It's two o'clock in the morning in Munirka, a village in South Delhi. Except for the occasional barking of a stray dog and a solitary truck rumbling through the streets, all is silent. But at the neighbourhood cyber café, life has just begun.
A few young men are waiting their turn at the terminal. Bored, their eyes seek diversion. It's the same crowd as yesterday. It'll be the same crowd tomorrow. And the week after. A crowd that comes in and stays for hours on end. And when they are not surfing, or when they are waiting for a site to 'open', their eyes wander.
According to market research, this is the best time to flag their attention. Clever advertising could convince them to buy something, perhaps online. It's a potential goldmine that advertisers and direct marketers are slowly waking up to. "Cyber cafés are fast emerging as a social point," says Bhupendra Mathur, senior vice president and country manager, eTechnologygroup@IMRB. "And in a city like Delhi, which does not have many places where young people can hang out, cyber cafés are a new medium for reaching out".
Needless to say, what is advertised is important. Products that spur impulse purchase, for instance. Analysts feel that advertising houses or cars does not make much sense, while on the other hand, gifts or greeting card advertisements have high potential. "The best type of offline advertising in a cyber café is that of low-tech products that can be ordered online. The power of association is strong, and, if it is impulse buying, it is likely that people will order online," explains Manosh Markos, general manager, TBWA Anthem Interactive.
In this respect, cyber café marketing is similar to supermarket marketing, with brand recall, shelf space and instant availability the most important factors. Of course, with most surfers being conscious of security, major purchases that involve punching out credit card numbers on the terminals at cyber cafes are not likely to happen. So, as a solution, banks such as Citibank are coming up with electronic credit cards, with very low credit limits, that can be used to carry out smaller transactions.
The number of cyber cafés too is growing manifold. With few Indians capable of owning a PC, the number of Internet access points (cyber cafes) determines the growth of Internet. And both the private sector and the government are setting up cafes by the dozens. Estimates by the IMRB show that in the top 16 Indian cities, about 43 per cent of active Net users use cyber cafés as the key access point. The all India figure is pegged at 35 per cent. With Internet usage growing at a rate of 77 per cent every year, by 2004, an estimated 40 million people could be on the Net.
Advertising at cyber cafes benefits the small-time café owners too. To turn a profit, an average cyber café needs at least seven computers, with the major cost being the real estate or rental. Tying up with a big FMCG manufacturer or ISP provider - which takes care of the real estate costs, in return for exclusive advertising rights - is an option that is a fast-emerging alternative. And eager to cash in on the expected boom, residents in some areas are converting their homes into one-to-four-PC cyber cafes.
Another emerging trend is the coming of e-governance. Official reports speak of an intention to set up a million cyber cafes by 2005, with the government planning to upgrade PCO booths into Internet cafes. And, of course, giant initiatives have been taken up by the Satyams, the Dishnets, the Junction 96s and the HCL Comnets. However, some analysts say that though this could mean 157 million claimed users by 2004, advertising in all cyber cafes may not translate into good marketing strategy, especially in rural areas. Even if rural people flock to the cafés, they may not be ordering online. "Cyber café advertising should focus on what Sec A people, who are more or less comfortable with ordering on the Net, need. There is no point in advertising soaps at a café," says a Delhi-based media analyst.
If cyber café advertising has not taken off, it's because with low bandwidth and the absence of e-commerce. But now all that is changing. For marketers, there are several ways of pushing a product. Bulk hours can be purchased in cyber cafes. Product promotions and incentive schemes for cyber café owners can be organised. Technology is also bound to change things. Internet browsing centres will slowly change into distribution outlets for products such as Internet packages, computer accessories, stationary items and gifts. Independent cyber cafes are expected to undergo some form of consolidation. Business models such as franchise and affiliate options are expected to hold sway among the café owners.
The young men and women in Munirka have an exciting time ahead.
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