In India, you can respond to Facebook ads with a ‘missed call’

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Zipdial’s experimental Facebook ad unit with Garnier Men.

For many of us, a missed call is what it is, an indication that someone – an annoying salesman, a dreaded boss, or a persistent spouse – is trying to reach us.

In India, it takes on a different set of meanings. Most people there use prepaid mobile phones, and that means each text or connected call costs money. So they’ve developed a workaround: use missed calls to communicate instead. Friends give a missed call to one another to signal they’ve arrived home safely. It could also mean things like ‘call me back’ or ‘I’m thinking about you’.

ZipDial, a startup based in Bangalore, has turned this common behavior into a lucrative business by using it as part of a viral marketing tool for brands. Users give a missed call to receive content, such as cricket scores or a song. They can follow a brand and receive updates from it, just like Twitter and Facebook.

The startup has worked with Gillette, Greenpeace, and the Disney Channel. Now, it has added Facebook to the list. This time, the collaboration does not just involve a marketing campaign; it’s a product integration that gives Facebook mobile ads an unprecedented call-to-action: a missed call, powered by ZipDial.

Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) announced the new format in its blog as COO Sheryl Sandberg visited India. The social network ran a test campaign with men’s grooming brand Garnier Men and India’s cricket league IPL in which people dialed in to join a contest. While available only in India for now, it plans to scale the collaboration by launching the ad format with more brands in more countries.

See: ZipDial Receives Funding From Jungle Ventures, Launches in Sri Lanka

With prominent social networks like Facebook and Twitter reaching saturation point in developed markets, they’re now looking to the rest of the world for growth. India presents a lucrative opportunity due to its booming cellphone usage and cheap smartphones that are about to flood the country. Facebook already has over 100 million monthly active users in India, while Twitter has about 25 million.

ZipDial could play an important part in their plans. The company bridges the world of social networks and feature phones, as its partnership with Twitter India shows. Users dial in to follow prominent Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan on Twitter. They can then view tweets from the celebrity without needing an account on the social network.

Valerie Wagoner, along with Sanjay Swamy and Amiya Pathak, founded ZipDial in 2010 after figuring out a better way to do value-added services in feature phones. It has since progressed to work with over 400 brands and achieved 400 million missed calls. Mumbai Angels, 500 Startups, and Jungle Ventures invested in the company.

ZipDial now has its eyes abroad, targeting the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Editing by Steven Millward
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