The mobile application or app business is large. Everyone's constantly going on about apps. If you come across a brand you have never heard of, odds are an app for it exists. But here's what is interesting: Most apps are free. And for all its largeness, the app world is an unfair, winner-takes-all one. It is clearly not a game for everyone. But everyone's playing.
Typically brands promote their apps on the digital medium. Of late though, a lot of online businesses have taken to TV to promote their newly-launched Android and iOS mobile apps. Online classifieds site OLX has launched an ad campaign that highlights the simplicity of its mobile app; the tagline is 'Ab phone ko banao Sell-phone'.
Bus ticket booking site RedBus.in recently launched a TVC to promote its a mobile app, one that gives users the opportunity to book bus tickets on the go. The latest TVC by LINE, a free call and messaging app, conveys that 1,500 paid stickers have been earmarked to be given away to all LINE users in India.
Few months back, we saw chat apps like WeChat and Hike fight it out on TV. This begs the question - Why TV? And why now?
Different App, Different Purpose
For a category as young as this one, advertising on TV is tricky because there is no blueprint to refer to. Nevertheless, online players have found their own reasons to do it.
Amarjit Singh Batra, CEO, OLX India, points out that there is a large number of "potential app users" who are not online as yet; for them, the mobile phone is the most likely "gateway to the internet." To catch them, he insists, one needs to be on TV. OLX's ad about converting a cell phone into a 'Sellphone' targets anyone who has "selling capabilities and a mobile phone," as Batra puts it.
"We want to be 'right there' whenever they come online, which is most likely to happen through mobile," he says. In March 2014, OLX.in crossed a billion page views, of which 70 per cent came from the mobile medium. Moreover, 60 per cent of the listings on OLX come through this medium.
Batra has a point. In India, many people are just about beginning to surf the internet on their cell phones. That's probably one of the reasons brands are rushing to promote their apps on TV. While they're at it, they'll probably do well to clarify some of the misconceptions about surfing the net through a phone. For example, it would be interesting to find out how many smartphone users know that an app is not the only way to access content on the net on their phone, and that regular browsers serve the same purpose. Or that it is easier for a brand to get a captive virtual audience when the online content in question is accessed through an app than through a browser.
For Flipkart, TV advertising serves another purpose: spreading the practice of mobile shopping or m-tailing in India. Apprehensions around the quality of the shopping experience on a small screen exist but brands are working towards minimising them. Says Shoumyan Biswas, senior director, brand marketing, Flipkart, "Mobile shopping is small in India and app shopping is even smaller. The challenge is to make mobile shopping a habit in the country. For this, we need TV." Flipkart claims 25 per cent of its daily transactions are done on mobile devices.
Consider the case of Snapdeal: Until a year ago, mobile-based transactions formed just five per cent of Snapdeal's total orders. But over the last three months, a whopping 50 per cent of Snapdeal's sales have taken place through this medium. Of these mobile-based transactions, 45 per cent come through the brand's app while 55 per cent come through the mobile site. This division is not too far from overall industry trends, say experts, as more people are likely to actually transact through their mobile phones today than they previously were.
However, on Snapdeal, the ticket size of orders (value of transactions) placed through the mobile app is higher than that of orders placed through the mobile site. As far as operating systems go, Android accounts for 80 per cent of Snapdeal's 'app traffic', and iOS for 20 per cent.
"Both, our ability to build browser and device specific experiences, as well as our new features meant to enhance a user's experience of our site on the mobile platform, have played a role in driving this growth for us," says Ankit Khanna, vice president, product management, Snapdeal.com.
As with all hot topics, this one too has a counter-perspective: Some experts like Alok Jain, chief marketing officer, Zomato (an app that helps one discover eateries in a given locality) believe it is a misconception that a mobile app needs TV in order to succeed in India. "In today's socially driven world, every marketing channel has its merits and demerits that vary depending on your product/service. The marketing objective, the problem the product is solving and the TG should all be considered before pushing any campaign. This holds true for TV ads too," he asserts.
Whether an app is downloaded has a lot to do with the technological specifications of the phone. Apps are heavy and many smartphone users in India face the problem of space. Brands ought to worry about whether the phones out there are equipped to support their apps.
Weight (of apps) is also probably why many online brands develop HTML5 mobile sites, which provide users with an online experience that is similar, but not identical, to that afforded by an app. This is where related aspects such as 'responsive design' come into play: some sites are built to 'respond to' the size of the mobile screen and 'adjust/fit themselves' accordingly.
A related issue is that of internet connectivity. This becomes a problem in the absence of wifi in the TV viewer's immediate surroundings (say, his living room). Sans wifi, even free apps ultimately cost the downloader money because of the sheer bandwidth consumption. But those in the business have found a workaround.
Damandeep Singh Soni, head, India, LINE, recommends making apps that are low on bandwidth consumption while being downloaded. "We have observed that whenever we launch a TVC, our user numbers surge. It is obvious that people try to download the app just after seeing the TVC. Hence it is imperative to have a light app so that the user can avail it despite his/her data connection," he says.
Speaking of this instant call-to-action that TV leads to, it's probably worth finding out whether brands ought to do away with the 'SMS layer' that often stands between watching the ad and getting the app.
On an average, the cost per acquisition (the amount a company pays to acquire one user) per app is around Rs 100 to Rs 120 for iOS apps and Rs 30 to Rs 50 for android apps.