MUMBAI: Indian brand owners are raising their mobile ad budgets, with firms including Hindustan Unilever and Bharti Airtel focusing on feature phones to achieve mass reach.

Livemint reports that the subcontinent's advertisers are being encouraged to launch mobile spots due to the devices' high penetration and consumer engagement rates.

Recent data from the Internet & Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) indicates that adspend on the mobile channel rose by 17% over the year to March 2012, with the market valued at around 105 crores ($19.6bn) over the year. This total is anticipated to rise to 144 crores by 2013.

Separate figures from IAMAI show that around 900m Indians, around 75% of the population, have access to a mobile phone. Of this total, around 15% go online via mobile devices.

The mobile population also includes over 300m people living in rural areas – traditionally a hard-to-reach group for national advertisers.

Many of the recent advertising initiatives for the channel have concentrated on feature phones, with the nation's advertisers developing innovative ad delivery formats, often involving deals with media owners.

Bharti Airtel partnered with TV channel Life OK to produce "end of call" notifications – automatically sending ad copy to users each time they place a call or send a text message with their phone.

For its part, Hindustan Unilever leveraged traditional media by striking a deal with the All India Radio network, listeners of which were urged during broadcast shows to call a number. On placing the call and hanging up, users were then called back with an auto-generated voice ad for the FMCG firm.

Celebrity branding is another mobile ad trend, with Reckitt Benckiser using actress Katrina Kaif to promote a hair removal product via an SMS-based campaign. In all, 500,000 messages were sent during the initiative.

Commenting on the trend, Atul Satija, managing director at ad network InMobi, said: "Mobile offers a creative canvas similar to that of television and has the added benefit of immediate interactivity with the consumers.

"The distribution reach of this medium is unparalleled."

Data sourced from Livemint/IAMAI; additional content by Warc staff