Five things brands need to understand about the British South Asian market

They make up nearly seven per cent of the UK population, and almost one in 10 Londoners. Based on that, they should be featured in loads of ads and represented across the full creative marketing process. But they’re not.

Until marketers address systemic and unconscious bias, decisions around the creative lens of diversity – and what it actually is to be British in 2023 – will continue to be centred through the gaze of ‘whiteness’. To check the ‘diversity’ box, brands often move to performative tokenism, which largely ignores the South Asian community. It’s time to move beyond that and create work that accurately reflects the whole population.

It’s not just equity. It’s also good business. Here are five key points:

1. We are a growing market

The British South Asian community increased a stunning 37 per cent from 2011 to 2021. In some big cities, including London, Sheffield and Leeds, South Asians are close to 10 per cent of the population; in others, more than 30 per cent. Why don’t ads reflect that? Businesses led by ethnic-minority entrepreneurs contribute at least £74bn a year to the UK, according to a 2021 report. While that doesn’t include only South Asians, based on numbers alone, there are easily billions of pounds on the line.

2. Act with true equity

Although the South Asian community accounts for seven per cent of the UK population, we are underrepresented on screen (4.8 per cent) and behind the camera (2.6 per cent) across a range of creative industries, including advertising. The Black Lives Matter movement prompted many agencies to update their DE&I policies. But unless those policies include expanding representation of South Asians, they’re not doing their job.

3. Learn who we are

The British South Asian community isn’t monolithic. It includes people with roots in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, as well as those from the Indo-Caribbean and East African diasporas. Each group intersects with various ethnicities, genders, races and religions. Other minority groups are featured in marketing efforts that confront colorism, hair discrimination and other purpose-focused cultural issues. Including South Asians is long overdue.

4. We are British

Acculturated South Asians who were born in this country are quintessentially British. In fact, the majority of South Asians in the UK were born here, and many have never been to South Asia. You don’t necessarily have to create a ‘South Asian’ ad for your brand. It can be marginalising.

5. We are more than the ethnic food aisle

Once a year, around Diwali, supermarkets and many brands will feature South Asians in their product offering and campaigns. By focusing exclusively on holidays, brands turn the community into a trend. We’re here – and purchasing – all year long, not just during South Asian Heritage Month.

The bottom line: if your agency partners and your campaigns aren’t reflective of the overall ethnic makeup of Britain, then you’re not fulfilling your DE&I values and you’re leaving money on the table.

Rana Reeves is chief executive and founder of RanaVerse

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