GroupM's Mindshare, along with Cosmic Information and Technology Limited, has launched a technology that promises to help brands connect in a personal way—and at scale—with consumers in rural India who lack internet access of any kind.
The system, referred to as an "audio conferencing bridge" and dubbed mSamvaad ("samvaad" means "dialogue" in Hindi) may not sound inspiring at first glance. But the ability to speak to 25,000 consumers at a time in media-dark areas, with some two-way interaction possible, is anything but boring for consumer-product companies seeking growth.
The system enables what is in essence a massive audio conference call. Opted-in consumers can join from any phone, even a feature phone or a landline. The recipients are on mute while a live presentation takes place or a recordng is played, but the system allows a moderator to selectively unmute individuals in order to take questions, if the brand desires.
Niraj Ruparel, national head of mobile with Mindshare India, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that after two years building the carrier-grade technology necessary to make it work, the system is now ready for rapid deployment by brands. "There are multiple brands who are planning to use mSamvaad in their upcoming campaigns to connect and interact with their consumers," he said.
Living on voice
Mindshare estimates that 450 million of India's active SIM cards are in feature phones, and of those, only 9% are connected to internet service, Ruparel said. "The rest are living on voice."
Moreover, said Ruparel—who won Cannes Lions metal in 2019 for Lifebuoy's Infection Alert System and was just named to Campaign Asia-Pacific's 40 Under 40 for 2019—it's difficult to overstate the power of voice to influence people across India's more than 625,000 small villages.
"Every one of us prefers verbal communication over any other medium as it provides flexibility to express views very easily," he said. "Until now, there was no such platform available which can connect masses through this most preferred medium."
Mindshare's vision is that the system will help brands further leverage the investments they already make in celebrity endorsements, Ruparel said. Celebrities can not only help attract people in rural areas to opt in to receive an upcoming call but also deliver powerful influence when they do. "If a celebrity calls them, they take it very seriously," Ruparel said.
In the system's first big trial, for GSK's Horlicks in the Indian state of Bihar, 29% of participants listened through to the end of a 10-minute presentation where Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan discussed a new product variant's superior nutrient absorption, according to the companies. The brand later observed an 81% recall rate for the new variant and its benefits, as well as a 12% increase in reported usage.
Vikram Bahl, GSK's area marketing lead for nutrition called the project a "laudable initiative". "We have always undertaken efforts to create awareness around holistic nutrition, especially in rural areas, and this was a great opportunity for us to achieve our objective," Bahl said in a release. "We look forward to many such innovations in technology that can help us deliver intended message to rural markets.”