TD Bank takes down ads targeting South Asians after complaint about word ‘desi’

TD Bank has stopped running online advertisements that use the word “desi” to target the South Asian community after at least one person complained about the ads.

Jatin Patel demanded the bank take the ads down after he saw one of them while scrolling through an Indian news app.

“At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” Patel said.

“In India, it is used as an offensive term,” he told CBC Toronto, adding that some Indians use the word to describe people as “not very modern” and “from the countryside.”

“Desi” originates from the Sanskrit word “desh,” which means “nation.” It’s commonly used, mostly by young people, to describe people and culture as truly or typically South Asian. It’s even made its way into the titles of many South Asian films.

TD’s ad, which could be seen on both social media platforms and the web, featured videos and pictures with the tagline: “62 per cent of desi Canadians don’t know how much to save for retirement.”

Patel says he gets that TD is attempting to target a specific community, but he believes the wording was “inappropriate and insensitive.”

He immediately contacted the bank to complain about the ad, and TD responded by taking it down the same night.

Patel was offended by the usage of the term ‘desi’ to describe South-Asians.

Patel says he’s hoping for a personal apology, but he also says the damage has been done.

“If you slap someone, and then you say, ‘Sorry,’ what does it mean? The action has already been completed.”

TD Canada says it pulled the ads to show it respects the community.

“Inclusion and diversity are core values at TD, and we continuously make every effort to ensure we respect our customers and colleagues in everything we do,” the bank said in an email statement to CBC Toronto.

Patel is not the only one who thinks the advertisement may have taken the wrong path.

Tushar Unadkat, chief executive of Mukta Advertising in Toronto, said TD’s ad failed because it doesn’t connect with the entire community.

Marketing expert Tushar Unadkat says he’s sure there’s a section of the South Asian community, both in Canada and in India, that finds the word ‘desi’ offensive.

“If someone calls me desi, I’m OK, but I’m very sure that within Canada and within India, as well, there’s a section of people who would use the term to look down upon a different class of people,” he said.

“You’ve got to understand how the community relates to that term locally.”

But Sharifa Khan, chief executive of Balmoral Multicultural Marketing on Toronto, disagrees.

Sharifa Khan, chief executive of Balmoral Multicultural Marketing, thinks ‘desi’ is an acceptable term. ‘It’s certainly not derogatory,’ she says.

“The language has to be 100 per cent authentic for a marketing campaign to be successful,” she said.

“TD has been around long enough to know how to target a multicultural audience.”

One of the TD ads that used the word ‘desi.’

Khan says TD likely did its research before crafting the ads.

“Lots of social marketers will use relevant and key words to appeal to their market,” Khan told CBC Toronto.

“And the word ‘desi,’ people within the community will connect with this word all the time,” she added.

“It’s certainly not derogatory.”

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