At least 600 million people use mobile phones in India, according to various sources. It’s also estimated that 60 million use the mobile phone to access the Internet, the second highest population after China. These are not people using 3G enabled smartphones yet – by and large they are people toting around cheap Nokia feature phones, connected to the web through GPRS services. Both numbers can be expected to rise – and the second one, to rise significantly – over the next two years as 3G services and handsets become cheap and widespread.
Despite this though, spending on marketing on mobile remains very low, compared to other mediums. At least part of the confusion lies in choosing the right path to reach users – SMS or mobile Internet.
Yahoo! was one of the first companies to enter the mobile VAS space in India, tying up with carriers to provide their search and mail services through SMS shortcodes, and enabling downloads of paid content like ringtones and wallpapers.
While this is still continuing, the company is now also looking at mobile Internet in India. Nitin Mathur, Senior Director Marketing, Yahoo!, noted, “Mobile web advertising is still pretty nascent and not fully understood yet. There is an appetite to experiment and the audience is growing. Advertising spends will also increase, given time.”
Ajay Vaishnavi, Director - Telecom, Indiatimes.com, said, “We have been providing SMS based marketing solutions for quite some time. Over past 12 months, we have introduced IVR and WAP based marketing campaigns for brands and these have seen significant uptake and interest. Over next few months, we are introducing a major initiative that will provide premium content / services to users."
Beerud Sheth, Co-founder and CEO, Mobile Social Network, SMS Gupshup, remarked, “In three years, we have seen 3 million communities and 40 million users join. SMS is cheap, fast and effective. People have groups for stock tips, jokes, students, news and celebrities. All this works together and creates a vibrant community, which is very measurable and very targetable, and provides a platform where we have engaged with over 300 brands and over 10,000 SMEs.”
He added, “SMS as a platform works well for advertising and engagement. We can offer short, timely messages, which deliver the content to the user right into their hands, and we can give these messages behavioural targeting because we know their interests, the communities they are in. At the same time, we can also do deep demographic targeting too.”
The ground realities in emerging markets like India are very different from markets like the US, where smartphones dominate. However, this does not mean that rich media and apps are not a part of the ecosystem here. Dippak Khurana, Co-founder of mobile app advertising platform Vserv, said, “J2ME and Symbian devices are dominant and Android and other platforms will take around two years to gain the users. In this time, millions of people download mobile apps, some free and some paid, and this content has not been successfully monetised. We see close to 6 million daily transactions on the VAS side, and data charges are dropping while companies like Spice and Micromax are rolling out a number of very nice featurephones, which are running J2ME apps.”
“What we do, is create a platform where people who download these apps through the mobile web can be reached by brands, without requiring each app to be customised separately. We create a wrapper around the app, and give pre- and post-displays, which the user can interact with in a way that they can’t over SMS. Just by doing this, we have seen 50,000 clicks on ads, every day,” he added.
“We feel that there will be a second surge in mobile growth over the next two years because of 3G and new devices, and unlike SMS, which is a push medium, app-based advertising is much more interactive. It can target a user depending on the app he is using, the model of the phone, the carrier, and even location, so you might want to advertise only to people with Nokia N8s, or you might want to bring your product only to the guy with a cheap featurephone,” he concluded.