Augmented Reality: Marketing Landscapes In India

Posted on May 30, 2013 in Business and Economy

By Ashutosh Singh:

When TOI came up with it’s augmented reality app “Alive”, built in partnership with AdStuck, it created a lot of noise among media and technology circles. Everyone thought it was going to change the print industry like never before. One of TOI’s competitors even took a frantic call and came up with it’s own AR app (Hindustan Times’s H), only to subside later. Sandesh, a regional newspaper published from Ahmadabad, joined the bandwagon by coming up with their AR app called Sandesh Smart, built in partnership with Telibrahma. But by and large, things remained calm. Media experts didn’t see much value in the technology and considered it another bubble which was to bust sooner than later.


Six months later, things have gone quite contrary to what experts had thought and AR market seems to have come out of it’s shell and is all set to fly. Or, at least that’s what the players say. Ashutosh Singh, Business Head, AdStuck, the company behind “Alive” seems bullish on Indian AR market. “Our business has grown some 25-30 times over the last few months.And this is just beginning” he says with a grin on his face. Numbers seem to suggest the same. Last week ,”The Sunday Guardian” did a story suggesting the same.

What exactly is augmented reality and what how much truth is there in it’s India story?

Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world by effectively blurring the line between reality and computer-generated graphics. It enhances what we see, hear, feel and smell and our perception of outside world. From being a scientists’ or researchers’ pet topic, it is fast becoming a subject in boardrooms of marketing departments. With applications ranging from healthcare to aviation to education to construction, there is no question of AR’s place in marketing over the near future.

The future of Augmented Reality is in the mobile space, because that’s where it will be most useful in helping deliver relevant content. But what does it hold for an Indian marketer? Time and again, the Indian consumer has proved a tough nut to crack for the marketer. Will this be any different? Let’s find out with a SWOT analysis on Augmented Reality marketing in India. Though the concept of AR marketing may be more than a decade old, it is still taking baby steps in India. Brands like Hippo and Shoppers Stop have been the pioneers in India in trying out AR marketing.

Some of the strengths we could find are that 97% of urban India owns a mobile, and 23% of them are smartphones. That is a huge number, and it’s growing. Even with the GDP growth touching the lower end of 6%, the long term interest on India as a potential investment destination has never been so high. And, with the policy paralysis getting out of the way with a flurry of reforms, it is only a matter of time before global firms engage directly with the Indian consumer and AR comes to the fore; primarily mainly because AR is a non-traditional marketing channel and helps in generating favourable word of mouth. It is important in this context that word of mouth is generally the best way to reach the Indian consumer who is wary of advertising.

The strength is the story of urban India. Unfortunately, the overall numbers are not so flattering. 65-70 per cent of Indians use feature phones, not smartphones. In that sense, AR may be considered as a self-restricting technology in that it demands smartphones for it to work. Moreover, users require GPRS and 3G in case of videos. Research shows less than 5% of phones in India have both. Again, most recent AR applications require GPS and digital compass and not many phones are built with GPS and digital compass. Lastly, India still has a lot of catching up to do as far as technology innovation is concerned — especially in the advertising and marketing space.

But opportunities do beckon. After all, according to reports, AR is taking off at a much better rate here than in other parts of the world. It is estimated it already has 5 per cent of the traditional media market place. With over 771 million users, mobile phones have formed a great and popular alternative to conventional modes of marketing. In a field like marketing which is looking out for innovation in every possible corner, AR will be an important component of the marketing campaigns of brands that are looking to be pioneers in the digital media space and break the clutter in traditional media. It is an additional benefit that it is cheaper than traditional media. Simply put, it is a cheap cluster buster.

Possible threats are that while Indian AR still is in its nascent stage, there is always a fear of overkill. Current AR marketing requires installation of a special app in a smart phone for every campaign and may not find fans every time whereas the required add-ons are automatically installed in a web browser. The same app may not work on all platforms (iOS, Android, Symbian) uniformly and put off many users.

While at a first look, it may be cheaper than traditional media, the real cost would depend on the features installed and it may well cross offline marketing budgets for a feature heavy application. Successful AR marketing is possible in India only when both hardware and software are seamlessly customized to suit Indian consumers’ tastes and usage patterns. As the Kolaveri phenomenon proved, the ingredients required for a product to go viral in anybody’s guess.