Airtel takes on Google, FB in India’s online ad market

Bharti Airtel has announced its entry into the lucrative, Rs 30,000 cr digital advertising market in India, making it the most serious competitor yet to Google and Facebook, which together control about 90% of the market at present.

While Google leverages its access to search data and Facebook taps its access to behavioral data on its social media users, Bharti Airtel is planning to leverage its extensive presence in the telecom, content and DTH market to deliver targeted ads.

“Airtel has over 320 million customers across its businesses – Mobile, DTH and Homes [broadband]. Airtel’s Mobile customers have the highest average monthly data consumption at 16.8 GB and the highest monthly ARPU of Rs 166. Airtel’s fast growing DTH and Homes networks serve premium households across the country,” the company said.

Airtel said its ad network will deliver a superior return and focus on relationships with customers rather than just delivering online impressions.

“Its rigorous compliance with ad-tracking standards and norms allows complete transparency with advertisers and ensures ZERO Ad Frauds in the form of false impressions and clicks,” the company said.

Airtel Ads has already conducted beta trials with over 100 brands including the likes of PepsiCo, zomato, CRED, Tata AIG, Lenskart, Apollo 247, Cars24, Gameskraft, Vahan and Harley Davidson.

However, it was not clear where these ads were shown, and whether these ads were shown on Airtel’s own properties — such as its video and music apps, self-service app and DTH boxes — or whether it also placed these ads on third-party properties, such as websites.

Google places ads on both its own websites — such as the Google search engine — as well as the third party websites that sign up for its ad placing services. Facebook, on the other hand, only places ads on its own websites, such as

Google is estimated to control around 80-90% of the third-party online ad business in India, and has a near monopoly in the sector because of its unique access into people’s search history and data.

For example, if someone searches of ‘real estate in Mumbai’ and later visits a news website, Google would place ads from Mumbai-based real estate players on that news website.

In return for its targeting services, Google keeps a portion of the money paid by the real estate company (the advertiser), while passing on the remaining amount to the news website (the publisher).

While there have been earlier attempts to break Google’s monopoly in the third-party digital advertising sector, nobody has been able to do so effectively as they do not have access to search data and cannot know what the customer is looking for.

Facebook gets over this problem by accurately profiling the person using data points such as gender, profession, relationship status, location, income levels and past behavior on to ‘guess’ which ads would entice the person to click on it. The company is also able to track the behavior of Facebook users on non-facebook websites, such as shopping sites.

It remains to be seen how exactly Airtel is planning to leverage its access to consumer data to target ads, as it is very difficult to connect an offline consumer to an online visitor.

Going by the testimonies of some of the beta participants, however, Airtel seemed to have been able to do a decent job in this regard.

Om Jha, Associate Director of Media at PepsiCo India, said his company was impressed with the results of a campaign on one of Airtel’s apps.

“Youth is at the core of our brand strategy, and we always look for innovative ways to interact with them. Through Airtel ads, we ran a focus digital campaign on the Wynk music app for the launch of new packs of 7UP and Mirinda. The outcomes of the campaign were really impressive given the customizable ad formats and quality audience base,” he said.

Gajendra Jangid, the CMO of Cars 24 said Airtel Ads offered “the most comprehensive set of customer cohorts, including premium.”

“We believe that going forward telco-platforms will emerge as an important platform in the media mix for brands to deliver high performance campaigns in a digitally connected world,” he said.

Digital ads is the fastest growing segment within the Rs 75,000 cr Indian advertising industry, and has eclipsed other segments — such as TV and print — in terms of growth and impact.