Mobile Advertising: The Way Forward For India

The government’s demonetization decision, barring 86 per cent of currency in circulation, was undeniably disruptive. The Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity and now demonetisation are the backbone of far-reaching reforms to improve the socioeconomic condition of the most marginalized sections in our society – the rural citizens.

With demonetization acting as catalyst for digital leap, digital payments have picked up across the country, and rural regions are in the midst of a remarkable transformation to a digital way of life. C.K. Prahlad’s book – ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’, authored in 2004, is turning out to be supremely relevant in modern times - owing to the behavioural transformation expected to be ushered in by demonetisation. The book makes a strong case for focusing on new markets and newer audiences - an audience that so far has been inhabiting the media-dark regions.


Digitalization is the ultimate equaliser and opportunity generator for businesses. Current drive unleashes opportunities for big brands, regional brands and startups to hack growth and generate new revenue stream from non-consumers and then improve wallet share of existing consumers. So we decided to look at the trends in rural marketing that will differentiate between the winners and losers.

Brands need to consider and capitalize on the following to maximize the opportunity or accept stagnation in the coming year.

Rural consumers will emerge from the shadows: Size them right

Till recently, the focus of marketers in India was the urban consumer and by large very few brands made specific efforts to reach the rural markets. But now it is felt that with the tempo of development accelerating in rural India, coupled with increase in purchasing power, rural consumer segment has an enormous potential to be the bedrock of growing consumption and commercial opportunity.

With approximately 130 million households, the rural population is nearly three times the urban. Apart from the sheer size, the trio of demonetisation, tax and subsidy reforms and Seventh Pay Commission implementation are slated to propel the rural population affordability to levels that brands can no longer afford to ignore. The Seventh Pay Commission allows a 23.5 per cent hike in salaries, allowances and pensions of central government employees. This will have an impact on the payments of nearly 50 lakh central government employees and 58 lakh pensioners. 

Right sizing of the rural market will be key for brands to understand its attractiveness and potential before they plan for the next year marketing budget for rural sectors.

Appreciate the diversity of rural India: Segment them precisely

The rural consumers, once assumed to be a monolithic mass of poor and uninformed consumer segment, are turning out to be a heterogeneous concoction of difficult to reach consumers with a spectrum of purchasing power and consumption propensity. With its Shakti initiative, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) pioneered the concept of training local women as rural sales agents who sell Unilever products door to door in their communities.

Along with geographic variables, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic variables must be included to segment rural consumers in order to enable marketers find the relevant niche micro-segments.

It is paramount that brands utilize the consumer analytics capabilities available to reach out to their precisely targeted audiences like, Farmers, Influencers, on the fence, media dark, specific location where they have distribution reach, Females, Students, Nouveau digitized etc. to ensure the highest bang for the buck.

Understand rural consumers preferences: Engage them appropriately

Marketing success in rural India is now poised to evolve from frugality to utility.

Marketers now have an early opportunity to capitalize and build mind share among the rural consumers through driving personalised engagement relevant to the rural persona such as:

·         Content deprived: The segment of consumers who are looking for entertainment. Kan Khajura Tesan is a free, always-on mobile entertainment radio channel in which the content (consisting of music, news and jokes) is interspersed with HUL brand communication.

·         Nouveau Digital youth: Rich content messaging (RCM) with interactive content. Bajrangi Bhaijaan movie was promoted to rural youth who are smartphone owners and data-users through RCM.

·         Uneducated rural populace: Outbound voice messages in local language. CHAI used micro-segmentation to reach out to rural mothers to spread awareness among the rural population about Zinc ORS as the right treatment for Diarrhoea

·         Media dark population: Complement mobile advertising with ground awareness programs. The ‘Parle G Truck’ visited villages and allowed consumers in proximity to the truck to download custom vernacular content via Bluetooth onto their feature phones for free.

·         Influencers: Outbound voice messages in local languages. Brooke Bond drove engagement with tea vendors and tea sellers, through the mobile campaign. Tea vendors in Tamil Nadu, could have conversation with celebrity brand ambassadors via OBDs, have personalised birthday greetings, scholarships for kids and more.

·         Sports enthusiast: India being a country of cricket lovers presents an opportunity to engage with rural consumers through mobile. Kingfisher ran a campaign that capitalised on the IPL season and let fans show their support by giving a ‘missed call’ to a number every time their team scored 4 or 6 runs to score points. 

Brands will combine the reach of mobile with relevant content that appeals to the rural demographic, to create a winning combination that drives brand awareness.

Evaluate marketing with a focus on ROI: Measure what matters

Mobile helps brands to engage directly with the end consumer. Analytics and measurements can also be undertaken at the final consumer level, making them more accurate and free from interpretative or presumptive errors.

Mobile plays a pivotal role in overall marketing plans of digital Startups, Regional players and large brands to run brand awareness campaigns, engagement campaigns and performance campaigns. Reaching out to the rural households through mobile channels and having an interactive flow would help the brands in not just reaching out to the customers but in also understanding them better.

Right measurement capabilities will enable brands to track price elasticity, drive desirable response, stimulate actions and improve understanding of customer behaviour.

Recalibrate now or regret later

The days when India’s metros were the battleground for brands are over. In today’s volatile business environment, India’s rural markets in India hold great promise for businesses aspiring for long-term growth. The era of the rural consumer is slowly unfolding upon us– from the humble beginnings and undiscovered potential, the rural consumer is ready to emerge as the key segment for marketers to fight for. Mobile advertising has the reach, the power of interactive, localized engagement and the power to measure. And mobile phone ads cost less and are more targeted than mass media campaigns.

Mobile, if used with all its firepower, will turn out to be the decisive weapon of mass attraction for brands in their quest to conquer rural markets and help them create greater impact and generate more value for every rupee spent!