India Online

Radhika ShapoorjeeBy Radhika Shapoorjee
President–IPAN Hill & Knowlton India

India has long been a country of contradictions; ostentatious wealth and extreme poverty, deep-rooted tradition and modernity, religion and burgeoning consumerism. It is a country recognized by global leaders as a high-tech superpower with major global brands basing their operations here to take advantage of the wealth of IT talent this country nurtures, yet poor infrastructure, lack of connectivity and local language content means that the internet is still viewed by many as a medium for the more affluent sections of society.

However, according to a new report [1], the internet is starting to reach the remote masses in urban India. The number of active internet users rose from 42 million in September 2008, to 52 million in September 2009, registering a year-on-year growth of 19 per cent. This surge in numbers is attributed to an increasing numbers of users in remote urban towns and amongst lower socio-economic classes, overtaking top cities and higher socio-economic classes in numbers for the first time.

Cultural shift
To understand how to harness this opportunity, brands must first learn how cultural elements affect this populace’s behavior online. Whereas traditionally, Indian consumers have preferred one on one engagement to conversing collectively in online forums, hence the huge disparity between the number of online users and active blogs, significant events in India over the past two years have ignited animated conversations in the social media space marking a shift in the way this group likes to communicate.

The November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai provoked strong online social activism and brought alive the power of Twitter and its ability to connect ordinary people. Similarly, the Indian parliamentary Elections in 2009 had politicians and citizens voicing their ideas and opinions, catalyzing debates online. Both of these events and the related online chatter demonstrated that a) the average Indian has strong opinions and is willing to air them, and b) the online Indian has evolved from being a mere consumer of entertainment, to being a vocal activist within much larger digital communities.

The growth of the social web is increasingly influencing individuals’ behavior. The Indian digital consumer is knowledgeable and brand savvy, with a desire to participate and influence their fellow populace. Consumers are moving from being passive to active participants, voicing their opinions, providing feedback and contributing to issues and product-related discussions.

India brands wake up
Within the last five years, Indian brands have evolved from the traditional “let us have a website” approach to digital marketing, to becoming active participants in the online social media space.

Tata Tea’s “Jaago Re! (Wake up!) campaign, urged the electorate to get out of their collective political slumber and go out to vote.  The campaign was memorable and significant, igniting a social cause with a voter registration drive across 37 cities, most of these in rural India. provided voters with registration details, downloadable official forms, constituency details, election dates, plus a host of community/sharing tools to spread the word and encourage the nation to vote. The campaign had in the region of 3 million individuals visit the site, of which 623,648 registered online to vote.

The barriers and the opportunity
Whilst the digital revolution is underway in India, there is some way to go before the people of India and brands looking to engage with them truly reap the benefits of this medium. The three main barriers to realizing this goal can be categorized as a) low broadband penetration b) local language content and c) a cash society where credit card penetration is even lower than internet penetration.

Communications need to be tailored according to the audience and take account of the myriad of socio-economic groups, religions, literacy levels and language variables that exist in a country that is home to the largest democratic population in the world. Building applications, services and content that take these factors into account stand the best chance of building a brand against this complex backdrop.

In this pursuit, the key drivers will be:

  1. A brand’s ability to listen, evaluate and observe what is happening around the industry / sector it represents, and identifying and engaging the digital activists and influencers who participate in this space.
  2. Providing the right combination of context and relevance to make a compelling online proposition for consumers. The Indian digital consumer is far more knowledgeable and savvy where it concerns making brand choices, no longer satisfied with a ‘made for India’ product.
  3. Successful Integration. One of the key drivers of success for digital marketing campaigns in India is integration – across all media and disciplines, traditional and new – under a single brand idea or campaign. The campaigns that work are those driven collectively with common goals and objectives.


[1] ‘Internet in India’, Internet & Mobile Association of India(IAMAI) and Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB)

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