Mobile User Expansion in Latin America and India

Mar 31, 2017
By: Marissa Camilli

The mobile market in India and Latin America is exploding, creating huge opportunities for mobile marketers and advertisers. India is the world’s third largest smartphone market, with Q2 2016 shipments of 30.7 million. Meanwhile, Latin America is also seeing rapid expansion, with growth in smartphone sales projected to rise from 178 million units in 2016 to 219.9 million by 2018. In this post we’ll talk about some of the biggest trends in these countries and how marketers and advertisers can take advantage of them. We’ll also address the major challenges in each market and what to do in order to create successful campaigns that deliver great ROI.


India ranks as the third largest online country with one billion mobile subscriptions. Already a huge market, even more opportunities for mobile marketers and advertisers will open up as mobile operators expand their networks into rural areas.

Mobile Network Expansion

Mobile network infrastructure in rural areas may not be as advanced as similar infrastructure in and around large cities. This places limitations on the types of media and volume of ad placement mobile marketers can include in a campaign. When planning a marketing campaign in a new market, mobile marketers will need to learn what technology is being used on local mobile networks. Campaigns designed to work within the limitations of available network technology will see a much better ROI for advertisers.

Smartphone Technology

Android dominates the smartphone market in India, with Strategy Analytics reporting Q2 2016 Android marketshare at 97 percent. Mobile marketers just entering this market region will need to focus their efforts on Android, adding iOS and Windows later, if at all. That said, there is wide variation in Android operating systems and versions. Mobile marketers may need to find out the versions running on most Android phones in a market area to design campaigns that function correctly on all versions of Android OS.

SIM Cards

Many users in India own multiple SIM cards, driven by a desire to get the best deals on voice, data, and international calling. Multiple SIM cards may have an adverse impact on ad serves that are tied to a specific SIM card, with ad serving and tracking only occurring when a particular SIM card is installed in the phone. This may primarily affect pre-loaded and native apps. In that case, it may be necessary to create campaigns that will work correctly, regardless of the SIM card in the device.  

Diverse Languages

India has 22 officially recognized languages, plus English. The implications for mobile marketers is huge. Marketing success will largely depend upon learning the dominant spoken and written language in an area.

Diverse Cultures

Many different cultures exist in India. Mobile marketers will need to partner with a local consultant or business in an area in order to learn about cultural customs, beliefs, and aesthetics. Facebook has come up with four core principles to guide product design for markets around the world (adapted here for mobile marketing:

  1. Be Diverse – Account for perspectives that are different from our own. Work closely with user researchers, and be aware not only of cultural / social nuances, and but also technological variety.
  2. Be Local – Understand how to be relevant locally. This doesn’t necessarily mean developing a different marketing strategy for each locality, but perhaps just designing locally relevant experiences. For example, in India it is now pretty common for brands to invite potential customers to leave them missed calls, as it costs the customer nothing, and allows the company to call them back.
  3. Be Lightweight – Bandwidth in emerging markets tends to be much lower than in the UK or USA, so it’s crucial to create marketing campaigns that takes that into account, creating ads that are optimized for mobile with minimal impact on bandwidth, data consumption, and load times.
  4. Be Flexible – Sudden changes in local conditions (politics, infrastructure, sports) can impact your ability to deliver mobile ads and related marketing. More to the point, be ready to have your notions about behavior in diverse markets proven wrong.

Success will go to marketing agencies that are able to tailor marketing campaigns to suit the cultures and sensibilities of a local market area.

Latin America

Mobile phone ownership is projected to grow to about 33 percent of the population by 2018. This growth will open up multiple opportunities for mobile marketers across varied channels. Mobile broadband continues its expansion into areas that currently have no internet access, opening markets up to new users. Growth of the middle class is driving mobile phone purchases, with the projected number of users to hit 434.4 million by 2018 with user penetration at 68.9 percent.

Economic growth

Economic development and government initiatives will drive further expansion of mobile networks and wifi at less cost than fiber optics or traditional cable for home internet access. Like India, new markets opened up by network expansion will be either mobile first or mobile only. This will likely cause mobile marketers to develop strategies specific to these markets.

Diversity in technology, language, and culture

The Latin American market, like India, is comprised of users from diverse cultures and languages. Their mobile devices have a wide variety of technology and capabilities. The adapted Facebook principles apply for this market as well, with an added twist that Latin American users already use apps from local developers they know and trust. Mobile marketing in this region will likely require partnerships with local app developers and others to gain a street-level understanding of the apps, devices, technologies, language, and culture.


As the largest country, Brazil is the driver of mobile phone usage in Latin America. Brazilians are proficient digital consumers who, much like North Americans, switch between devices frequently. This user behavior opens up multi-screen opportunities for mobile marketers.

E-commerce challenges

Payment options are a particularly difficult challenge. In Brazil, 70 percent of the population do not own credit cards. For purchases, they use a boleto bancario, or bank slip with a printable bar code. This slip is then used to tender the purchase. Most new users probably will not have credit cards, which may drive the popularity of alternative payment methods. These alternative payment methods may provide new marketing channels for mobile marketers.

Ad spending

Through 2019, ad spending in Latin America is projected to grow faster than any other region in the world. There will be increased opportunity for mobile marketers to create nuanced strategies that advertisers will want to utilize across multiple mobile channels.

Putting It All Together

Over the next few years, tremendous mobile marketing opportunities will continue to open up for India and Latin America. Diverse languages, cultures, and technological variety will present significant challenges when developing effective marketing strategies. Mobile marketers will need to expect the unexpected in terms of user behavior. Mobile strategies that work well in Western nations may work poorly or not at all in emerging mobile markets. New users with no prior internet experience will interact with devices and apps in unforeseen ways. Marketers need to be prepared to throw out everything they think they know about mobile marketing and learn anew.

The lower cost of building mobile networks will likely translate to large areas within each market that are mobile first or mobile only. Marketers will need to need to make sure that ads load fast with minimal data consumption.

Advertisers are seeing an opportunity in emerging mobile markets, with some offering free data to customers if they download and install an app that displays ads on the home screen of the smartphone. For every ad viewed, the user gets free mobile data credits. Consequently, users are much more likely to watch ads so they can get more free data credits. The extra data makes it easier for users to stream video, audio, or other format without incurring additional data costs.

The most successful mobile marketers will be those who invest in partnerships that help them to learn and understand the specific culture and language of an area, while also learning how those users interact with their devices and apps. This knowledge can then be used to create nuanced marketing strategies that suit each market area within a region. The complexity of these emerging markets dictate that it is best to learn how to create strategies for a single area then branch out as the marketing team gains a deep understanding of each area.

Many people in Latin America and India will experience their first connection with the internet on a mobile phone, completely skipping PC/desktops. In areas where mobile infrastructure is providing most or all internet connectivity, desktop-centric marketing strategies will fail to work adequately. It will be necessary to rethink this part of the strategy and adapt it to work in a mobile-only network.


India and Latin America provide significant opportunities for mobile marketers that can cultivate a deep understanding of the complexities of these emerging markets. Strategies that work well in North America will likely fail due to diverse cultures and languages in each region. Mobile marketers based in the US or Canada will have to invest the time and resources necessary to gain a nuanced understanding of people and user behavior in India and Latin America. As such, mobile marketing in emerging markets must be undertaken with a little longer view than what marketing team managers may be accustomed to. Mobile marketers who stick around long enough to learn the complex ins and outs of diverse cultures and technologies will also stand to benefit the most by providing value that less experienced marketing teams cannot match.

Marissa Camilli
By Marissa Camilli
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