social media

Facebook to start missed call ads in India

The company has a novel plan to make money through poorer users in the country.

After the United States, India is the market with the most Facebook users. Yet India contributed less than a quarter of 1% of Facebook’s global revenue in the year to March 31, 2013. This week, Facebook’s operations boss Sheryl Sandberg is in India talking to companies, the press and government officials in an effort to drum up some business.

Back in Silicon Valley, Facebook’s engineers are unveiling an ad innovation that they hope will help her make the case: the “missed call.”

No one in India – or much of the developing world – needs an explanation of the utility of a missed call, but for those in the West, here’s how I described it in a piece published in June:

Missed call communication is when you call someone but hang up as soon as it rings. The idea is to send a simple, often pre-agreed, message without having to pay for the call: “I am waiting outside” or “Deliver some milk” or “I vote for this candidate on Indian Idol.”

Facebook’s big idea is to include a “missed call” button in ads on mobile phones in India:

When a person sees an ad on Facebook they can place a “missed call” by clicking the ad from their mobile device. In the return call, the person receives valuable content, such as music, cricket scores or celebrity messages, alongside a brand message from the advertiser – all without using airtime or data.

This is not a novel approach. The Indian arm of Unilever, a consumer-goods giant, has been running a similar promotion that allows people to make a missed call to trigger a return call that plays a radio station with Unilever ads. Indian talent shows have also long used missed calls to allow people to vote for contestants, instead of requiring them to dial a premium number.

But Facebook reckons it can bring an added layer of sophistication to the tactic by allowing advertisers to narrow their pitches to users based on location, age and “life stage,” which it describes as “targeting to new moms and dads; or people who have started a new job; or retirees.”

The missed call button is at the bottom right. Note also that this is a dual-SIM phone, the sort popular in poor countries. Facebook 

There remain two problems. The first is measurement. As Quartz has reported on previous occasions, Facebook’s big challenge in poor, high-growth countries isn’t just finding advertisers and distributing ads, but also measuring the effectiveness of those ads. Facebook is working with the audience measurement company Nielsen to provide advertisers with “greater tools to measure brand sentiment, purchase intent and ad recall,” on mobile as well as desktop, writes Kelly Maclean, who works in emerging markets ads products at Facebook. That’s vague enough to sound good, but veteran media buyers would tell you that nobody has yet cracked the code of measurement, even in the West where data sources are much more abundant; let alone in the poor world.

The second problem is a bigger worry, at least for consumers. With internet advertising blurring the lines between ads and everything else, and with companies big and small trying to get users onto their platforms for the express purpose of showing them ads, the “next five billion” people that Facebook wants to get online may experience a degraded, entirely corporate web that offers very little apart from exhortations to buy.

Moreover, Indians in particular are already bombarded by advertising in every medium – including on handles in local commuter trains, on the backs of seats in local buses, and in newspapers masquerading as editorial content. As they become inured to this advertising onslaught, it’s that much harder to attract their attention. Those businesses that Sandberg is wooing in India may want to see something flashier than a missed-call button.

This post originally appeared on It has been edited.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Some of the most significant innovations in automotive history made their debut in this iconic automobile

The latest version features India's first BS VI norms-compliant engine and a host of 'intelligent' features.

The S-Class, also known as Sonderklasse or special class, represents Mercedes Benz’ top-of-the-line sedan line up. Over the decades, this line of luxury vehicles has brought significant automotive technologies to the mainstream, with several firsts to its credit and has often been called the best car in the world. It’s in the S-Class that the first electronic ESP and ABS anti-lock braking system made their debut in the 20th century.

Twenty first-century driver assistance technologies which predict driver-behaviour and the vehicle’s course in order to take preventive safety measures are also now a staple of the S-Class. In the latest 2018 S-Class, the S 350 d, a 360-degree network of cameras, radars and other sensors communicate with each other for an ‘intelligent’ driving experience.

The new S-Class systems are built on Mercedes Benz’s cutting-edge radar-based driving assistance features, and also make use of map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. In cities and on other crowded roads, the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC helps maintain the distance between car and the vehicle in front during speeds of up to 210 kmph. In the same speed range, Active Steering Assist helps the driver stay in the centre of the lane on stretches of straight road and on slight bends. Blind Spot Assist, meanwhile, makes up for human limitations by indicating vehicles present in the blind spot during a lane change. The new S-Class also communicates with other cars equipped with the Car-to-X communication system about dicey road conditions and low visibility due to fog, rain, accidents etc. en route.

The new S-Class can even automatically engage the emergency system when the driver is unable to raise an alarm. Active Emergency Stop Assist brings the car to a stop if it detects sustained periods of inactivity from the driver when Active Steering Assist is switched on. If the driver doesn’t respond to repeated visual and audible prompts, it automatically activates the emergency call system and unlocks the car to provide access to first responders.

The new Mercedes-Benz S 350 d in India features another notable innovation – the country’s first BS VI norms-compliant car engine, in accordance with government regulations to control vehicular pollution. Debuting two years before the BS VI deadline of 2020, the S 350 d engine also remains compatible with the current BS IV fuels.

The S 350 d is an intelligent car made in India, for Indian roads - in the Mercedes Benz S-Class tradition. See the video below to know what drives the S-Class series by Mercedes Benz.

To know more about the 2018 S-Class, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.