifts 
Like many ethnic groups in the UK, South Asians are not a monolith. We cannot define them and their interests under one broad umbrella. Davina emphasises how British South Asians have had a rich and diverse contribution to British society, for example, with Indian business owners contributing significantly to the UK GDP. 

A third of South Asian run businesses are owned by women and at least 57% of these have a female director. It is important for marketers to recognise this group of successful women, explains Davina, as there is a distinct lack of representation of this in advertising. “A lot of Indian women have become far more career focused of late, rather than concentrating on marriage and family.” Marketers need to recognise socioeconomic shifts such as these, and ensure they are represented within their work.

Muslim representation matters
With much of the South Asian Community being practicing Muslims, this is an important consideration for marketers when it comes to targeting these audiences. 56% of media coverage is negative toward British Muslims and there is shockingly little representation of this community in mainstream advertising. “It’s crucial to normalise representation of Muslims 365 days of the year, not just during Ramadan”, Davina notes. 

Marketers should seek out how they can change this negative media coverage by accurately representing Muslim people within their work. “We should look out for more positive influencers and role models, like Nafisa Bakkar, the Co-Founder and CEO of Amaliah, the online media platforms that aims to amplify the voices of Muslim women.” 

Food is the way to the heart
Food is a big part of the South Asian community, with most households cooking and eating traditional dishes at home. Davina points out how this is a huge opportunity for marketers, and that food is a great way to speak to the community. Marketers need to think of the importance of Diwali and Ramadan, but also remember that South Asians are purchasing all year, not just during these festivals. Tesco’s ‘Food Love Stories’ is an example of incorporating these cultures and traditions into mainstream advertising. 

“In comparison to Indian households, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Tamil households have less disposable income, so are likely to take up offers and discounts that are tailored to them,” explains Davina “If you’re struggling, do your research. Foodstagrammers are a great way to learn more about different cuisines and traditions associated with this community.” With distinct differences between food, religion, heritage and family, the South Asian diaspora provides a rare opportunity for marketers to tap into numerous wants and needs.

Add diversity to your beauty brand
Beauty, wellbeing and fitness is another area that Davina highlights as an important sector in which there needs to be greater South Asian representation. Many first and second generation South Asians have become more health conscious, signing up for gym memberships and using fitness apps. 

Beauty and haircare is improving in terms of representation, with brands like Fenty Beauty and Glossier releasing a more diverse range of products and using models of varying ethnicities. However, “there is still a lack of darker skin representation in beauty advertising,” explains Davina. “South Asian women have hyperpigmentation in their skin so are often on the lookout for cosmetic brands to help even out their skin tones. Brands need to understand that with different ethnicities comes different tones and textures. There isn’t one model or one product that can cater to an entire diaspora.”

Asks to marketers on behalf of British South Asians:
Leaving us with food for thought, Davina shared her advice for marketers on behalf of the South Asian Community.

1: Educate yourselves on the history of these different communities and the history of migration.
2: Follow and listen to British South Asian journalists and influencers
3: Engage South Asian women and mothers
4: Be authentic. If you’re unsure, consult others and use focus groups, reaching out to influencers and activists. 

Q&A with Davina Rajoopillai

What do marketers often get wrong about these communities and what assumptions are important to avoid?
Marketers often place the South Asian community under one umbrella and presume that the only way they can talk to us is through religious festivals.

What’s had the biggest impact in the shift of perceptions of the Muslim community over the last few years?
With the rise of Gen Z and social media, the Muslim community has been able to establish a sense of self on these platforms. Nafisa Bakkar is a great example.

What’s a great brand example you’ve recently seen that targets the British South Asian community?
Fenty Beauty, who are starting to market to South Asians really well with inclusive products and advertising. 

Could you provide some media outlets that have specific reach to the South Asian Community?
Burnt Roti magazine, gal-dem magazine and Amalaiah, which works to amplify the voices of Muslim women. 

What’s the biggest opportunity for marketers when it comes to the South Asian community?
There is so much more we can see in terms of storytelling. There can be more branded content and partnerships, as well as personal stories. 

To find out more about BADLANDS and Belovd Agency, get in touch with Davina on LinkedIn.