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Facebook Debuts 'Missed Call' Ads in India So It Doesn't Miss a Huge Emerging Market

Photographer: Kainaz Amaria/Bloomberg
Facebook has been advertising on feature phones for about a year and a half, MacLean said. But the ads were usually minimally modified versions of what the company was doing in developed countries.

Facebook has a new strategy for selling advertisements to people in emerging markets: divide and conquer. To start, the company is testing a new type of ad on feature phones in India catered to the unique ways people in that country communicate.

The 100 million or so Facebook users in India will be able to request cricket scores, celebrity updates or music by placing a "missed call" and receiving a recorded call or text message back. The low-end version of Facebook's mobile service will advertise the new feature. Placing calls and hanging up while it's ringing is a common practice in India, used as a way to get a friend's attention or for young people to request a call back from their parents to conserve their mobile minutes.

The advertising program, which is currently being tested in parts of India and expected to roll out more widely there in the next few months, is Facebook's first foray into new ad formats tailored to a particular country. If it works, the company plans to expand this approach to other countries, such as Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil.

"There's an opportunity for us to get much more localized with what we're building and developing," Kelly MacLean, Facebook's business lead for emerging markets, said in an interview. "That's an area we're really going to invest in."

Facebook has been advertising on feature phones for about a year and a half, MacLean said. But the ads were usually minimally modified versions of what the company was doing in developed countries. Because 66 percent of India's mobile users have feature phones, MacLean said the company needed to adapt, and advertisers have been clamoring for new ways to reach the hottest emerging markets.

"We are working with Facebook to explore new ad solutions which are directly built from the way people communicate on mobile everyday," Cheuk Chiang, the Asia Pacific chief executive officer at ad giant Omnicom Group, said in an e-mailed statement.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, is visiting India this week to look for more business opportunities. The bigger the user base gets, the more Facebook will have to pay attention.

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