Smartphone penetration in India is at its peak in the country and it is the fastest growing smartphone market in Asia. A recent research by IDC said, “Smartphone sales in India are expected to reach 80.57 million units by the end of this year.” Also the sales would continue to grow at a CAGR of about 40 percent over the next five years.
This was supported by yet another report by Morgan Stanley on India’s telecom sector which states that with the growing penetration of smartphones in India, data subscribers are likely to grow an average 25% every year to reach 519 million by 2018 fiscal.
Last year Mumbai-based financial advisory firm Avendus Capital had stated that India has 50% or more mobile-only internet users. It further stated that India could possibly be the highest worldwide compared to 20-25% across developed countries.
All these studies clearly reveal that the country which lost on the computer race is not going to miss the mobile revolution. Pundits state that the next economy is the Mobile Economy - one of the very reasons why Facebook’s Founder Mark Zuckerberg paid $19 billion for the WhatsApp buyout.
Voice and messaging are the big thing in emerging markets and India is one of them. Earlier during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, WhatsApp Founder Jan Koum had stated in an interview that, “India is important… we want all smartphone users (in India) to be on WhatsApp. Then if that number is a billion, then it’s a billion. Currently, (it’s) over 40 million. So we still have some way to go before we hit a billion.”
WhatsApp, the world’s most popular messaging app with 500 million global users today has more than 50 million active users from the country. This fan following of the app till now has come at zero cost with zero advertising budget.
With the leader almost sorted in India, the race is to be the second most popular messaging app. The list includes the home grown messaging app - Hike followed by global players like WeChat, Line and Viber who have seen potential in the proliferating mobile market.
With not much difference in the service offerings, all these messaging apps have invested heavily in advertising. Powered with social media, all these messaging companies have had celebrity endorsement and TVC launch to grab the eyeballs of the youth in the country.
WeChat, the Chinese messaging app from Tencent states that it has 355 million monthly active users worldwide (March, 2014) with a major dominance in China; it has been one of the strong competitors of WhatsApp globally. WeChat landed in India in 2012 after the messaging app had witnessed initial success in China.
To get the ball rolling the company chose the tried and tested way of celebrity endorsement. WeChat India tied up with young stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan as brand ambassadors. Followed by it, WeChat India launched a 30-sec TVC on social to launch the brand ambassadors as well as to promote the feature of voice chat.
Simultaneously, WeChat India launched a contest “WeChatter” Facebook contest. The objective of the contest was to create maximum buzz about the new TVC. The contest asked fans to share the latest video on their page, tag maximum friends and send a screenshot of the whole activity ASAP. The fastest entries were given surprise hampers. Even though it wasn’t a great idea, the objective of maximum reach for the new TVC was achieved.
WeChat, which has been the fastest growing messaging app globally and in India has changed its marketing strategy. With its focus on innovative localized features, the app has launched four new TVCs. All these TVCs that promote the app’s latest features have gotten rid of Bollywood celebrities.
The TVCs have a freshness that is pepped up by the rural accent of a Jaat boy who uses English to communicate while explaining the latest features in a funny manner. Quite a change for the brand.
Hike, the messaging app built in India by Bharti Soft Bank, a joint venture between Bharti Enterprises and Japanese operator SoftBank, also Hike’s parent company, has had a tough time after WhatsApp got acquired by Facebook.
The app which recently revealed that it has 20 million registered users had re-branded itself to a Youth Messaging app. The company stated that since over 80% of its users are under 25 years of age, it is safe to assume that it is becoming a popular app among youth.
Launched globally in 2012, the company has focused solely on youth and has portrayed them in its ads too. In fact the app recently launched a fresh new TVC taglined ‘Hike up your life’ in which the messaging app tries to convince the youth to ‘Switch to Hike, no more Whatscrap’!
Speaking about the campaign, Kavin Bharti Mittal, Head of Product and Strategy at Hike Messenger, said that the app has been built to bridge the existing gaps in the instant messaging space and is now ready to grow.
“We are now ready to amplify our reach to more users through our full-fledged brand and marketing campaign. ‘Hike Up Your Life’ is a call to the youth of India, to experience a messaging app that is made with their needs in mind,” he stated.
It remains to be understood what existing gaps Hike is trying to fill but the TVC is trying its best to influence WhatsApp users.
The Japan based LINE Messenger, the mobile messaging app backed by Line Corp, a unit of South Korea’s biggest Internet search provider NHN Corp was launched in the second quarter of 2013. The app that states to have more than 15 million registered users in the country had launched itself with two TVCs targeting the youth. One of the TVC promoted the free voice chat feature of the app and the other TVC focused on Stickers or rich emoticons communication.
Having stayed away from Bollywood endorsements initially, it gave up in the last quarter of 2013 and roped in popular Bollywood Actress Katrina Kaif. The TVC launched during Diwali saw Katrina promoting the free voice and video call feature of the app.
Besides Line also introduced free India-exclusive stickers featuring photographs of Katrina Kaif. In addition to this partnership Line also tied up with Sony India to pre-install the app on their flagship smartphone, the Xperia Z1 and Xperia C.
Recently Line joined hands with Bollywood movie promotions, a path that has been already walked by WeChat India. Line tied up with the latest Bollywood comedy movie, Humshakals and released a co-branded TVC. Line also created an official account and stickers for fans to have fun.
Not sure if the Bollywood endorsement has helped Line in spiking users in the country. There hasn’t been any recent announcement on Line’s user base.
The other dominant player is Viber. Starting its operations in the country in December 2013, the app has more than 17 million registered users and is now investing into doubling its user base by year end with localized content.
Viber that got sold to e-commerce company Raukten for $900 million earlier this year, has yet not invested money in TVCs in the country. However, in a CSR initiative Viber India has joined hands with Yuwa to promote football among young girls from villages to help them transform their life.
The marketing budgets have been heavy. “But will it help messaging companies to soar users?” is a question that has no immediate answers. The fight for the second most popular messaging app is on and we will have to wait for the jury to be out.
Meanwhile WhatsApp is targeting voice and the competition is only going to get dirty with the consumer smiling.