Analysis: Mobile advertising continues strong growth in India, but ecosystem hurdles remain

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Mobile is gaining some serious traction with video and native advertising formats leading digital spend in India in 2016. Much of that is due to an interplay of factors such as improved 3G and 4G in rural areas across the country as well as an evolution in mobile technologies and advertising technologies. Indeed, the latest research from the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), in association with Indian media marketer GroupM, highlights that mobile is now the third largest mass media in India when it comes to ad spending.

Mobile is one of the few technologies that has managed to surpass the human population, with more mobile connections in 2014 than population. India has been at the forefront of this growth, adding 60m subscribers in 2015. That’s a 20% increase over 2014. Whilst most mobile users in the country are still using dual sim cards, unique mobile subscribers have grown to 68% in 2015.

Mobile surpasses population

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However, that is bound to change by 2017, when there will be more smartphones than feature phones in the country.

The rise of the smartphone

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Given that mobile phones outnumber TVs in the country, marketers should be on their feet to cater adverts that are specific to mobile tech devices.

Priya Nair, Executive Director, Hindustan Unilever, explains:

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“With an increase in the penetration of the mobile in the rural arena we have seen a massive rise in content consumption through mobile in these areas. There is no doubt that mobile marketing campaigns by brands are enabling new avenues to reach out to consumers in rural India and gain a surge in sales. The key lies in identifying the right opportunity and implementation.”

Where there are smartphones, there are apps. Indians downloaded 9 billion apps last year. However, slow connections and download speeds are still hampering app growth compared to China, Indonesia, the US or Philippines. Right now, the majority of apps downloaded are still free (95%), but paid app revenue is forecast to reach $318m this year.

Leading app download destinations 2015 in %

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Meanwhile brands and marketers have been busy developing apps to engage with consumers, particularly within services including eCommerce, media and BFSI. Of those who have not yet developed an app, 80% announced plans to do so this year.

App advertising seems to be working too with 25% of app installs following ads viewed. The research noted that for every paid install, a developer can expect to see an additional 1.5 organic installs. This can be attributed to word of mouth and spreading app awareness.

With the Indian consumer now spending a majority of his/her time on mobile, the medium has become an important tool for advertisers to engage. Mobile ad spending in India is set to reach Cr. 4,200 this year, making up a significant share of total digital spending in the country.

Mobile ad spend has almost doubled in India from 2015 to 2016

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Publishers have already noted an increase in mobile device viewing times of 55% in 2016. 90% of content uploads on viewing platforms also originated from mobile devices. Ultimately, this could pave the way for native and video formats to dominate spending on mobile over the next few years. Consumers tend to view native ads 53% more often than traditional display ads. Mobile audio and video streaming apps have also garnered over 100m monthly active users in India.

However, growth is still significantly halted by marketers’ unfamiliarity with the medium, a general lack of expertise and best practices, but also a good grasp on ROI.

Reasons for slow growth in mobile ad adoption

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Amarjit Singh Batra, CEO, OLX South Asia, says:

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“With over a billion mobile subscribers in India, mobile marketing revolution is just about to begin. The size of population coming on mobile will make data driven marketing a norm for brands. While developments in the mobile technology such as high data speed, better form factor on the back of 4G roll out will guide marketers to bring innovative content and consumer experience. At its core, mobile marketing will center around skillful and impactful storytelling.  Marketers need to focus on delivering high impact messaging topped by the right mobile experience, to narrate a brand’s story in an immersive way.”

Mobile has become an unavoidable platform in advertising. Despite lagging behind more popular marketing mediums TV and Print, brands can’t ignore the fast growth in mobile. Indeed, high engagement rates should make it a core focus for most businesses and brands in the near future. It appears that the country’s history in storytelling is having a particular influence on the mobile advertising format and makes video formats an attractive solution.

Preeti Desai, Country Manager, Mobile Marketing Association India, concludes:

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“Marketers are aware that mobile is arguably the closest you can get to the consumer with its powerful promise of ‘immediacy’. The consumer is getting steadily used to everything in the ‘now’ with regards to content, commerce, information or utilitarian. This very concept of immediacy has transformed the mobile into a tool of action and transaction in a single swipe, click, call, tap or even a shake. With fast-rising marketing spends, it is imperative to get the science of mobile marketing right, as the use of the mobile medium continues to become more pervasive.”