Vodafone: 90 days, 15 commercials

By Savia Jane Pinto , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | March 13, 2009
Over the last couple of months, Vodafone has given its huffing and puffing pug a transient rest. In its latest campaigns, the brand has found a different, almost signature style of creativity and execution. afaqs! explores

Here's a bone to chew on: Vodafone's pug, although still a major ingredient in the brand's holistic communication, has been given a backseat in the last couple of campaigns. Vodafone has, in the meantime, arrived at a signature style of creativity and execution for various ads about service offerings - commercials that are almost identifiable as signature ads for the telecom major.

Vodafone's commercials of late are almost a page out of a consumer's life - one finds creatives revolving around protagonists who are seen introspecting, often voicing their thoughts into nothingness, with an almost candid camera feel to the execution and a tetris for explanation. In this report, afaqs! explores what's behind the abstract stroke of the brush and Vodafone.

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Following its rebranding campaign (from Hutch to Vodafone), which had the pug lapping up TV screens all over, the brand introduced the 'Make the most of now' campaigns in India which dealt with alerts services offered by it. These included 'Art of Living' alerts, 'Beauty Tips' alerts and 'Astrology' alerts, among others.

The next campaign (in the latter half of 2008) was called 'Happy to help' and featured the pug, along with a little girl instead of the customary boy. This campaign was interspersed with regular ads for Vodafone's prepaid services with brand ambassador Irrfan Khan.

A number of other ads have also engaged the consumers and kept the brand in touch with its target group.

Not yet

A motley bunch of people look into the camera and say different numbers in succession. The backdrop is an Irani restaurant and the eclectic mix of people finally start to make sense when, in the middle of stating these numbers, the super on the screen informs that one can now add any number of friends to his circle of friends with Vodafone, and make calls at a cheaper rate.

This is the 'Friends Circle' ad (a two-ad campaign released in December 2008), which has been directed by Ram Madhvani of Equinox Films. "The casting in this particular ad was of utmost importance," says Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India.

The next campaign was for cheaper SMSes and the first in the series was 'Proposal', shot by Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films. It showed a man purchasing a ring. Everyone on his way home gives him a knowing look. Finally, the super informs that SMS rates are now minimal.

These were followed by about six smaller ads called TP@10p and were directed by Piyush Raghani.

One of the TP@10p ads, titled Waiting Room, had five men on a bench in a waiting room, sitting uncomfortably as the man in the middle is unusually large. Two skinny men on either side of the large man are friends and share SMSes joking about the large man. The ad finishes with the tetris that informs that one can now indulge in 'Timepass SMSes' at the rate of 10p.

The films in this series (barring the one titled Boy and Girl) are one-shot films (without any cut in the takes). Raghani says, "The films are about inane conversations, basically about nothing."

In the Tell the World series, about three ads were shot by Vinil Mathews of Footcandles Films. What's also interesting is that the three ads are devoid of dialogues.

One of them has a girl brushing her teeth in her bathroom, while simultaneously checking her weight on the scale. The scale tips lower, enlightening the now ecstatic girl that she has lost weight. The tetris says that with cheaper rates, one can tell the story to the world.

The current lot

The most recent effort by Vodafone is the ACK (Amar Chitra Katha) alerts, shot by Nirvana Films. Two ads are currently on air. One, titled Office, has a chubby man enthusiastically relating a scene from the Amar Chitra Katha series, accompanied by suitable gestures and sound effects.

"Yes, one could say that the ads have a candid camera kind of approach and we have done this for effect," says Rao.

The thread running common among all these commercials is that these do not have a typical end and the super, along with the tetris (the red geometric figure), interrupts the ongoing ad to communicate the message.

Interestingly, a whopping 15 commercials have been released in the last 90 days.

A common thread

Clearly, the current Vodafone recipe has a distinct flavour. It could be the vague and obtuse presentation of the commercials, the exact level of intrigue in the scripts, or even the candid way that the films have been shot and canned. Though the films have been directed by different ad filmmakers, the common thread weaves through them to make them distinct as Vodafone ads.

"With each film, we attempt to make it real and relatable," says Rao. The idea, he says, isn't to show funny stuff with exaggeration or an over-comical tone - but to show a slice of life.

Speaking about the Friends Circle ads, Madhvani says, "The idea was to control everything and yet create a natural and raw feel to it." Casting, he says, is a very important aspect while creating the raw and understated appearance of the ad.

Prasoon Pandey of Corcoise Films admits that he can spot a Vodafone ad even before it's over. "Mind-blowing simplicity and observation of thought," Pandey says, "is what makes the Vodafone ads recognisable." The minimalism in the ads is another characteristic that he says is unique to Vodafone commercials.

Ingenuity or overdose?

Raghu Bhat, senior vice-president and executive creative director, Contract Advertising, says that the intrigue factor is the signature of Vodafone. However, Bhat adds that the brand runs a risk of "becoming a little boxy" because, important as it is to create a strong brand recall with a signature, it is also important to break the signature. An overdose of the same treatment may backfire, he adds.

afaqs! also spoke to Nitesh Tiwari, executive creative director, Leo Burnett, who says that the signature doesn't come from the filming technique as much as it does from the brand guideline used by Vodafone. "Simplicity is definitely one of those guidelines," he says. Tiwari doesn't feel that the ads are getting into a pattern. On the contrary, he says it is a good thing that every ad hints to it being a Vodafone one.

Harit Nagpal, chief marketing officer, Vodafone India, clarifies that there was no deliberate attempt to create a signature for Vodafone through these ads. He adds that in the first 10 seconds of the ad, if one guesses that it's going to be a Vodafone ad, then he is glad about it.

Nagpal says, "Every brand strives to be consistent - not constant, but consistent." Since Vodafone is a subscription based product, Nagpal stresses the need to have a consistent tone of voice. In Vodafone's case, an irreverent, tongue-in-cheek and yet uncanny voice is what the brand is currently dancing to.