Zooming into minds and hearts

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Love ’em or not, the Zoozoos have made an impression. And that also counts for successful advertising..

The ‘Zoozooperstars’ are the current rage.
The ‘Zoozooperstars’ are the current rage.
Ramanujam Sridhar

Without a doubt the Vodafone campaign is the most visible campaign of the several that are currently on air and reminds me of the statement that works wonderfully in advertising and in life: “Either love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me.”

But should the brand have made such a drastic departure from the past? Isn’t the tone of voice too different? What will happen to the pug?

There was a time when cola advertising ruled the roost in India and if one may add, in the rest of the world too, in terms of creativity. In India, the ads for Pepsi were benchmarks for creativity as they might well have been for North America. Then Coca-Cola, which was a laggard in the creativity sweepstakes, got into the act and the original “Thanda matlab Coca-Cola” ads featuring Aamir Khan quickly catapulted the brand into visibility and enabled it to catch up with Pepsi that was far ahead then.

Today, however, the category that is setting the benchmark for that elusive quality called creativity and spends that ensure that the campaign is seen is most undoubtedly that of mobile services.

I am what may be euphemistically referred to as a “compulsive user” of the mobile phone. Of course, if you ask my wife she might use the words “obsessive user”. (I must quickly add, though, that the secret to staying married for as long as I have is to generally ignore the profound statements that one’s spouse makes.)

But both of us must agree and confess that I am nowhere in the league of my children when it comes to mobile phone usage or dependence. But let me stay with “yours sincerely” as one never knows enough about one’s own children.

I was originally a JTM user from Bangalore, one of the earliest service providers in case the name does not ring a bell and a company that was subsequently taken over by Bharti. I also have a Blackberry from Reliance whose usage I am still trying to figure out. For a short while I was wooed by Hutch, as the company was then called, and subscribed to their service in a moment of weakness. I gave up the service in a short while, as the physical fitness demands imposed by the brand on me were unacceptable to a self-respecting individual.

Maybe I need to explain this, which sounds pretty complex but in actual fact is pretty simple. Whenever I was in Bombay as it was called then and in our office in Lower Parel (or upper Worli), I had to run out of the office when the phone rang if I wanted to hear the caller. I opted out of the service as I strongly believe that fitness should never be forced on an individual, however well meaning the service provider!

I could write a book about how mobile phone companies’ advertising is much better than the coverage they provide. For example, when the user is in Kandahar or some such distant place in the commercial the phone seems to work wonderfully while it barely ever works in Koramangala in Bangalore in real life.

Maybe we should shift our offices to the more remote parts of India! The service works brilliantly in a moving train in another commercial where a father and son play chess while it invariably never seems to work with the same clarity when the father is in Anna Salai (Mount Road) and the son is in Mylapore. I do realise that children are happier this way but that is another story! Calls drop at a rate which puts to shame the rate at which Mathew Hayden slams fours in the IPL. Instead of talking about things which are beyond our control, such as service, network, call drops and wrong billing, let me talk about the ads that appear for mobile services over the network and particularly those that appear during the IPL and during the strategy breaks.

Branding a campaign

Vodafone is one of the sponsors of the second edition of IPL, like Citi and DLF. But I must compliment it for not trying to be in the league of Citi and DLF when it comes to branding their offering. I love the audacity of the bank for its frequent “Citi moments of success” which the poor, hapless commentators keep chanting. Given the way people have looked at banks and their recklessness in recent times with some of them almost being on the verge of extinction, I admire Citi’s foolhardiness in its frequent reminders to customers about success.

As for DLF, the less one speaks about it the better. I am sure as an unhappy customer of some realtor or the other, my reaction when I get shortchanged by anybody is to think “I have been DLFed” so they too have created a place under the sun for themselves. I do wish the company all success, as in these troubled times it certainly needs all our good wishes if not our patronage.

