Facebook introduces 'missed call' advertising for cost-conscious Indians

Facebook is adapting advertising to cater to those Indians who would rather be called than spend on calling

Cost-conscious people in India often signal that they want to talk to someone by placing a call and hanging up before the phone is answered, with the idea that the other person will then call them back.

Recognizing this trend, Facebook is testing a new form of advertising that calls back or sends data to phones after the user clicks on an advertisement from a mobile device. The user content, such as music, cricket scores or celebrity messages, along with a brand message from the advertiser, without a cost for air time or data charges.

Facebook teamed with Garnier Men to promote its male grooming products through the "missed call" ads. Some 15 million people were reached with the program helping boost online sales, according to Facebook, which plans to expand its "missed call" offering.

Facebook and its social-media peers recognize that access to their services in India and other emerging markets will not come primarily through smartphones.

About seven out of 10 people in the world, many in high-growth countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and Nigeria, use simple devices like feature phones to access the Internet, Facebook said, quoting research from eMarketer. In many countries, a majority of mobile phone users access Facebook on a feature phone -- 66 percent for India, 71 percent for Indonesia and 68 percent in South Africa, according to Facebook.

The "missed call" advertisement is one of many ways Facebook is trying to help advertisers reach consumers on their mobile phones in developing markets. The company last year provided advertisers with the ability to place and target ads on feature phones. Facebook has also improved ad delivery by optimizing for low-bandwidth connections, it said.

Internet companies and operators have been experimenting with a variety of technologies to offer services to Indian mobile users, many of whom still do not have GPRS connections. In 2011, India's largest operator Bharti Airtel, for example, started offering Facebook service based on USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) that let users on the social network update their status messages, post on friends' walls and do other actions without using the Internet.

India had over 907 million mobile subscribers at the end of April, after adding close to 3 million subscribers in the month, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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