It is estimated that three-fourths of India’s population—between 750 and 800 million people live in India’s hinterlands. With statistics showing that consumer goods have 30:60 share in favour of rural demand, corporate India is exploring all possible routes to this population, most of which is completely cut off from main-steam media and mass communication. For an advertiser, reaching out to such a target group can be a daunting, if not a challenging and painstaking process, which is why the use of new and emerging technology platforms seems to be the ideal solution.

Technology holds the sacred promise of rapid literacy for emerging India. With low-cost ICT becoming a bastion of change in India, much hangs over the potential of broadband connectivity and affordable tablets. The creation of the larger-than-life National Optical Fibre Network will cost the government Rs 20,000 crore in the first stage. In the meanwhile, London-based Datawind is set to manufacture tablets priced at Rs 2,290, which will become further affordable with student subsidies. This move holds significant repercussions for a population where majority are youth. Rural India is thus poised to be found online by 2014.
A Favourable Nexus of Internet and Mobiles
According to estimates by Internet Mobile Association of India and IMRB International (formerly Indian Market Research Bureau), rural users primarily use the internet for entertainment content; so such sites may be leveraged for advertising more than others. In a bid to reach this population, Google has already developed tools that enable it to display advertisements suited to specific web-users. In time, opportunities like Google’s AdWords and pay-per-click services will gain sure relevance. But while these factors open up the endless possibilities of marketing to rural India, the training ground remains the mobile revolution.
Apps (applications) are turning into reliable tools and resources the world over and their use is expected to gain popularity in India too. From paying bills and purchasing groceries, to reading a newspaper, apps are set to alter day-to-day habits and become bona-fide service offerings to the entire consumer spectrum. App fever has caught on and an increasing number of vernacular, small-town/rural India-specific tools and utilities are becoming available for use. Nokia and Samsung have made formidable strides in this area by encouraging the development of apps that can support a mobile revolution at the grass-roots. For instance, Vinfinet Technologies’ Kisan Raja enables farmers to control their irrigation pumps with a GSM-based controller. At Nokia’s Bhasha 2011 event, Bangalore-based students introduced ‘Pitara,’ which allows rural folk to record and upload their vernacular stories. These stories may then be shared with other users. At this juncture, advertising comes into play by leveraging these services.
A Win-win Situation
For these apps to become truly profitable, developers will need to create free and premium/paid versions for each. Advertisers are already using advertising space provided in the free versions (in-app advertising) to reach consumers. Indeed, with impressive figures of rural mobile penetration, conversion rates among mobile internet ads remain higher than other mediums. An instance would be the Fair and Lovely scholarships campaign promoted through Reliance Mobile that generated about 50,000 leads and was selected as a finalist for the US-based 2007 Mobile Marketing Association Awards. While 60% of the interest came from Tier 2 and 3 cities, only 40% emerged from urban areas. Vernacular clickable banner that linked to a micro-site where interested users could provide their details were created for R World. SMS marketing using short codes and Instant Voice Response system were also employed.
Advertising through this medium has gained phenomenal response in rural India. According to the The BuzzCity Report, a quarterly summary of trends in mobile advertising, mobile ad serve is beginning to gain strength in the rural areas of regions like Uttar Pradesh (7%), Kerala (6%) and Punjab (5%) as of April 2011. With tele-medicine, tele-banking and mobile retail becoming the priority areas of value-added mobile services in India, the prospects for advertising through this medium look bright.

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