Some find them akin to aliens; others insist they are animated cartoon characters, while a third bunch doesn't quite know what to make of it. Nevertheless, we have all been privy to these white, scrawny creatures with giant heads as they invade our TV screens during an IPL match.
In 2008, Vodafone had unveiled the 'Happy to Help' series during the first season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). With the launch of the second season, Vodafone has given birth to the Zoozoo: a special character created specifically to convey a value added service (VAS) offering in each of the newly released commercials.
What's interesting is that there are some 25 such commercials planned under this campaign, 10 of which are already on air. The aim is to release approximately one ad a day, to sustain interest till the end of the IPL.
So what's with so many?
Explains Harit Nagpal, chief marketing officer, Vodafone India, "We're acquiring customers at a very fast pace, but a large number of them are unaware of the range of services we offer. I mean, 'phone backup', which we're advertising now, was launched two years ago, for instance!"
Media spends and visibility for brands peak during the IPL, so Vodafone obviously wanted a piece of the pie. Further, Nagpal explains, the brand was in need of an idea that would work doubly hard, as it was planning to spend some four months' worth of marketing monies in one month. "So, we chose not to do just one or two ads, or viewers would get bored quickly, watching them over and over on the IPL," says Nagpal.
Six months ago, Vodafone briefed its agency, Ogilvy India, to create uncommon characters - a common thread to link the ads in the campaign together. Rajiv Rao, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy India, tells afaqs! that the only starting point for the team was that the character had to be simple to a stupefying level. And thus, the Zoozoo was born.
The idea is to tell the VAS stories in a world akin to, yet different, from humans. The creatures were then given a characterisation: they are to lead simple lives, speak a language of their own (something that sounds like gibberish), move in a certain way, and even emote like human beings, with big frowns or big grins to do the trick. The execution is almost like emoticons. "We even limited the number of emotions to be used, to keep things easy," says Rao.
A completely Indian concept, Rao lent these characters a name: the Zoozoos. There's no science to it, he explains - the name just had to be something fun, memorable and catchy, and not a clever one that's difficult to pronounce.
Ironically, nowhere in the communication does the Zoozoo name pop up, but Rao doesn't feel that's much of a problem: it wasn't a task to popularise the name in the first place.
Currently, some10 films are on air, for service offerings such as Cricket Alerts, Beauty Alerts, Phone Backup, the IPL Contest 1, the IPL Contest 2, Chhota Credit, Vodafone Maps, Vodafone Call Filter, Live Games and Musical Greetings. Each film, shot against a Grey backdrop, has these characters interacting with one another (some storylines even have Zoozoo families) with the product story weaved in.
For instance, the Phone Backup ad (the first in the series) has several Zoozoos lined up to have their faces photocopied through a photocopier, while a tetris towards the end (the messenger in all the ads) announces how Vodafone allows for creating a phonebook backup.
Making of the Zoozoo
No, they aren't animated characters. They are human beings who were made to wear body suits. "The design of the characters is such that one gets fooled into thinking it is animation," shrugs Rao, which was indeed the very illusion that had to be created. "In a sense, it is 'live' animation!" he quips, referring to the fact that it was all shot live.
"It took me three weeks of pre-production to understand how it will work," says Varma. There were two fabrics that were considered for the body suits, and one was rejected for it had too many wrinkles and was shiny. The wrinkles would have shown when the characters moved, thereby shattering the illusion of animation. "So we chose the more practical, thicker fabric," Varma explains.
The production team divided the outfit into two parts: the body and the head. The body part of the outfit was stuffed with foam in some places, while the head was attached separately. To make it look bigger than a human head, a harder material called Perspex was used, which in turn was stuffed with foam (with scope for ventilation).
Cinematically, this 'size' was a trick: the creatures look smaller than they actually are on screen, to portray a different world of sorts. For this, the speed of shooting was altered: Nirvana shot it in a high-speed format to make them look the size that they do.
Furthermore, simple sets/backdrops were created and spray painted with neutral Greys - a colour of choice so that attention isn't diverted from the main characters. For a supposedly 'outdoor' shot, even the shadow of a Zoozoo was kept 'live' and not done in post production: it was painted in a darker shade of grey on the ground. An even lighting was maintained throughout.
There was virtually no post production work done.
The films were shot by Nirvana in Cape Town, South Africa, with the help of a local production house there, called Platypus. Incidentally, the same combination of people also worked on the 'Happy to Help' series last year. When asked whether Cape Town is fast becoming a tourist spot for Vodafone and Nirvana, Varma laughs, saying, "Oh no! It's just that we are very comfortable with the team there and know what sort of work to expect from them."
Nagpal adds here that the production cost had to be minimal for unveiling such a large number of commercials. "Otherwise, our production costs would exceed media spends," he quips.
Zoozoos: storming the digital world
In the digital space, Zoozoos are currently featured on a specially created microsite - here, one can partake in quizzes and contests, including the 'What kind of Zoozoo are you?' quiz. Each Zoozoo has a unique set of characteristics and traits allotted to it. The microsite also allows for goodies to be downloaded (including wallpapers, screensavers and ringtones), and offers details on the IPL. With a specially created YouTube channel on the site, the TVCs are provided there for people to watch and share.
Apart from the microsite, a Zoozoo fan page has been created on Facebook, which has more than 5,600 members. Fans have access to special tag-me images, Zoozoo sounds (such as Zoozoo laughter and music tracks) and ad previews. People are also following Zoozoos on Twitter and get updates whenever new commercials go on air.
Zoozoo ads are fast becoming popular on YouTube, and on certain days, claims Nagpal of Vodafone, some of the videos even managed to figure among the most watched lot on the site.
The team behind the Vodafone-Zoozoo work includes Rao, along with Kiran Anthony, Elizabeth Dias, Rajesh Mani, Mehul Patil, Kumar Subramaniam, Kapil Arora, Debaleena Ghosh and Desmond Fernandes.
Zo, what do zoo think?
In the past, too, Orange and then Hutch (the earlier avatars of Vodafone in India) had made use of characters - an animated boy-girl duo - to whip up its VAS offerings before consumers. But those characters were limited by their definition, unlike the Zoozoos, where an entire world of such characters has been etched. "Zoozoos come in all shapes and sizes; kids, mother, friends, individuals…there does not seem to be a set format to use them," Jacob adds, which makes the possibilities endless.
Satbir Singh, chief creative officer, Euro RSCG, shares his own Zoozoo story: "Every time the commercial gets over, my two-year old son Angad hands me the remote and demands to watch it again. The other day, a waiter at a club mixed up my order as he was too busy watching the ad during IPL!" That pretty much sums up the 'Zooperb' impact, as he puts it.
While many would say that Zoozoos are cute, not all are in accord with this new being. Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director, JWT India, says, "I think Vodafone has made delightful stories in the past with humans as well. Maybe I'm too old, so I didn't particularly like the Zoozoos personally."
She attributes it to her personal dislike of the sci-fi type genre of communication, or the creation of something abstract that doesn't exist.
Some feel that the Zoozoos could well become a part of the brand story, instead of just being used for this VAS oriented campaign. But this comes with a warning tag: one has to be careful about letting the Zoozoos become bigger than the brand or the message. "Vodafone shouldn't get stuck with a format," says Jacob of White Canvas. "They did suffer this to a certain extent with the pug."