Asiya Bakht
Oct 15, 2009

All About... Mobile marketing in rural areas

How can marketers use mobile to reach rural consumers?

All About... Mobile marketing in rural areas
With their rising income and education levels, rural consumers are becoming attractive for brands. Big brands are leveraging mobile as a marketing platform since it has the ability to reach large numbers of people in a short duration.

1 The good news about advertising to consumers in rural areas is that they are more receptive to it than their urban counterparts. According to Sandy Agarwal, head of interactive advertising at Nokia, advertising in emerging markets is “often seen more as ‘information I need’, as opposed to being seen as unnecessary noise”, a perception more common in Western markets.

Arun Kumar of Aegis Media thinks that their willingness to embrace mobile marketing might have something to do with a lower exposure to general entertainment content. “It might be because such communication is unique to them. Also the mobile phone might be a lot less personal as compared to urban consumers,” he says.

2 Nokia recently soft-launched Life Tools, a new service for the rural population in Asia that provides educational and agricultural information in entry-level handsets. The language and information has been customised for different regions. As the exercise has been cost-intensive, Nokia will eventually seek to make money from advertising. Starting from India, the service is expected to be extended to the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and China.

3 The first step to successful mobile campaigns in rural areas is understanding how consumers use mobile phones and addressing their requirements through content and services at an affordable price. Experts point out that besides FMCGs who have developed some expertise in this arena, there are very few brands that have an understanding of how rural consumers use mobiles. Agarwal says that brands have to be conscious that rural consumers are quite new to mobile, and they must ensure that the services they provide are useful or entertaining. “Once a brand creates something popular and accessible, they can achieve more reach and more interaction with billions of rural consumers. Given cost of device and access availability, mobile may be a great way to reach and keep rural customers engaged.”

Nokia is currently running trials for a deodorant brand in Vietnam, a shampoo brand in the Philippines and also a male hygiene brand in India, with which it is building a mobile gaming community.

The scope for creative mobile marketing in these areas is currently limited. The basic nature of handsets and 2G networks that most rural areas have pose a problem. Indeed, part of a marketer’s task in this arena could involve helping to educate consumers on the services provided on handsets. “It sounds like a very clichéd formula, but I think it’s best to make the message simple. There is no need for two or three-layered formats,” says Kumar.

Unilever is an example of a brand that has used mobile in rural markets, but its efforts so far have been direct response-driven, using channels such as SMS. Emmanuel Allix, managing director of Pudding Media, says that SMS and ringback tones can be successful formats as they don’t need rich media and WAP applications.

In terms of measurement, direct-response campaigns can be measured by actual take-up. However, more qualitative measures of engagement and preference may be harder to gauge.

4 One major opportunity that skirts any network infrastructure issues is preloading branded applications onto handsets. Given the thirst for entertainment products in these markets, branded games can be a good way to target this market. Agarwal gives the example of a male grooming brand which carried a successful campaign by sponsoring a scoreboard for a cricket game that came bundled on Nokia handsets.

5 A challenge for brands is the mobile chain that such marketing involves. Advertisers have to contend with both handset makers and network operators, adding layers of complexity.

According to Allix, a further challenge for brands could also be finding a mobile channel that is easily targeted. “A large number of people in rural areas use prepaid cards and it is difficult for a brand to be sure if its messages are being received by target consumers.”

What it means for…
- As most consumers in rural areas cannot afford a PC internet connection, mobile offers an opportunity as an affordable digital screen for marketers.

- Even though mobile can reach a large number of people in a relatively short time, advertisers need to have a good understanding of rural consumers and provide them services and content that add value to their lives.

- Marketing in rural areas is not the same as marketing in cities, as most consumers in villages have entry-level handsets and are unable to access WAP and rich-media content. Data charges also need to be minimal for them. Brands need to create innovative content keeping these two things in mind.

Mobile operators
- For handset makers and network operators, mobile consumers represent a huge opportunity to kick-start mobile marketing. They can sell advertisers an increasingly important audience that has little alternative media consumption.

- However, as with all other attempts to sell mobile as a marketing tool, the industry must first overcome a complex infrastructure that is rarely able to sell a joined-up offer to advertisers.

Got a view?
Email [email protected]

This article was originally published in 8 October 2009 issue of Media.

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