With a 300-million mobile subscriber base and 100 million additions a year, India is set to see a mobile marketing explosion, experts say.
"The mobile phone will revolutionise business in India," MV Kamath, managing director and chief executive officer of ICICI Bank, India's largest private lender, told IANS.
ICICI Bank has already begun to drive growth in a big way through the mobile route.
Kamath, however, was referring not only to the direct reach that cell phones provide but also to how they can help businesses cut costs and hike efficiency.
Even then, marketers, brand managers and advertising professionals have begun to realize the unique marketing opportunity that the almost ubiquitous mobile phone offers.
"Mobile is the future," says ad guru Alique Padamsee.
Advertising agency Draft FCB-Ulka's executive director Arvind Wable agrees.
Both believe the mobile phone holds the key to tapping India's huge rural and semi-urban markets.
"Mobile advertising in India can be bigger than Internet advertising in the next three-four years," says Rajesh Jain, managing director of Mumbai-based Netcore Solutions, a mobile marketing pioneer in India.
"As such, everyone benefits. The key lies in publishers creating 'media on mobile' - based on SMS and permission from the subscribers," says Jain.
"But it is just starting. Mobile ad spend is currently estimated to be just about Rs 250-300 million," says Jain.
Mobile marketing is not telemarketing - the kind of calls that disturb people.
Rather, it is the process of sending spam-free, personalised, permission-based marketing messages to receptive consumers through their mobile phones.
The key words here are spam-free, personalized and permission-based. Permission- based advertising is called opt-in advertising in the marketers' lingo.
"It is the future," Jain asserts.
"We term it 'invertising' - invited advertising. We think the blue ocean lies in enabling brands and businesses to build relationships with consumers on the mobile."
Adds Wable: "To make it even more catchy, consumers can be given incentives such as free talk time if they opt for ads."
Typically mobile marketing can be either pull-type where a user requests information from a service provider or advertiser.
Or it can be push-based where marketing communication is sent through short messaging service (SMS) or alerts.
For this the advertiser has to have the consumer's permission.
Netcore does it through its brand MyToday, which offers a bouquet of mobile pone services such as news, stock markets, cricket and health, among several others.
The user has to opt for this free service and he or she gets headlines with a text ad at the bottom of the screen.
Since its launch in 2006, MyToday has hooked more than four million subscribers. At a rate of 300,000 monthly additions, it will hit 10 million in a year, says Abhijit Saxena, Netcore's chief executive officer.
"Operator portal and SMS Advertising are just starting to happen. MyToday has seen over 100 brands use the platform, with over 30 percent of them repeating campaigns," says Jain.
"The overall advertising opportunity is either text-based such as SMS or voice based such as branded caller tune or ring back tunes with ads," says Ajay Gupte, chief of Bangalore-based OnMobile Global Ltd.
Unlike Netcore, which concentrates only on news based opt-in advertising, OnMobile offers an entire gamut of services across all mobile technologies.
The company claims to have a market reach of 350 million and a total of 206 million unique users.
The Hyderabad-based mobile advertising company Way2SMS claims that it currently reaches more than 6.5 million unique users every month.
The real explosion, however, will take place in revenues from value added services, which grew 30 per cent from Rs 28.51 billion in 2006 to Rs 37 billion in 2007.
With 3-G in the offing and the number of large-screen and MMS enabled phones increasing, mobile ad spends are bound to shoot up.
But "agencies and media planners are still taking time to understand the potential," says Jain.
Once they do, no one really knows what will be the real size of the revenue pie.