According to Mary Meeker’s 2019 Internet Trends Report, India now accounts for nearly 12% of the 3.8 billion global internet users. It means that one out of three Indians now has access to the internet and, as various reports indicate, the number is likely to double within the next two-three years.
An overwhelming majority of the nation’s internet traffic comes from smartphone users, whose numbers have grown stupendously in recent years and are expected to accelerate further. The number of smartphone users in the country has already crossed the 400-million mark and is on its way to touch 829-859 million by 2022 itself.
Driven by increasing affordability of handsets and low-cost connectivity, smartphones have become the primary screen for Indians, especially for gaming, videos and shopping. As a result, mobile is turning out to be a key tool for marketers in this era of digital disruptions.
The online and mobile advertising-spend numbers in India are rising exponentially, with a significant share of the Indian marketers’ budget is being allocated to digital ads.
One of the key drivers of smartphone usage in India is mobile gaming. While India is still not a huge market for console or desktop games, the upsurge of smartphones and dirt-cheap data plans has spurred a mobile gaming revolution in the country. India now ranks among the top five mobile gaming markets in the world, with the number of gamers projected to surpass 500 million by 2020. However, most users do not prefer to pay for games and continue to embrace free-to-play or freemium games such as Fortnite, Candy Crush Saga, Subway Surfers and Clash of Clans, which continue to dominate the charts for downloads and gaming revenues. With less than 1% of freemium game players willing to make in-app purchases, in-game advertisements have become the primary revenue generator for gaming companies and a sought-after promotional platform for brands.
This is just one example of how advertising technology (AdTech) has evolved rapidly and is getting more and more sophisticated to take advantage of new channels and devices to create opportunities for advertisers that connect them with end-users in a number of ways. The coming years will be a defining era for innovations in AdTech, with the following trends in the sector likely to propel engagement and growth for the advertising brands.
These days, more often than not, various brands end up suffering reputational and financial damage resulting from ad placements that are associated with certain types of inappropriate content or activity. Moreover, there are also growing concerns regarding ad visibility and bot activities, which can greatly impact a brand’s RoI on digital advertising. As a result, AdTech will have to tackle these issues with quality ad placements, such as in games where the lack of user-created content protects brands from being connected to unsuitable material, and by offering tools that provide meaningful metrics and data to clients. Therefore, marketing transparency and brand safety are going to be key areas of focus for the AdTech industry for the next few years.
Merely getting users to watch an advert is not going to benefit the advertisers unless it tells a relatable and engaging story. Internet users do like to be told what to buy or what to do, but rather enjoy being entertained, educated and inspired. In the coming years, more and more marketers will move beyond simple product offerings to create unique, personalised and shareable experiences through mobile ads by leveraging data and interactive placements.
Brands can create more engaging experiences by tying up with developers to offer promotional mini-games within the game, giving users a fun way to learn about the product or service. Furthermore, the placement of ads in games gives advertisers access to young demography with little gender parity, who in turn are more than happy to watch the ads than pay for games. With over 86% of gamers comfortable with watching ads in return for in-game rewards in freemium games, there will be a marked increase in such promotions going ahead. This will increase the brand’s visibility among a highly in-demand consumer base without alienating them with unwarranted and intrusive ads.
With the increased importance of data and demand for personalisation, technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will become key tools of innovations in AdTech. It is important to note that the demography and the personalities of players who are playing a certain category of games are strikingly similar in many cases. By using AI, advertisers can easily profile and target their desired customers with relevant products. According to recent research, nearly 40% of advertisers are already using AI tools to improve audience segmentation and optimize their media spends.  This percentage is likely to increase by an additional 30% in the coming years as marketers will make increased use of AI and machine learning tools to offer targeted and creative ads and personalised offers to end users.
Digital marketing channels are witnessing a healthy growth trend in India, with mobile emerging as the preferred medium. Resultantly, the focus of AdTech will continue to be mobile first for next-generation brand building. There will be an increased prevalence of ads which leverage various smartphone features such as the camera technology which can merge real-world experiences with virtual brand placements through Augmented Reality.
However, the spend on mobile ads in India is still low as compared to other media. Brands which are able to take advantage of innovations in AdTech will have the benefit of staying ahead of the curve by connecting at the right time with the right message to the right consumer.
(The author is the COO and co-founder of smartphone gaming platform, Pokkt.)