Opinion: Tracing the evolution of content in mobile advertising

Mobile advertising content

Moneka Khurana, Country Head, MMA India dissects the world of mobile advertising, through the lens of evolving content and fast-paced technological advancements.

Mobile advertising has evolved largely over the last two decades. From the first advertisement made on this platform in 1997 via SMS, to personalised and highly engaging ads that we are exposed to, mobile advertising content has undergone several makeovers to reach where it is currently. The first few advertisements that appeared on mobile phones were naturally through SMS alerts from tele-callers and marketers, followed by click-bait browser ads on mobile browsers.

Enter – Smartphones

After the launch of smartphones in 2007, it received widespread negative feedback from consumers. While SMS usage continued, ad content for smartphones was only created in 2008, with the launch of the App Store that gave marketers a medium-specific to the platform they desired to advertise on — mobile apps.

Marketers realised that there was a dire need to create ‘mobile-first’ content in order to utilise this new platform, causing a great shift in how mobile ad content was created and placed on mobile apps. With the growth of these apps and technological advancement, marketers soon had access to details through various apps consumers interacted with, allowing them to have real-time access to almost every piece of information about their users, from their likes and dislikes to even buying habits.

Internet users in India are said to reach 627 million in 2019 itself, with 251 million of these being active users from rural India. Mobile penetration is said to reach 90% by 2022, with all age, gender, social demographics using mobile phones. With such depth of reach to tap into, here are some creative ways in which marketers are changing content to fit each consumer perfectly.

Missed calls

Mobile penetration may be rising immensely but not every person owns a smartphone or knows how to use one. Marketers found out that missed calls and SMS alerts have a great reach and impact on the rural population of India. The use of simple keypad mobiles is very high even today, and these consumers have little to no access to the internet, OTT platforms, or any other channels most marketers use today.


To tap into this market, HUL created a ‘missed call’ campaign for Active Wheel with All India Radio across UP and Bihar. The listeners were encouraged to give a missed call to a toll-free number and were given a call back where they heard humorous snippets of conversations between a husband and wife. The campaign was widely successful and is seen as one of their largest mobile activation campaigns in what was then still a largely dark part of India in terms of connectivity.

Also Read: Exploring ‘Mobile Pe Dolby Hai Kya’ with Ashim Mathur, Dolby Laboratories

Social Media

Various Indian marketers feel that using social media apps like Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, even TikTok for that matter, for ad content placement may not be the best method of reaching today’s highly ‘ad-allergic’ audiences — but this is not so. The trick is to blend into the mobile app platform itself. When ad content becomes a part of the very app, users are bound to see those ads just like any other feed, giving rise to new methods of advertising with different content. Social media apps provided insights into likes, dislikes, and gave rise to followings so large that ‘influencers’ emerged as a concept and almost unavoidable method of reaching out to a targeted, geo-located, audience. Social Media has created a way of using the consumer as a type of platform to reach out to other audiences through interactions, paid promotions, etc.

In-app Advertisements

Mobile apps now allow users to create their own brands on the platforms. Almost every app — be it music, pictures, content generation, even food ratings, allows a user to ‘follow’ other users. Not only social media, but even streaming platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime serve as advertising platforms, for which marketers have begun to create short, personalised video content focusing on the emotional impact that visuals have on the viewers. In-app ad platforms provide marketers with a window to see into what otherwise would be seen as a ‘walled garden’, giving them a chance to be an integral part of the platform the consumer is on, and being exactly in the right place at the right time.

Regional Content

Languages and dialects change every few 100 kilometres in India. Marketers have realised that even though they can easily reach consumers through various screens in today’s hyper-connected world, language is still a huge barrier. The launch of regional languages on search engines and OTT platforms has worked highly in favour of the marketers. Bharat is currently shaping up to be the new face of India, and marketers must increase their focus and penetration into its market in order to tap into them as a potential consumer base. A study by InMobi states that over the next five years, 9/10 new internet users will use their regional language or local dialects to access and surf the internet for various uses.

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Personifying a Brand

Similar to how Xerox became synonymous to photocopying, marketers in India have been successful in creating ads that showcase their products as part of consumer’s daily life necessities. Paytm is a brilliant example – even their tagline, ‘Paytm Karo’ presents the brand name as a verb in itself – which leads to the consumer eventually incorporating it into their lives as an action, and not just an application. ‘Paytm an amount’ is understandable lingo today, and with the widespread marketing done by the brand post demonetization, the act of cashless transactions was almost synonymous with the company.


Other examples of such deep-market penetration are m-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart, food delivery apps like Zomato and Swiggy, and video-streaming OTT platforms like Voot and Hotstar, whose regional and original content gained immense traction with audiences in India. These apps have replaced old methods of consuming media, making everything accessible and available anytime, anywhere and hence becoming almost indispensable for present-day consumers.

According to CISCO, more people will have access to mobile phones than electricity, running water or cars by 2020, and research by Experience Dynamics stated that 71% of online publishers claimed, “well-formed mobile content” can significantly boost user engagement. Mobile is rapidly becoming the fastest, effective and personalised platform for marketers and as market penetration grows, the demographics and classifications of target audiences will change. Mobile ad content has come a long way from the first SMS advertisement, and though the SMS’s value may never cease to exist, the evolution of content for mobile advertisements must be an ongoing process that moves in sync with the changing dynamics of the consumer universe.

This article has been authored by Moneka Khurana, Country Head, MMA India.



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