With five million users a day, SouthAsianLife.com is among the most popular South Asian lifestyle websites in the world.
No one is more surprised by these astounding numbers than Raaj Brar. He created the site in his Vancouver basement five years ago as a way of reaching and communicating with the rapidly growing South Asian community in Canada: A diverse group of more than a million people from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Brar moved with his family to Vancouver from India in 1980. He attended the British Columbia Institute of Technology. After leaving school, he had brief stints as an account executive at Bryant Fulton and Shee and Palmer Jarvis.
In 1999, with the encouragement of the local South Asian business associations and the community in Vancouver, he created and developed SouthAsianLife.com.
Although the site was growing at a dramatic rate, in the early years it failed to attract the advertising revenue to make it financially viable.
So Brar decided to make two life-changing decisions. One was to go to Toronto, where the money and corporate clients are. The other was to start a magazine based on the content of the website. The magazine had to be slick and urbane-a cross between Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan-and able to appeal to the wealthy and upscale members of the South Asian community in Canada.
Brar has achieved both objectives. A recent online survey of subscribers to the site indicated they are affluent and influential with considerable discretionary income. The rest of the survey results are quite astounding. When it comes to household income, the average was $90,000-far above the Canadian average. And, 27.2% of respondents reported a household income in excess of $150,000. This was attributed to the joint family system of South Asian households which include grandparents, cousins, sisters, brothers, in-laws-representing multiple incomes per single household.
Today South Asian Life magazine has become an attractive new advertising medium for Canadian corporations that wish to target South Asians across Canada. Its articles, which cover everything from wellness to Bollywood gossip, are written by some of the best-selling authors drawn from the South Asian community in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Canada. Brar claims that no other South Asian magazine covers home, food, beauty, fashion, travel, body and soul with such a balanced approach.
After visiting a few of his advertisers, I have to admit he’s right.
Albert Yue, the head of Dynasty Advertising, was effusive in his praise of South Asian Life. Dynasty is one of the most successful ethnic advertising agencies in the country. It manages the entire multicultural advertising portfolio for RBC, Sony, Tridel, London Life and Bayer Aspirin. Some of its clients have been regular advertisers in South Asian Life.
Yue, a former vice-president of client services for McCann-Erickson in Hong Kong, was impressed with the quality of the publication. “Many of the ethnic publications that vie for advertising dollars fall short of the kind of quality printing and production in which national advertisers like to display their products. South Asian Life can comfortably compete with any glossy, upscale mainstream magazine on the market today. And it’s a one-of-a-kind in a market of one million South Asians in Canada.”
Ads from L’Oréal, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Sony, BMW and William Ashley have also appeared in the magazine.
In August, South Asian Life will have its official launch in the Greater Toronto area with more than 30,000 copies of the magazine being distributed free to South Asian households. Another 30,000 will be sold through subscription and on newsstands.
It has been a long arduous journey for Raaj Brar and the South Asian Life website and magazine. However, he is comforted by the fact that he has come to the end of the beginning. He has created a site that is the most popular of its kind in the world and a magazine targeting an ethnic community that has impressed mainstream advertisers. And that’s no easy feat.
DON MILLER is a diversity marketing and communications consultant and director of the advertising division of DiversiPro in Toronto.