Year 2020 became a watershed moment for digital acceleration in India: Arun Srinivas

Srinivas, Director and Head - Global Business Group, Facebook India, discusses how brands are using FB, Instagram & Whatsapp for driving their businesses, interacting with consumers, and more

e4m by Tasmayee Laha Roy
Published: Jul 21, 2021 9:00 AM  | 7 min read
Arun Srinivas

The pandemic has accelerated digitisation in India, and brands across the board have jumped onto the digital bandwagon to remain active, accessible and relevant to their target audience. Arun Srinivas, Director and Head - Global Business Group, Facebook India talks to e4m on how brands used Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp for a host of services like launching new products virtually, driving business, interacting with consumers directly and others. He said, "The last one year has been a tipping point for the growth of videos, influencers, messaging, and disruptive technologies such as augmented reality (AR)."


  1. It has been a very interesting year for businesses in terms of learning and unlearning. Help us understand how large traditional businesses adapted to an online business model in the last year-and-a-half?

The year 2020 became a watershed moment for digital acceleration in India. Our consumer understanding in partnership with Boston Consulting Group also told us that digital adoption and online shopping in India had accelerated by 2-3 years within months of the pandemic, and digitally influenced purchases increased by 25% in urban India just three months after the pandemic began.

As consumers started moving online, businesses pivoted around this dramatic consumer shift by going direct-to-consumer, creating virtual experiences, and amplifying digital touch-points across the purchase funnel. From brands in the tech and auto space launching their new products virtually, to businesses from all verticals using the power of influencers to lend an authentic voice to their brands, and increasingly using conversational tools and bots such as on WhatsApp and Messenger to interact with consumers directly, we’ve seen a significant acceleration in all these trends. Another interesting trend that has emerged is how several brands are now working with established e-commerce platforms to expedite their online reach and boost sales. In this context, Facebook’s revolutionary ad product called ‘Collaborative Ads’, has played a pioneering role in helping some of the largest businesses quickly establish a digital presence.

‘Collaborative Ads’ link products retailed through traditional retail channels to an online retail platform, and enable a smooth path-to-purchase. Consumers who see the targeted ad of the product are able to click and complete the transaction seamlessly at the retailer’s end.

For instance, Marico India leveraged Collaborative Ads by showcasing its products and offers through Facebook ads, and directing the interested consumers to the Grofers’ platform to complete the transaction.

  1. Give us a few examples of brands that have used Facebook as a platform to maximize reach and visibility in the various phases of lockdown that we have seen in recent times.

Digital has gotten fuelled in an unprecedented manner in India, and with more than 400 million people using at least one of our apps every month in India, we’re a consequential player in this ecosystem creating significant economic impact for businesses. The last one year has been a tipping point for the growth of video, influencers, messaging, and disruptive technologies such as augmented reality (AR).

With more people spending time watching the video, In-Stream ads that are run on Facebook Watch have seen tremendous growth over the last one year. These ads enable advertisers to tell a more complex story to people who are actively engaged in watching content with sound-on.

Aashirvaad Atta partnered with Facebook to drive sales for the brand’s 12 years anniversary celebration. 

When it comes to influencers, Samsung recently partnered with Instagram to engage with creators by leveraging branded content to promote its flagship Galaxy S21 Series. The partnership also uniquely involves engagement with Instagram’s ‘Born on Instagram’ program, which was initiated by the platform in 201 to create a platform for creators across India to learn and grow. 

In messaging, as part of their #GharSeBanking campaign, which was launched during the lockdown in 2020, SBI used Messenger to encourage people to download the SBI YONO App. Within weeks, more than half a million people had started conversations on Facebook Messenger resulting in a strong response to YONO app downloads.

  1. How large businesses are digitizing value chains end-to-end, which is causing a digital revolution among smaller retailers that they work with and a significant impact on the economic and digital transformation in India.

The pandemic pushed some of the largest businesses to accelerate their online journeys by digitizing their value chains. Large businesses are linked together through a series of small businesses and retailers. During the pandemic, some of these largest brands have worked to bring the smallest unit of their business value chain online, unleashing a new digital revolution among the small retailers. 

Facebook has worked with leading brands such as Samsung to train offline retailers to swiftly build a digital presence, and make their business known locally through the Facebook family of apps. This initiative has enabled and empowered thousands of Samsung’s offline partners to become a part of the digital ecosystem, in turn helping them to reach out to a larger base of consumers in their vicinity. 

Similarly, we partnered with Maruti Suzuki and used to train their dealer network across 1000+ outlets across India. Through this collaboration, we helped them build a digital presence through the Facebook family of apps, generate local brand awareness and sales by reducing friction on the consumer journey and help in evolving a hyperlocal direct-to-customer model. In the last six months of 2020, Maruti got more than 1.3 million enquiries through Facebook.

  1. The formula of one plan fits all has shifted to a more personalized and targeted approach when it comes to marketing – how does Facebook help brands with customizing marketing communications?

Personalization is central to a strong customer experience, and the most effective way of reaching the target consumer. Facebook has always provided sharp targeting but over the last one year, we’ve seen a further acceleration in personalized marketing and hyperlocal strategies. 

The pandemic has impacted the business of small neighborhood retailers significantly. For their Diwali campaign, Mondelez India leveraged Facebook’s suite of capabilities for creating ‘Not just a Cadbury ad’, a hyperlocal campaign that enabled viewers from different locations to see the local neighborhood retailers closest to them. This campaign went viral, not just triggering a strong sense of community and support for small businesses, but also driving strong business results.

Sharp targeting based on hyperlocal strategies will get further fuelled this year. Eno, for instance, used Facebook to reach rural audiences with ads in local languages to highlight the product’s benefits and saw a 27% increase in sales.

  1. Tell us about the newer tech stack that has been helping businesses perform better? Anything new that you introduced in the last 1.5 years?

Augmented Reality has gotten significantly fuelled over the last year. A Facebook and IPSOS study from earlier this year showed that 81% of those surveyed in India considered AR a fun way to interact with brands. 

Among many businesses that experimented with AR, Vivo worked with Spark AR, Facebook’s augmented reality studio, to launch the new V19 smartphone and generate a creative which replicated the offline shopping experience by allowing customers to explore the gadget’s new features and camera enhancements remotely. For the online launch campaign, Vivo ran Augmented Reality ads and video ads on Facebook and Instagram Stories. The campaign earned a 9.5-point increase in ad recall. 

India has become a video-first Internet market with 70%-80% of all data in the country on the video. Video is a huge priority for Facebook. Today, more than 1.25 billion people globally visit Watch every month to discover and share videos from millions of creators and publishers, and India is one of the leading markets for Facebook Watch globally. We’ve also seen significant growth in Reels, giving anyone the ability to create short-form videos, edit videos and be a creator on a global stage.

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