Vodafone pug: Soul of brand or toll on brand?

By , agencyfaqs!, Mumbai | In Marketing | September 27, 2007
It's been four years and counting. The pug associated with Orange, Hutch and now Vodafone is still very much a part of the newly renamed brand's communication. Some brand analysts ponder over how much is too much when it comes to this symbolic 'brand ambassador'

Every dog

has its day. But in the case of the Vodafone pug, it's been four years.

A still from the brand's
first pug commercial
That's how long it has been since the pug was first associated with Hutch as a brand (back then it was Orange in Mumbai). The 'Boy and Pug' campaign was among the most loved commercials on television, and as a natural progression, the pug pawed his way into the next series of commercials as well (the integration of Orange into Hutch or even Hutch going pink). What started off as a network promotion ('Wherever you go, our network follows') became a visual mnemonic that was practically synonymous with the brand.

Now that Hutch has been rebranded as Vodafone, the pug (initially a trained dog named Chika, and now another one called Spikey) continues to enjoy his run with the brand. But one can't help but wonder if too much of a good thing could actually be bad. agencyfaqs! spoke to a few brand gurus to understand their take on the place of the pug in Vodafone's brand story.

Harish Bijoor
According to Harish Bijoor, CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, it's time to shut the door on the pug. "Yes, Chika and now Spikey, have been overused," he says. Why? In the first ad, Chika was a reminder of the 'network following you' premise. "In the Vodafone ad, Spikey is almost made out to be a superhero, which he isn't," adds Bijoor. "The pug is best understood when he is a subdued part of the film, and not the whole of it." However, Bijoor concedes that the international Vodafone logo, displayed prominently, has done its job.

Bijoor feels that the damage started around 15 months ago, when the communication for the brand started getting stale, or as he puts it, "disastrous". He cites the Hutch 'Magician' commercial in this regard. He adds (perhaps as a discontented Hutch user at some point) that the network itself fails to deliver its promise, making consumers wonder where the pug disappears to at times. While that seems to be an operational issue, quite clearly, the branding problem is sustaining interest in the communication. "I'll give Ogilvy & Mather full marks on building awareness about Hutch turning into Vodafone, but in my opinion, the pug should be dropped after the introduction campaign," Bijoor says firmly.

Jagdeep Kapoor
Jagdeep Kapoor, chairman and managing director, Samsika Marketing Consultants, agrees that O&M could perhaps continue with the pug for another two months or so, as the introductory/transition campaign unmistakably requires the new brand to own the goodwill and strength of the old one. "But post Diwali, Vodafone, being a new entity here, will have to come up with a new identity," he says. "After all, a new brand needs to grab the opportunity to be fresh; it can't survive on Hutch's values for too long."

The good news, according to Kapoor, is that Vodafone won't have to try too hard to make its own mark here: It has a strong, energetic brand DNA abroad, which it only needs to import here in a relevant way.

R Sridhar
R Sridhar, innovation coach of the brand consultancy, Ideasrs, doesn't see what the fuss is about. For him, there isn't even remotely a wear-out factor at play here. "Ad pundits seem to have issues with the pug, while the consumer continues to enjoy the messaging," he says. "Vodafone has made a nice campaign that's subtle enough to convey the transition." According to him, the pug is to Vodafone what the signature tune is to Titan. Just as the tune has kept pace with changing times and needs, so has the pug, he observes. "As long as Vodafone and the pug find interesting executions to stay relevant, there's nothing wrong," Sridhar signs off.

Kapoor of Samsika concedes that the integration seems to have been achieved seamlessly, even though "Hutch was a latent brand, and Vodafone is a blatant one". According to him, getting a subtle brand to become bold and daring is far better than the other way round, and the Hutch-Vodafone marriage scores on that front.

Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal, concludes the debate with his take on the brand's roadblock on STAR India as a means to announce its entry into India. "That was a brilliant idea, executed well," he says. Multiple commercials with the pug and animated characters, too, did the trick. "But given the fact that Vodafone had a huge opportunity to bring forth its own values, all these commercials revolved around the same thought," he muses. "If I were Vodafone, I would have exploited the roadblock much more with creatives that also speak of what the brand stands for internationally."

The O&M executives aren't ruffled. As Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, O&M, South Asia, puts it, "The pug is the brand's soul."

For the time being then, it looks like wherever Vodafone goes, the pug will follow.

© 2007 agencyfaqs!