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Indian ad agencies not fully equipped to decode the mobile ecosystem for brands: Anuj Khanna Sohum, chairman of Affle Group & ad2c

ad2c, a full-service mobile advertising and marketing agency launched as a joint venture between Affle (a Singapore-headquartered and technology-based mobile advertising company) and Japan-based mobile advertising firm D2 Communications Inc., will complete two months of operations by the end of this month. The company had earlier acquired MobiMasta, a Gurgaon-based mobile marketing startup, for an undisclosed amount, to scale up its India business.

The JV also filled its top management positions by appointing Madan Sanglikar (former principal partner at Mindshare India) as its CEO, Anurag Singh (MobiMasta founder) as COO, Harish Nair as the CSO and Pradeep AJ as the business director. Both Nair and Pradeep are also ex Mindshare employees and while Nair was working as Partner- Digital/Invention at Mindshare, Pradeep held the position of senior director- The Exchange (digital media) at MindShare. Anuj Khanna Sohum, founder and chairman of the Affle Group of Companies also came on board as the chairman of ad2c.

In a chat with Techcircle.in, Sohum talks about the JV's growth, its strategy to scale up through acquisition and the future of mobile advertising in India. Here are the excerpts.

Why did you launch ad2c in the first place?

Well, ad2c is a full-service mobile advertising and marketing agency. We essentially target the brands and manage the key aspects of mobile marketing for them – ideation, development, mobile media buying and campaign execution.

We launched the company because we felt that there's no specialised mobile ad agency in the country which can decode the complexities of the mobile ecosystem for a brand. The agencies operating currently are not fully equipped for it. Also, one can't deny the growth opportunity in this space. After all, if a brand wants to reach the masses in India, it can't ignore mobile as a key medium.

Did the MobiMasta acquisition help in your new venture?

Although launched in March this year, ad2c was conceptualised last year and the agreement with D2 Communications for the JV was signed in October 2011. We then finalised the CEO in January this year and started looking for a company which would be in line with the business and complement what we were trying to achieve through ad2c. That's how we found MobiMasta.

Set up in 2009 by Anurag Singh, Viraj Singh and Alok Pabalkar, MobiMasta was a startup with a strong team and we felt that it would be an apt addition for scaling up our business in India. Post-acquisition, all three founders of MobiMasta joined the ad2c team and we started catering to their customers. Similarly, we are now trying to acquire a company in Indonesia – so that we can expand into that market by the end of 2012.

How is ad2c shaping up?

We have a global and a local presence as Ad2c is headquartered in Singapore with three offices in India – in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. The company is focused on the APAC region and India is our first market. We are also planning to enter the Indonesian market by the end of this year.

Right now, we have 20 people on board and are now catering to MobiMasta's existing clients. Plus, we have partnered with agencies like Dentsu and Starcom MediaVest, to expand our client base. Some of our key clients include Samsung, NDTV, Adidas, Reebok and Coke, and we are looking to generate a couple of million dollars in revenues in our first year of operations.

Would you leverage Affle and D2 Communications for ad2c?

There's no link between Affle and ad2c. Affle has its own offices, branding and CEO, and ad2c has its own. Also, ad2c is a service provider to brands, but Affle offers mobile advertising solutions to them. Although we won't force a brand to go for Affle's mobile advertising solutions, we will be very happy to provide those if a particular brand asks for them.

However, D2 Communications has come up with successful brand campaigns in Japan for more than a decade (using cutting-edge mobile technologies) and its expertise will certainly help us serve the brands more effectively.

Finally, what's the mobile advertising scenario in India? Is it a growing industry?

The mobile ad industry has witnessed a steady growth in terms of mobile ads spend. And we expect it to grow further in the near future.

More than 800 million handsets are in use in the country and around 100 million are using mobile Internet. So it's a rich media opportunity for advertisers. And one can still target the remaining 700 million via advertising tools like SMS, voice-based advertising and content subscriptions (like horoscope, cricket scores, etc.).

As of now, the Indian mobile ad industry is worth around Rs 150 crore (0.5 per cent of the total ad spends), but it is expected to grow to Rs 1,500 crore by 2015. Also, in this 'mobile age', every brand is realising the importance mobile advertising. So the market is definitely growing in India.

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