India is BIG and so is its online community.

Every now and then you get a reminder of just how big a country India is and just how vast it’s population is. I guess those of you who have lived or worked in China probably get the same thing once in a while. When you’re from a small island nation that makes more noise in the world than it’s probably entitled to these days, it’s probably healthy that such aide memoire crop up.

The stimuli on this occasion was this press release by the Internet and Mobile Association of India. Of course, one should always be a bit wary of trade bodies professing the strength of the medium that they represent as there’s an obvious vested interest, but it seems IMRB did the research so I wouldn’t have any particular reason to question it’s veracity.

The headline finding is that 71m Indians used the internet in 2009. 71m people is more than the entire population of the UK. In fact, the ONS predicts the UK won’t reach a population of 70m until 2029 – and politicians responding to press panic about this prediction tend to dismiss it as wildly ahead of reality. Yet this 71m represents somewhere in the region of 7% of the population of India. Even if we take the figures for active internet users in India at 52m (around 5% of the total population) we’re still talking about more people than the total adult population of the UK.

The likelihood is that these are also the section of the Indian population with the highest purchasing power – a purchasing power that is growing rapidly, ahead even of the 10% GDP growth India may well achieve this year. The size of the opportunity here is huge. If internet penetration continues to grow rapidly as well, a strong online presence for brands operating in this market is an absolute must. Yet most brands have little more than a token digital presence. Despite huge clutter on Indian TV, most media budgets still throw around 90% of their weight at it – and as I mentioned in my IPL post, it’s not necessarily being spent particularly efficiently even there.

Brands are gradually starting to wake up to digital here and we’re starting to see some evaluation of those campaigns happening – so perhaps if we start to find decent ROIs on some of these campaigns, we might see brand owners having more confidence diverting their budgets in that direction. Even if we don’t, I think it’s an important investment for the future.

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