Ad messages on mobile phones are on the move

Ad messages on mobile phones are on the move

Early this year, Domino’s Pizza found an inventive way to drive home its tag line of “30 minutes or free pizza". It partnered with mobile value-added services (VAS) company Mobile2win India Pvt. Ltd to create a mobile game based on its popular TV commercial. A pizza delivery boy, guided by the gamer, dodges various obstacles set in his path by a devious, animated Paresh Rawal scheming to get a free pizza. In the three months Domino’s ran the campaign, it saw close to 10,000 game downloads.

For Domino’s, it was a brand exercise. For users, a free mobile game.

Marketers in India are increasingly looking at ways to exploit the cellphone as an advertising medium and spends will touch Rs50 crore by March 2009, says Rajiv Hiranandani, co-founder and country head, Mobile2win. At 200 million subscribers, and growing exponentially, this medium can reach a vast populace. Globally, mobile advertising is likely to hit $10 billion (Rs39,800 crore) by 2010, says a study by The Shosteck Group, which has attracted large players such as Google Inc. and Nokia Oyj into this market. Google has extended its Internet ad platform Ad Sense to mobile devices, while Nokia is acquiring mobile advertising firm Enpocket Inc.

The mobile phone as an ad platform combines the broad reach of the television with the measurable results model of the Internet, while being highly personalized. Advertisers are attempting to harness the potential of this nascent medium by offering free branded content, running banner ads on mobile Net sites, and even paying you to get spammed on your mobile phone. Some firms are offering free branded content such as ringtones, wallpapers and games. Branded content aids brand awareness and recall. Impact is not measurable, though, except by the number of downloads.

Like Mobile2win, companies such as People Infocom Pvt. Ltd (operating under the brand name Mauj) and Nazara Technologies Pvt. Ltd are partnering with brands such as McDonald’s, Pepsi and Colgate to incorporate brands into games. “Branded gaming, if done innovatively, is a great way to target the youth," says Hiranandani. The company has developed games for other brands such as Thums-Up, Kellogg’s and Castrol.

The second means of advertising on the mobile platform is an extension of the online advertising model. Advertising on the WAP (wireless access protocol) platform—running banner ads on mobile Internet portals—has been on the rise. The small size of the mobile screen means only one or two ads can be placed per page. So, advertising has to be highly targeted and contextual. Companies such as US-based AdMob, Inc. and Singapore-headquartered BuzzCity Pte Ltd, which coordinate between cellular operators and advertisers to place ads on WAP portals, say the mobile Internet traffic from India has increased over the past 12-18 months.

“India is number one in terms of mobile Internet traffic on our network, and companies are now specifically advertising against India impressions," says Mike Rowehl, senior architect, AdMob, Inc.

More than the big brands, the platform gets ad placements from small and medium companies looking to tap a niche target audience. For instance, one of its advertisers is mobile gaming company Hovr Inc., which has its development centre in Gurgaon, but targets mobile gamers worldwide. Hovr used the ad platform to target users in India and the US, and saw a conversion rate of 5%.

Third, the mobile platform also lets advertisers target users in a highly localized manner. Mumbai-based search advertising start-up mKhoj Solutions Pvt. Ltd offers an SMS-based service, where users can browse for the best deals in their locality. “It’s not intrusive, users search for it. If you’re in Bandra and looking for shoes, you can send us an SMS and you’ll get a list of the top five deals and discounts in shoe stores in Bandra," says Naveen Tewari, CEO, mKhoj. The company has tied up with 15,000 stand-alone shops and retail chains in Mumbai to allow users to search for deals across various categories.

The scope is huge, though companies are treading cautiously currently. Mobile VAS player OnMobile Global Ltd has been observing the space for more than a year and is biding its time. Currently, it is using mobile marketing strategies in a limited way. For instance, it tracks users’ ringtone download patterns and offers ringtones suited to their taste. “The ad inventory on the mobile platform is very large. It has to be used intelligently, or there will be consumer backlash, which could hurt the business," says Arvind Rao, CEO, OnMobile.