I remember those days, about three years back, when the video song ‘Why this kolaveri di’ created a lot of buzz in my college campus. The word of mouth publicity that this song brought went so viral through the digital media that not only was it a sensation in Tamil Nadu, but also outside it, including few countries abroad. That is the power of digital media which can enable even the promotion of a movie via one song!

Digital marketing, as the name suggests, uses electronic media to promote its products and services and get info in real time. Ever since its inception in 1990s, digital marketing has undergone tremendous sophistication to create that “wow factor” for the consumers, but what is yet to be done is tap the alluring 83.3 crore market- rural India.

Why surf through India’s rural growth tide?

Digital marketing is mainly possible because of internet, and when the internet penetration is as low as 6.7% in rural India, why shouldn’t brands still stick to traditional means of marketing? The answer lies in the opportunities that megatrends allude to. McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) has identified 12 disrupting technologies that would have a major impact on stakeholders in the next decade, and one of them is mobile internet. According to their metric, the current estimates of mobile internet users in India are 100-300 million and the realistic aspiration for 2025 is 700-900 million. What this means to marketers is that there is and will be a surge in the mobile internet usage in rural India as affordable smart phones galore with growth even faster than urban India. Even campaigns such as idea’s ‘No ullu banaoing’ instigate them to use mobile internet. This might in turn cannibalize usage of internet on PC, but nevertheless, there is a huge opportunity for the digital marketers via the mobile phones.

The biggest benefit of digital marketing is its reach, even to consumers who don’t have access to mass media due to lack of electricity. HUL’s campaign for the brand awareness of Active Wheel in rural is the best example of a successful and viral marketing via low end feature phones. They realized that sms and apps could not be used and typical on ground activities were expensive and annual in nature, so a toll free number was promoted and the consumers were asked to give a missed call to receive an auto generated call back with snippets of humorous content. About three million people engaged with the brand with significant increase in top of mind score and what more! Sales doubled from 40% to almost 80%. In short this campaign proves that to strengthen their hold on rural segment, marketers need to invest on digital. This also means that companies can extricate themselves from the red ocean in urban India and carve out a niche before its competitors by shifting their focus towards rural.


Case in Point: Can rural India open doors for social media?

Yes it can provided there is an inclusive model of internet connectivity. Gram Vaani is an organization that works to promote social media exclusively to bottom of the pyramid. It is a voice based network, based on Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system but giving an experience equivalent to face book, you tube and twitter. Discussions revolve around farming, local news, government announcements, and even entertainment. Platforms like these are the ones that should be a feast for the eyes of digital marketers. Let’s take an example of a campaign to show how digital route really has a power to supersede the traditional way of campaigning in small towns and villages. Volkswagen launched a new car in a small town of Rayalseema in AP. The agency called Insight Connect launched an event there and created a face book page and urged people to check it for getting additional info. One family that attended the event wanted to know pricing details. The influencers for them were the acquaintances on face book!

The bottlenecks

The examples seen above seem to portray that digital marketing is easily plausible, then why isn’t it rampant? Digital marketers need to bear the following glitches in mind:

  • Language barrier: Internet penetrated the urban India only because the population can read and write English, but the rural will refute it as the gamut needs their language in the digital media. Companies like Google with Indian Language Internet Alliance (ILIA) program and Government’s initiative called e-basha are planning to bring local language content online, and when this wave resonates throughout the country, the opportunity for digital marketers will surface out
  • Is there a want or need for social media? – Let’s take a situation to elucidate this point. Women in villages have to carry big pots to fetch water which is a burden on their shoulders. Seeing this as a problem, will installing tap at homes actually solve it? May not be because women enjoy that time of drawing water from the well as they meet other women and have a great time embroiling in chatting. They wouldn’t want their social life to be curbed. Hence overall villages have a very community centric lifestyle where networking happens seamlessly face to face and not through a digital medium. Then where is the question of having digital marketing if digital networking can’t proliferate?
  • Trust only in traditional advertising means: TV ads and local retailers are still their experts, i.e. they are not vengeful, empowered or skeptical and so in these circumstances user generated content will have a blurred influence on them


Mobile internet is imminent as the next big thing in India but what marketers need to bear in mind is that rural India is altogether a different ball game. Marketers need to reinvent and re calibrate to customize for those masses. Gram Vaani strategically created video networking and hence curtailed the conundrum of ability to read text in English. A deep understanding of the psychographics is required to meet any sociological need. After all, estimates say that rural Indian market will be bigger than the entire consumer market of South Korea fifteen years down the line (Source: McKinsey Bird of Gold report 2007) and hence it cannot be ignored!



  • Veerendra Jamdade(August 10th, 2015). Media and Outdoor Activities for Rural Promotion. Retrieved from: http://vrittiimedia.com/blog/
  • PTI Oct 5, 2014. ‘Indian companies using digital marketing for competitive advantage’. Retrieved from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/
  • wikipedia.com
[The article has been co-written by Apurva Lakade and Uttara K]

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