Vodafone’s ads may be more in-your-face in their execution but are at least different from the abovementioned two. The current campaign for Vodafone that has been branded as the Zoozoo campaign, without a doubt is the most visible campaign of the several that are currently on air and reminds me of the statement that works wonderfully in advertising and in life: “Either love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me.” One can ignore the campaign at one’s own peril. There are multiple executions, close to 30, I am told, for what the mobile services industry calls “value-added services” whether it is stock alerts, beauty tip alerts, prayers or cricket scores, to name just a few.

Commercials make news

As someone who has a reasonable understanding and appreciation of the public relations process, one must say that the commercials have made news, which, given the declining importance of advertising, is itself a significant achievement.

There have been features on the making of the commercials, of how they have been shot in South Africa and how they are real-life models and not animated characters and how the models are women and children.

It has been a breakthrough in the social media networking realm and has captured the imagination of the young viewer with consumers using the character as screensavers, wallpapers and sound clips of Zoozoo ads. To put it mildly, it has captured the imagination of the young viewer and one must remember that a mobile service is essentially a young person’s category. Kids certainly spend more time on their mobile phones than with their parents and most definitely more than the time they spend with their books. It is an integral part of their lives and most certainly a high-involvement category.

I personally found the campaign different and interesting, if a bit overrated. But then I am in my fifties and perhaps not the target audience for the ‘Zoozooperstars’, as the models are described.

So I spoke to a cross-section of people who were young enough to be my children – my students, young employees and a host of youngsters across the country to get their feedback, lest I be classified as a biased, old fogey who does not understand today’s youth or what makes them tick. I also had a quiet sort of liking for the pug dog and had found the campaign warm and endearing which was what I believed was the projected personality of the brand and must confess that I still keep wondering what will happen to the poor dog.

I am loving it

The first 23-year-old I asked about the campaign gave me an indication of what youngsters think. “Oh, I love it!” she said, and her eyes lit up much as mine would have when I used to think of ice-cream 30 years ago. Today’s kids might need bigger things to turn them on, maybe John Abraham, but definitely the ads are a turn-on. Perhaps, between you and me, because this was not what I wanted to hear, I spoke to a few older people as well and here the response was a bit less ecstatic and maybe a bit muted as well. “What are they trying to say?” “Seems a bit immature,” said one 50-year-old in a sonorous voice that would have made the cheekiest youngster bite his lip. Some people, who I am sure are not animal activists, seem to be missing the pug.

It’s the money

Value-added services clearly seem to be the exciting revenue option and every service provider is after the consumer to use these services. This campaign, with its multiple executions creating awareness for the range of services, addresses that specific need eminently as most users seem to be unaware of the possibilities that the service provides. The earlier image, however cute, could be seen as passive, award-winning perhaps, but certainly not as effective as the current cheeky executions.

It certainly seems to drive home the point better than Airtel’s ads with Madhavan and Vidya Balan, whom most of the current crop of youngsters see as ‘middle-aged”. Yet, questions remain.

Should the brand have made such a drastic departure from the past? Isn’t the tone of voice too different? What will happen to the pug? Do you really need so many different executions or are the client and producer having a ball at the client’s expense? If the key revenue is going to come from cricket alerts and stock market tips is it better to stay with just a few key ones?

Singing in the rain

I am sure any campaign that promotes debate and provokes strong reactions has a lot going for it, living as we do in a world where advertising campaigns create as much impact as ships that pass us by in the night. Zoozoo certainly is different.

It reminds me of a Tamil proverb that I had heard often enough: “Either stand in the sun or stand in the rain, never stand in the shade.” The creators of the campaign remind one of summer rain that makes people rush out, revel in it and sing! It is perhaps more campaigns such as these that will get currently cynical young people to get into advertising.

May the tribe of creative rain-makers increase!

(The Ramanujam Sridhar CEO, brand-comm, and the author of One Land, One Billion Minds.)

Related Stories:
Vodafone’s ZooZoos, stars of IPL ad breaks

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 21, 2009)
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