New Delhi: Piya Ghose, 25, thought a friend was playing a prank on her when a text message on her mobile phone suggested she visit a website to find herself a partner. It was no prank.
Her friend, in fact, was one of the many mobile users who volunteer space in their mobile text messages for advertisements in exchange for several incentives such as lesser tariff for value-added services and enhanced features on their mobile phones.
With an ever-growing population of mobile phone users in India, advertisers see the handset as a potential medium for reaching consumers with their targeted messages. “Unlike television and print, mobile phones provide a much more focussed and assured access to consumers,” says Subho Ray, president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, or IAMAI. “One always knows that one’s ad has been seen by the consumer, which is not the case with TV or print.”
Text advertising: With an ever-growing number of mobile phone users in India, advertisers see the handset as a medium with high potential. (Photo: Sondeep Shankar/Bloomberg)
To be sure, mobile phones are not a new phenomenon in India and advertisers have been experimenting with the medium, albeit cautiously. “We realize that the mobile is a powerful tool in targeting consumers but we are cautious in tapping the medium because it could amount to intrusion in consumers’ private space,” says Sajid Shamim, executive director, marketing, Reebok India Co.
To tap this growing medium while managing the challenge of spamming, many a young SMS (short messaging service) marketing company has come up with technology and plans that deliver the goods to both advertisers and consumers.
Companies such as SMS 2.0 of Affle India Pvt. Ltd, SMS GupShup of Webaroo Technology India Pvt. Ltd, SMS MyToday of Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd, Vakow Technologies Pvt. Ltd and mGinger of Gingersoft Media Pvt. Ltd say they provide a “legitimate” platform for advertisers who want to reach the 270 million mobile users of India.
“Historically, mobile marketing companies have had a reputation of being intrusive as they spam users with content they don't care about and share database without permission,” says Beerud Sheth, co-founder and president of Webaroo’s GupShup. “But we offer users the option to choose the kind of messages they would want to get. That way, we are no different from a newspaper or television since these mediums, too, provide content along with ads.”
Affle’s SMS 2.0 technology, which once a consumer downloads free from its website, replaces the phone’s existing SMS system with a default browser that installs features such as colours, emoticons, icons, and signature in the user’s text messages. In return, users have to lend the bottom space in their message box for advertisements.
The company says these messages relate to interests users are asked to indicate during registration. “By installing SMS 2.0 technology, customers get to upgrade their SMS. In return we get space in their message box to sell to advertisers,” says Anuj Kumar, executive director for South Asia at Affle.
SMS GupShup, another mobile marketing company, offers users the option to create their own mobile communities. The company allows these user-created communities to send SMSs or micro-blogs to the entire group for the price of one. In return, the consumers have to agree to accept advertisements.
“It’s a unique arrangement where advertisers get an opportunity to target specific group of consumers with specific interests and consumers, besides getting the kind of commercial information they want, save money on messaging,” says Sheth.
Similarly, SMS MyToday offers consumers a free messaging service that provides consumers daily updates in areas of their interest. In these updates, however, it smartly incorporates ads and consumers don’t complain about it because the service is free. “On an average, SMS updates will contain 160 characters, of which 70 characters belong to an ad,” says Abhijit Mukherjee, chief executive of Netcore Solutions
mGinger even offers users money to allow marketers to flood their inbox with advertisements. “Our users get paid 25-30 paisa per SMS, which typically earns them close to Rs30 at the end of the month,” says Debashis Mohanty, senior business development officer at mGinger.
These companies are not only gaining consumers but also finding advertisers who are willing to play ball. Webaroo says it has registered 300,000 communities formed by close to 7 million users. It has also signed on around 50 advertisers including big names such as PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd, PVR Cinemas Ltd and Microsoft Corp.
Similarly, mGinger claims to have 250 advertisers on board, including Pantaloon Retail India Ltd, Reebok India and Cleartrip Travel Services Pvt. Ltd.
The company’s 1.5 million consumer base is built through a registration process in which consumers specify their interests and the maximum number of ads they would like to receive in a single day. “This way users get to choose the ads they receive and advertisers reach the right demographic without being intrusive,” Mohanty says.
Affle claims to have built a consumer base of 500,000 in the past six months, and has signed 16 leading advertisers such as Nike Inc., Britannia Industries Ltd, ICICI Bank Ltd, PepsiCo Holdings, and Board of Control for Cricket in India’s Indian Premier League.
Mobile advertising is cost-effective as well, besides providing advertisers a targeted access to consumers.
The mobile marketing companies charge advertisers anything between Rs5 lakh and Rs20 lakh a month for their campaigns.
Even as advertisers become more comfortable with the idea of reaching consumers through the platform, some experts sound out a word of caution.
“The mobile is a very personalized instrument and it is easy for consumers to have a negative impression of a brand if its message is not right or is not perceived in the right light,” said IAMAI’s Ray. “Marketing companies will have to be careful as they move forward to exploit the handset for advertising.”