About 127 million Internet users in India consume content in local language: report

Report estimated that digital ad spending in regional languages is expected to touch Rs179 crore

Bengaluru: Take any local language website in India and you have to look hard to find a vernacular ad. Needless to say, English language websites have none in local languages.

This, despite a significant surge in Internet usage in India, especially in regional languages. According to a June report by Internet and Mobile Association of India and market research firm IMRB International, about 127 million, or close to half of the 269 million Internet users in India, consume content in local languages. This was a 47% jump year-on-year.

The same report estimated that digital ad spending in regional languages is expected to touch Rs179 crore, or barely 5% of the projected overall digital ad spending of Rs3,575 crore, by the end of December 2015.

The fact that growth in digital ad spending on vernacular websites has been outpaced vastly by the increase in vernacular Internet user numbers reflects a gloomy on-ground scenario, where publishers and ad-tech companies are struggling to convince advertisers to loosen their purse for local language digital ads.

According to publishers and ad-tech companies, the apathy towards digital ad spending in regional languages continue despite such ads getting at least twice or thrice the clicks compared with an English language ad. To woo advertisers, these companies are even going to the extent of offering to translate the content for them at no additional cost.

“We have always offered the brands to translate the ads for them for free and they can have it verified by somebody else before using it. And they can have it used across the publishers, and not only on our platform, but the brands are yet to bite it in a big way," said B.G. Mahesh, founder and managing director at Greynium Information Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which owns a language portal OneIndia.com.

According to multiple executives in these companies, the apathy towards regional ads does not stem from any technology challenges, but is a ripple effect of an evolving ecosystem. Firstly, the advertisers believe that the return on investment for such ads is not attractive enough. Secondly, though the ad-tech companies have an algorithm in place to predict the users’ language proficiency based on their browsing history and target ads accordingly, there isn’t enough inventory available of ads in regional languages.

Consequently, it becomes a Catch 22 situation for the publishers, as they require the ads to stay afloat and churn out good content, while advertisers look for platforms with ample traffic.

“Regional sites need money to invest in good content, app and site to get reach. The money usually comes from ads. For regional ads to scale, good sites and apps with considerable traffic are required, which, compared to the number of the English apps, is missing," said Upal Pradhan, managing director, Kratos Ads Pte. Ltd, a mobile ad-tech company.

Recognising that digital advertising in regional languages will become important over time, ad tech companies such as Vserv are exploring ways to make a dent in this segment. The company has its employees translate content into Hindi and will experiment with Telugu next, said Ashay Padwal, co-founder of Vserv.

The company plans to source data from telecom operators to correctly identify the languages a user knows. For example, for users who access a telco’s service in Hindi and English, Vserv will serve them ads in both the languages.

According to Karan Mohla, executive director at venture capital firm IDG Ventures, most ad-tech companies are experimenting with Hindi content and the spread of digital ad spending in regional language will hinge on the success of the experiment.

Experts say even though regional ad spending is minuscule right now, it is likely to grow in the coming years as brands engage in location-specific targeted advertisements. Besides, there aren’t many web-only regional language portals—the list includes OneIndia and Newshunt—which restrict the scope for advertisers.

“We did not have thriving local language portals for a very long time. From an advertiser point of view, news portals have a print version. These are online versions of print publications, hence advertisers will go for print as the medium will reach a larger audience," said Karthik Srinivasan, national lead, Social@Ogilvy, Ogilvy & Mather’s social media arm.

Even Google has realized the potential of vernacular ads. In December, the company said Google Display Network would support Hindi ads which will allow Hindi keyword targeting in Google Adwords.

While digital ads need to be translated separately, many major brands such as Parachute, Garnier, Airtel and HDFC Bank, among others, already advertise in regional languages on television channels. The same ads have found their way onto mobile apps, and there too the efficacy of ads improves if it is in a regional language.

“If I show an ad to a south Indian in English, my click-through-ratio (CTR) or the ratio of people who click on an ad, is 1%. When I show a language ad to the user I get a CTR of 11%," said Chirag Shah, co-founder, seventynine, a subsidiary of SVG media Pvt. Ltd, which helps serve video ads on mobile apps.